“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
The slavery continues. From people in colonial days to animals in the modern-day, servitude amongst living creatures still thrives. The whipping of horses and oxen doing back-breaking work for the men in power can be witnessed in the streets of Cuba .
This Meatless Monday post is a discussion of cultural perspectives on animals and is inspired by my recent trip to this country.
I encountered a number of animals on my trip. Often they were working animals, used for transportation and in place of machinery.
How animals are viewed is cultural. In some countries animals are seen as entertainment and part of the nation’s heritage (e.g. the running of the bulls and bull-fighting in Spain, cock-fighting in Cuba, etc.). Many countries view animals as food while others see certain animals as being sacred. Compare the cat and dog.
In many Western countries, these animals are kept as pets and considered part of, and sometimes treated better than, the family. In some Asian countries cats and dogs make up the protein of a meal.
Food taboos are dictated by religious belief and cultural laws. They forbid the eating of certain animals, how others are to be slaughtered and who may eat them and when.
Cue the pigs.
In Cuba pigs are viewed much like the prized truffles they are employed to sniff out in France. From the Cuban sandwich (i.e. ham and cheese on white) to the Christmas eve and New Year’s day feast, pigs are seen primarily as pork – a commodity to be consumed constantly. I remember hearing the squeal of a pig in the streets of Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city after Havana. Once I got to the site of the noise I saw a huge pig panting as two guys desperately tried to persuade it to keep walking up the hill. It heaved and held its ground, seemingly not letting these men push him around. Perhaps the saying should go “stubborn as a pig“. Mules had nothing on this hog. I suspect it ended up on someone’s dinner plate that night. However, one man’s pork is another one’s poison. Islam, Judaism and Seventh Day Adventist forbid the consumption of this animal.
Animal rights didn’t factor into my decision to become a vegetarian but it has become one of the reasons I remain one. In being vegetarian/vegan one cannot avoid the topic of animal rights. How does one reconcile cultural traditions with personal beliefs? What of the universal theme of humanity and compassion which transcends societal customs? Does one accept how animals are viewed and subsequently treated? or does one protest it? and if so, how loudly?
I’d like to apply the anthropologist’s theory of cultural relativism here, the idea of finding meaning in beliefs and values within the context of the culture in which they are found. This does not mean blind acceptance of all things we encounter on our travels. Sometimes one witnesses things while globetrotting that are quite disturbing. The challenge is understanding what we experience while holding true to our ideals.
*No animals were harmed during the taking of these photos (by yours truly). They are all Cuban citizens.