By Jane Han
Korea Times correspondent
NEW YORK ― For many Koreans, "sannakji" is a special delicacy. There's nothing like devouring a stamina-boosting baby octopus that's perfectly seasoned with sesame oil.
But apparently, there's something about this traditional dish that got the world's largest animal rights group squirming ― the fact that the ocean animal is alive, or at least looks to be.
"The arms of octopuses are sheared off bit by bit, and the animals are served and consumed while they're still alive and writhing in agony ... They try desperately to crawl away, only to be dropped back onto the burning surface again and again."
This is how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) describes the way sannakji is served at two Korean restaurants ― Sik Gaek and East Seafood ― in New York. And many other New Yorkers seem to view it the same way as PETA says it has been "flooded with complaints, e-mails and phone calls" from people concerned about the restaurants' practice of animal cruelty.
Taking matter into their own hands, two dozen PETA members staged a protest in front of the Korean eateries late last month, waving pickets that said "Octopus: Dismembered ALIVE."
The group even called on Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's office to file charges against restaurants that prepare and serve live animals.
"Octopuses are complex, intelligent animals who have a rich life, the ability to learn quickly from observation, and highly evolved brains similar to those of vertebrates. They possess sophisticated nervous systems and experts agree that they feel pain," according to PETA.
But for the Korean restaurants, the sudden cloud of controversy is only baffling.
"Sannakji is part of Korean culture," said a representative of Sik Gaek. "All this attention and criticism seems over the top. Besides, the octopus isn't technically alive."
He's right. Sannakji is killed before being served but the animal's nerve activity is what keeps the tentacles writhing on the plate.
"There's nothing barbaric about eating what's already dead," the official said.
Will Son of East Seafood argued against PETA's protest, too.
He said everyone has the right to choose his or her own food and if they don't like it, simply don't eat it. But for those who appreciate sannakji, the dish will remain on the menu.
Whether it be a clash of culture or clash of taste, the standoff between PETA and Korean businesses is expected to continue as the animal rights group is calling on more people to speak out against sannakji.
"Please join PETA in insisting that these restaurants take live animals off their menus for good," PETA wrote on its site, providing mailing addresses of the two businesses at the center of attention.
'산낙지'로 문화 충돌?
뉴욕 ― 많은 한국인들에게 산낙지는 별미다. 스태미나 키워준다는 세발 낙지가 참기름에 양념되면 그 어떤 것보다 걸신 들린 듯 먹게된다.
하지만 듣자 하니 이 바다생물이 적어도 살아있다고 보여서 전통음식이 세계에서 가장 큰 동물 보호가들을 자극했다.
동물을 인도적으로 사랑하는 사람들(PETA)는 뉴욕의 "식객"과 "이스트 시푸드" 음식점의 산낙지를 보고 '낙지들의 팔이 조금씩 짤리고 동물이 살아있는 채로 제공되고 몸에 흡수된다… 계속 뜨거운 바닥으로 떨어지지만 도망치려 노력하고 또 노력한다" 고 설명했다.
이는 뉴요커들도 PETA 와 같은 생각인 것 같다. 24명의 PETA 멤버들이 이 두 음식점앞에서 피켓을 들고 시위를 했다.
식객의 대표는 "산낙지는 한국의 문화다, 그리고 이 산낙지는 죽어있다" 고 반박했고 이스트 시푸드의 윌 손 도 '사람들이 먹고 싶은 것을 고를 권리가 있고 싫다면 그냥 안 먹으면 된다' 며 이 시위에 반박했다.
식객의 대표의 말처럼 산낙지는 죽어있다. 동물의 신경운동이 계속해서 움직이면서 이것들이 살아있는 것처럼 보이게 한다.
이것이 문화적 충돌이든 맛의 충돌이든 동물 보호가들이 이에 반대하기 위해 사람들을 더 모이게 할 것이므로 PETA와 이 한식당들과의 대치상태는 계속될 것 같다.