Cat meat consumption today based on mediaeval superstitions

Although some Chinese living in the south of China appear to have the strongest reputation for eating cat meat, there are other countries particularly in Asia where this habit continues despite objections from some in the West and within China. And my study of cat meat consumption over about 15 years indicates to me that it is based upon mediaeval superstitions (Middle Ages) which are deeply ingrained and which are very hard to get rid of in the modern era. I also know that there’s lots of money in it for the cat and dog meat traders who object to any bans that might be proposed in China for instance. Although, I sense that Asian countries where they eat cat meat are becoming more sensitive to Western criticisms.

Superstition surrounded medieval cats of all kinds in European medieval times.

Superstition surrounded medieval cats of all kinds in European medieval times. Image: MikeB

Yes, I believe that in some parts of the world the mindset on cat meat is the same as it was in medieval Europe (13th century – Middle Ages).

Some in China hang onto the superstition that cat meat has health benefits

From my perspective, I get a clear sense that the mediaeval superstitions that were present in Europe concerning the health benefits derived from eating cat meat are still present in parts of Asia. Whereas European countries and for instance Japan grew out of these superstitions, certain groups of people in the south of China for example simply don’t want to relinquish the habit.

No doubt the traders sell cat meat as a product which benefits the health of the consumer and consumers purchase the product because of a superstitious belief that it does indeed benefits their health.

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It is unclear when cat and dog meat was first on the menu in China. However, it appears to have started around the 13th century which is during medieval times.

And this superstition can be seen in old mediaeval texts from Europe. I’m referring to the 13th century in Europe which is around 700 years ago. Eating cat meat today is a very backward tradition. It is as if some people are living in mediaeval times in parts of Asia and in other countries.

Medieval references to cat meat’s health benefits

For example, Albertus Magnus (a medieval era author) wrote on the suppose medicinal qualities of cats. He claimed that the flesh of a wildcat could cure gout in arms and legs. And he claimed that the bile of a wildcat, if eaten was good for facial pains or tics. He further claimed that half an ounce of the bile of a black cat when mixed with Arabian jasmine produced a powder which would cure sneezing. And my reference book (Medieval Cats) mentions a remedy for a stye in one’s eye. You were to rub a tomcat’s tail into the eye be cured of that pesky stye.

For the sake of completeness, a stye is a small red painful lump at the edge of the eyelid. They are a type of bacterial infection. Antibiotics would be the cure but they weren’t available in medieval times.

Japan – health benefits

In Japan, we are told that sometimes cat meat was eaten until the end of the Edo period (1867) because they believed that it was effective against bronchitis, haemorrhoids, lung disease and costochondritis. It was eaten in the form of a soup. More superstition. There is simply no scientific evidence that cat meat can cure these diseases. And why should there be?

Standard flesh!

Cat meat is no different from any other. It is the flesh, the muscle primarily of a domestic or feral cat. People don’t say that steak, the flesh of a cow, bull or ox has medicinal qualities. People eat beef as a nutritious food product.

Myriad of cat superstitions in the Middle Ages

In mediaeval times, there were many superstitions surrounding domestic and feral cats. This is well known. The greatest of which is that they were linked to the devil. The cat was often associated with heresy in mediaeval times. And with magic and witchcraft. There are numerous texts supporting this.

The superstitions of mediaeval people in Europe are astounding. There are tales of shape-changing women who could turn into cats and vice versa. These stories are commonplace in mediaeval literature.

And, as mentioned, cats were often compared to the devil or to death. A mid-14th century work, The Prick of Conscience (Ayenbite of Inwyt), includes the popular proverb of how the devil plays with the sinner like a cat plays with a mouse.

And the black cat has magical powers in mediaeval superstition. In one instance, a group of people, in 1323, placed a black cat in a chest together with food and holy water and buried it at a crossroads. They wanted to find out who had stolen their money. They were found out and the cat was initially rescued and then burnt at the stake with one of the perpetrators.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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