Stop Defending Animal Cruelty by Calling It Tradition

Earlier this week, People magazine reported on a disgusting event called the “Grind” that happens every year in the Danish Faroe Islands. It is the mass slaughter of hundreds of pilot whales. What essentially happens is boats go out and corral whales into a cove, then dozens of people, including children, run into the water and stab the animals to death with knives. It’s brutal and horrifying. There is so much blood that all the water turns red.

Images from this barbaric slaughter sicken many people the world over, but it is also widely excused away as being a part of the local culture. It is a ritual that’s been going on for hundreds of years. It’s tradition.

The Grind, Faroe Island
Photo credit: Alastair Ward/Triangle News

Similarly, on the other side of the globe, the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan is defended in much the same way. Locals tell outsiders to leave them alone because the dolphin hunt has been going on for decades. We shouldn’t question what happens because it’s a part of the culture. It’s tradition.

And, of course, right here in the United States, more than 40 million birds are violently killed for Thanksgiving each year. Countless undercover investigations by animal rights activists have documented the despicable abuse endured by these innocent animals, yet we are still expected to eat turkey on Thanksgiving because that’s what you do. It’s tradition.

I could go on and on with cultural examples of animal cruelty: There’s bullfighting in Spain. There’s cockfighting in parts of Latin America and Asia. The French love their foie gras; and the rodeo is still all the rage in parts of the U.S.

Bullfighting in Spain

While we may all understand and appreciate the importance of traditions and rituals in culture, animals don’t. In fact, I can assure you that animals don’t give a shit – and if they could speak, they would tell you to leave them the fuck alone. Period.

Much like humans, animals experience fear, pain, and suffering. That’s not my opinion, that’s science. It is unacceptable for us to continue abusing animals and use tradition as an excuse. It’s complete bullshit.

Just because our ancestors did something doesn’t mean we have to. There are countless rituals/traditions that cultures decide to discontinue. My great-grandmother was married at age 14 by a matchmaker. She literally met her husband on her wedding day. Would anyone in today’s world argue that we should continue that practice because it goes back thousands of years? Hell no.

Here’s the deal: I don’t care if something has been going on in your culture for millennia; someone at some point was the first person to do it. Whatever “it” was, got repeated and repeated until it became tradition. We need to introduce new rituals into our respective cultures that do not involve animal cruelty and cancel the ones that do. There is no rule saying we need to repeat the sins of the past.

Thankfully, people are changing traditions. The Belgian town of Ypres, which used to murder cats during an annual festival for hundreds of years, discontinued the practice in 1818. Today, the town holds a parade to honor cats instead. The German Circus Roncalli replaced its animals with holograms, recognizing that keeping animals captive and forcing them to perform for entertainment was wrong. Even traditions that indirectly harm animals are being changed. The Italian town of Collecchio replaced its annual fireworks with silent ones in 2018 to avoid causing stress to animals. And of course, people are replacing traditional animal foods during holidays for plant-based alternatives.

When we know better, we should do better. Maybe the people that came before us were unaware of the pain and suffering they were causing to animals, but we cannot claim the same ignorance.  Let’s commit to being the ones who replace cruel traditions with kind ones.