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The Catty Humour of Warren Kinsella

February 6, 2009

Some conservative bloggers, such as Ezra Levant, have been having a field day with prominent Liberal Warren Kinsella, who made a joke on his blog about eating “BBQ cat” at a Chinese restaurant called Yang Sheng in Ottawa. The blog post has apparently been modified to remove the offending comments, but one of those gleeful conservatives preserved the original version here for posterity. The bit about eating cats strikes me as harmlessly flippant, and hardly malicious, but parts of the Chinese community were quick to take offense.  Sam Fung, the owner of Yang Sheng, confined himself to asserting that Kinsella’s remarks were “not funny”, but Alex Yuan, chairman of the Chinese Canadian Conservative Assocation, went further:

Kinsella repeats the most vulgar and offensive stereotypes by associating the meat served by Chinese restaurants to cat meat. He has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and disrespected the Chinese culture.

During my 15-odd months of living in Beijing so far, I have certainly never seen or heard of cat meat being offered up for human consumption. Kinsella was indeed pandering to a stereotype about the Chinese, and pushing it to inaccurate extremes. However, it also has to be said that the stereotype contains a kernel of truth, insofar as Chinese cuisine really does incorporate a number of species that Canadians – especially, I suppose, British Canadians – are generally not in the habit of eating. Since arriving in China, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling donkey, frog, larval cicada, jellyfish and (on one occasion) roast dog. The cicadas were a deliberate experiment, but everything else arrived at the table in the natural course of dinners with Chinese friends and colleagues. Beijing also boasts a famous restaurant specialising in penis-based dishes, though I’ve never been there.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, the contrast between Chinese culinary adventurousness and Canadian squeamishness is quite real, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding humour in the comparison. The Chinese community in Canada should rest assured that jokes about the extensiveness of their traditional menu are not necessarily mean-spirited or intended to be insulting, and the rest of us should be equally ready to laugh along with Chinese comedians who want to mock our dietary timidity. We can’t be expected to constantly tiptoe around each other, or we’ll all end up so crazy that feline barbeques will begin to seem positively normal by comparison.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 9, 2009 12:52 pm

    I agree with you Corwin, food is not an issue where we should be “politically correct” but open-minded. I tasted jellyfish salad recently and found it quite delicious. When we are looking at food shortage worldwide and ecological concerns around certain of our usual food sources (beef or fish for example), we should learn to sample new foods and look at different ways to feed both our bodies and our minds.

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