What does "Confucian exemption" mean on poultry?
November 19, 2010 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand the meaning of "Confucian exemption" in poultry slaughter. And some related stuff about modern Confucianism in China.

I was looking at a package of squab at a grocery store, and the label advertised it as "Confucian exemption." Apparently, this refers to poultry where the viscera are left in following slaughter. Learning this exposed all kinds of ignorance on my part about Confucianism and China, ignorance that has been surprisingly resistant to Googling! Such as:

1) Huh, there are Confucian dietary / slaughter rules? Are there any more?
2) What are the reasons behind them?
3) Did most meat production follow these rules before the Cultural Revolution?
4) It sounds like the CCP has lately become more tolerant of Confucianism, so there has been a bit of a surge in popularity. Is likely that why I'm seeing this label now?
posted by molybdenum to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you are interested in Confucianism in modern China then you should read this book, Confucius From the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today's World. It's based on the transcript from a series of public lectures in 2006 and has similarities to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was wildly popular and the author is now a major public intellectual.

(I haven't actually read it as it wasn't in English when I was studying this, but it seems like a fascinating primary source to understand Confucianism's surge in popularity).
posted by acidic at 2:02 AM on November 20, 2010

I'm sure you came across it when you Googled, but for others, the "exemption" part has less to do with religion and more to do with law. I assume according to normal food standards the viscera must be removed, but since this is considered a "ritual" slaughter (which is apparently exempt from some of the same regulations), you are allowed to ignore those standards. Hence "Confucian Exemption".

Apparently this is a common practice for squab and is also referred to as "New York Dressed":
Squabs are sold live in Chinese marketplaces to assure freshness,[28] but they can also be dressed in two styles. "Chinese-style" (Buddhist slaughter) birds retain their head and feet, whereas "New York-dressed" (Confucian slaughter) birds retain their entrails, head and feet.[12] The greatest volume of U.S. squab is currently sold within Chinatowns.[3]
Apparently the Chinese government has been tolerant of religious expression in general (within the confines of a few acceptable religious practices, of course). When I traveled there the shrines and temples were all in very good shape, probably a testament to frequent visits from pilgrims. Religion isn't as big of a deal there as it is in, say, Italy, where even a relatively small church is going to have at least a handful of non-secular visitors at any time.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:25 AM on November 20, 2010

Oh and here are some dietary rules (starts at #26) including one that prohibits the consumption of grain-fed animal entrails. There's a lot of other interesting stuff on that site as well as an excellent search function.
posted by acidic at 2:26 AM on November 20, 2010

Are you a frequent purchaser of squab? If not, it's possible this has been around for a while and you just missed it. I'm guessing that religion plays some role in this form of "dressing" but could just as easily be popular for culinary reasons. There's been a fairly recent resurgence in the popularity of organs and viscera so if it is more common that could also be a factor. Interestingly, some people who are neither Kosher nor Jewish seek out kashered chicken because the process imparts a different texture and flavor to the meat.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:28 AM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks Deathalicious! I actually hadn't put two and two together to realize that it was a legal exemption they were talking about. Obvious now that you mention it. Although it's common in other forms of poultry to leave the entrails in, right? Chickens at the grocery store sometimes have the guts included (and Thanksgiving turkeys usually come with giblets).

And this was my first experience with squab, so indeed, maybe that label has always been there.

Acidic, thanks for the links! That second like is the sort of thing I was looking for.

I still don't get why a "Confucian exemption" bird would come with the entrails if Confucian doctrine prohibits eating them. Maybe you have to ceremonially discard them or something?
posted by molybdenum at 3:27 AM on November 20, 2010

I still don't get why a "Confucian exemption" bird would come with the entrails if Confucian doctrine prohibits eating them.

It's possible that keeping the organs was a food thing and that in order to get around the usual food laws, they claimed it under "religious reasons".... and if this was long ago when it happened, "Confucian" would be a good enough stand in for, "The thing Chinese people do".

In most Chinatowns in the US, there's often a ton of weird forgotten exceptions and rules that come from reactions and work-arounds to byzantine laws. This includes stuff like, "No laundry business can operate in a building made of wood" (California, 1800's, designed to push out Chinese businesses), to property owned by 200 co-owners as a means of preventing local govts from swindling out property.

I wouldn't be surprised if this came about through a similar history.
posted by yeloson at 11:17 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

« Older Help me be a drummer   |   Alternatives for male doctor & pap test Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.