Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Chinese restaurants in the U.S. use cat meat in their entrees.
Origins: How old is old? The rumor about Fluffy's or Fido's being slipped into Chinese food by unscrupulous restaurateurs has been traced by British researchers to the earliest years of the British Empire in England and to the 1850s in the United States.
[Jacobsen, 1948]Ancient slur or not, wherever this rumor goes it affects how the locals feel about the Chinese in their midst, and it often impacts a restaurant's fragile bottom line. As an example (this rumor has turned up in so many cities, it would be impossible to list them all), in 1995 the closing of two Chinese restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, awakened the sleeping rumor yet again. Calls were fielded, both by the local paper and the board of health, about whispers that these closings were the result of dead cats' being discovered in each eatery's meat locker. Never mind that just the previous day the local paper had run a story about the closure (for business reasons) of all 51 restaurants in this particular
How ripe small towns actually are for rumors was amply demonstrated a few years ago. In a town of thirteen thousand inhabitants, which was gradually blossoming into cityhood, there was a restaurant operated by three Chinese. It was the most successful eating place around, patronized by businessmen and citizens morning, noon, and night. Everyone agreed that the food and service were good. But without the slightest warning business suddenly took a drastic drop. The once-prosperous proprietors became miserably unhappy, for they could not understand what had happened to all their patrons. Then they found out that someone, maybe a competitor, maybe just a person who nursed a real or imagined grudge against Chinese, had initiated a rumor that the police had found three skinned cats, labeled rabbits, in the restaurant's refrigerator.
In 1996, county health department officials in Knoxville, Tennessee, stepped forward to issue a strong denial about frozen cats' being found at a particular local Chinese restaurant. It seemed everyone had heard the rumor, yet no such complaint was on file. Indeed, this particular restaurant had always met Health Department regulations, a claim supported by inspection records.
In 1991, after a Burlington, Ontario [Canada] Chinese eatery lost 30% of its trade to this rumor, its owners attempted to combat the talk by inviting the local professional football team, the Hamilton
This legend is a classic example of xenophobia (fear and hatred of foreigners or that which is foreign). Asian culture is markedly different from Western culture, with language but the first barrier to be hurdled. Customs, religious observances,
Though the Chinese have been known to dine on cats or dogs in their homeland, the practice is predominant primarily in far-flung regions, and they don't serve them up on unsuspecting diners in Europe or North America, where these animals are known to enjoy the exalted status of family pets. It is true that dog is more or less routinely consumed in Korea, where it's seen as a game meat, but even there Western sensibilities are catered to on this issue. When the Olympics were held in Seoul in 1988, every wire service ran stories about dog being one of the dishes that could be ordered in a restaurant there. In response, the South Korean government temporarily shut down more than
In North America, few, if any, Chinese or Koreans eat dog. (See our Hound by the Pound page for the story of an elaborate hoax about a Korean-American company approaching animal shelters with an offer to buy excess dogs.) Also in North America, the Vietnamese are tarred with a variation of the Chinese restaurant rumor: according to this version, when a Vietnamese family moves into the neighborhood, all the stray cats disappear. That few, if any, Vietnamese in the U.S. eat cat doesn't impact this rumor one whit.
Barbara "catty gossip" Mikkelson
Additional Information: The link below plays a fabulous (RealAudio) musical version of this legend set to the tune of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle":
Cat's in the Ladle
Sightings: Swayed by the police discount a new East Indian restaurant is offering, various members of the force partake of kitty curry before discovering what they're dining on in an episode of television's Hill Street Blues ("Bangladesh Slowly," original air date
Last updated: 12 July 2008
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