May 13, 2010 at 7:51 PM ET
AP / Xinhua file
China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, waves after landing on the Inner Mongolian
grasslands of northern China on Oct. 16, 2003. In his autobiography, Yang says
dog meat and other traditional Chinese dishes were on his spaceflight menu.
Dogs made their mark in space history as the first animals in orbit - but now they're in the news because they were on the menu for China's first astronaut.
Yang Liwei, who made history in 2003 as the pilot for the first Chinese-made spaceship, discusses his orbital eating habits in his recently published autobiography, "The Long March to Space," also known as "The Nine Levels Between Heaven and Earth."
"Actually we ate quite normal food, there is no need to keep it a secret," Yang says in a passage from the book quoted by Britain's Telegraph.
The list of items includes dog meat from Huajiang county in Guangdong province, which the Chinese say has medicinal benefits ranging from reducing high blood pressure to reducing frequent urination at night. It's also supposed to combat fatigue ("better than ginseng") and provide warmth in the winter.
Other items on the menu included braised chicken and steamed fish - but it was the dog meat that sparked a buzz, in the media as well as among animal-rights advocates. Hong Kong-based Animals Asia, for example, has been waging a long-running campaign to fight the Asian trade in dog meat and cat meat.
In a statement, Animals Asia's Irene Feng sais she was "a little shocked" to hear that China was putting dog meat on the menu for its astronauts.
"There are so many health risks associated with the farming, slaughter and consumption of dogs," said Feng, who runs Animals Asia's Doctor Dog program in China. "I hope our national space team will consider these issues."
Jill Robinson, Animals Asia's founder and chief executive officer, said it's especially important for China's astronauts to set an example.
"Yang Liwei is a role model for so many young people and he is one of China’s greatest heroes," Robinson said. "We hope that he might recognize dogs as the heroes they are too - they found survivors during the Sichuan earthquake and protected people from potential terrorists during the Olympic Games. Surely they deserve more."
Space food reflects the planet's different cultures just as much as earthly food does. Jewish and Muslim astronauts, for example, probably wouldn't go for the freeze-dried "Kicked Up Bacon Cheese Mashed Potatoes" that were served aboard the International Space Station in 2006. But they probably wouldn't stop their pork-eating crewmates from chowing down.
Suppose Chinese astronauts brought dog meat with them onto the space station in future years: Would that be an acceptable reflection of their national culture, or an unacceptable example of bad taste in an increasingly international space workplace? What do you think?
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