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Yulin + Festivals of Cruelty

Content Warning: this post may contain images that are uncomfortable to view, but which depict the reality of animal cruelty in our world.

Well, it’s that time of year again. In Yulin, China, the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, more commonly referred to as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, is about to take place on June 21. Perhaps you saw some posts circulating recently that suggested China would be banning this festival in 2017. Unfortunately, you were misled. As it turns out after all, the festival will not be banned.

While I certainly find the mass killing of dogs (and by reportedly suspect means, to boot) horrific, I will not be joining in the choir of meat-eaters and vegans alike as they scorn the people of Yulin or—worse yet—the entirety of China. To be clear, I don’t support the Yulin Festival any more (or less) than I refuse to support pig roasts, barbecues, crab feasts, etc. But I recognize the hypocrisy of scolding a culture over the nuance of which animal they’re consuming during a celebration versus which animals my culture will consume.

Dog Meat vs. The “Right” Meat

As an American, I am raised to find the consumption of dogs taboo—more so than the consumption of, say, chickens. Our culture typically shuns the consumption of domesticated pets. We typically don’t eat cats or dogs in America.

Of course, as a vegan, I find the consumption of any animal taboo. It’s hard for me to understand why it’s acceptable to kill and consume one animal but not another. I love my pet cat, and I couldn’t fathom eating her; but I also couldn’t fathom eating a random cow at this point in my life. For those who eat meat from cows, pigs, chickens, turkey, or fish but are outraged and infuriated by the dog meat trade in Yulin, imagine how I feel on a daily basis!

Yet I recognize the cultural norms at play. Our boundaries are set by our societies, our religions. What’s acceptable to kill in one community is sacrilege in another. And if we want to effectively end the suffering of animals, we must first understand why they are made to suffer. Psychologist Kurt Lewin once said, “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”

I’ll flip that around.

If you want to truly change something, you must first understand it.

There’s Much To Be Mad About

So, there’s the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Dogs have been consumed in China for hundreds of years. In Ancient Chinese medicine, the consumption of dog meat is said to help ward off summer heat. The Yulin festival, which only began in 2009, occurs each June for the Summer Solstice.

Much of the controversy regarding the Yulin festival has been surrounding the inhumane treatment of the dogs and a suggestion that many of the dogs cooked at the festival are actually stolen pets. Yet much of the dialogue (on the internet, at least) condemns broadly the eating of dogs—period. Further, it is delivered with a harmful rhetoric that slanders all people of Yulin, or “the Chinese,” generally. It’s a perspective that fails to recognize our own mistreatment of animals.

Until we stop the consumption of cows, pigs, chickens, turkey, fish, etc. in Western Civilizations, we ought not insist that other civilizations cease the consumption of animals that have traditionally had a place in their diets. We can and should fight for humane treatment, but  consumption altogether must be addressed on a broad scale, and not merely when it’s convenient.

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Photo from Change.org

And lest we forget, simply because it’s widely publicized does not make the Yulin Festival an exception. There are actually many common practices and rituals in which animals are slaughtered en masse. Here are just a few (fortunately, some are no longer practiced):

Gadhimai Festival, Nepal [Festival Cancelled Permanently]

The event involved the mass sacrificial slaughter of animals—including water buffaloes, pigs, goats, chickens, and pigeons—to honor Gadhimai, the goddess of power.  As of 2015, this event no longer takes place.

Kots Kaal Pato, in Citilcum, Mexico [Cruelty Removed]

A 100+ year old tradition in which locals honor San Bartolo and invite the rainy season by whacking piñatas—filled with live iguanas, opossums, and ducks. The festival, as I understand, has since been altered to no longer harm or kill animals. And it appears to have just surpassed year two sans cruelty.

Nem Thuong Pig-Slaughter Festival, Vietnam [Cruelty Removed]

For centuries, the Nem Thuong Pig-Slaughter Festival in Vietnam has occurred on the sixth day of the first lunar month every year to commemorate a victorious general who fought invaders. The general killed wild hogs to feed to his army, and each year, the village celebrates with the ritual slaughter of two pigs for good luck. A ban in recent years was promising, but was ineffective at first, as pig slaughters continued. In 2017, however, there was no slaughter.

Grindadráp, Faroe Islands

In the Faroe Islands, Grindadráp marks the killing of pilot whales. The event, commonly referred to as the “Grind,” is an annual whale hunt that dates back centuries. The hunt was started to provide a food source and economic relief to the community, which relies heavily on imported goods for sustenance. The hunt continued into spring 2017.

It’s quick to pass judgement and call the people and entire nationalities of those participating in such festivals “savage,” or “barbaric.” But this is a great opportunity to contrast the daily slaughter of animals for food in the United States, not to mention the many, cruel festivals we “celebrate” here each year.

Bacon Festivals….everywhere U.S.A.

For many of the folks that balk at the idea of a dog meat festival (vegetarians/vegans excluded), they likely all love the sound of a bacon festival. The bacon-everything craze has been going strong for some time now, and it’s not uncommon to hear about a “bacon festival.” Just this weekend, Richmond, VA, will be holding their Bacon Festival (ugh). Then there’s the PABaconfest; New York City Bacon and Beer Classic; the Beer Bacon Music Festival in Frederick, MD; the LA Bacon Fest; the Ohio Bacon Fest; the San Jose Bacon Festival of America; the Virginia Bacon Festival; and the multi-city Bourbon and Bacon Fest…just to name a few! And people LOVE their bacon! They love bacon jokes, they dress up as bacon slices, they revel as the wrap everything in bacon—without even recognizing the life of the pigs killed.

Yellville Turkey Trot, Yellville Arkansas

Each year, in Yellville, Arkansa, the Yellville Turkey Trot occurs with traditions like the Turkey Drop. You heard that right. Domesticated turkeys, unable to fly, are dropped from airplanes. In 2016, six turkeys were dropped; one unfortunately died. Fatalities are common, and defended. Similar events occurred in Collinsville, Alabama.

Thanksgiving, United States and elsewhere

For some reason, this one’s easy for most to forget. Yet, we in America and elsewhere will joyously participate in the massive slaughter of a single species for a one-day event. Let’s compare. While it’s estimated that between 10-20 million dogs are killed for the Yulin festival, more than 46 million turkeys are estimated to be killed each year for Thanksgiving. They may have never been pets (per se), but rest assured that they were killed in many different ways—perhaps sometimes cruelly, perhaps with minimal suffering, but never “humanely.”

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Turkeys caged for slaughter. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Festivals and practices which celebrate with the cruel treatment and slaughter of animals are heartbreaking, truly. And while I support the fight for humane treatment and ultimately the end of festivals like these, I am cautious to recognize where cultural stigmas are exacerbating emotional reactions.

I am conscious of the fact that we have every reason to be just as angry as we are—no, more angry—at the fact that unspeakable numbers of animals are killed every second, yet get little to no attention.

Until we own up to the fact that we slaughter more than twice as many turkeys for a single day event in the United States, what place do we have in criticizing the Yulin Festival?

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