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Brazzil - Behavior - June 2003

Brazil: The Cruel Rite of Churrasco

The Brazilian tradition of churrasco is a lamentable example of
mere human selfish gluttony. Related to it, some Brazilian rodeos are sadistically
perverse, as onlookers and rodeo participants stick broken-glass
into an animals' anus to make it buck more fiercely,
and then beat and literally torture the oxen until they die.

Alan P. Marcus


Recently there has been a world cup rodeo in the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, USA. Cowboys from Brazil, the USA and other countries "competed" in rodeo events, amongst other "family-fun" activities, the famous Brazilian-style barbeque, the churrasco, and Brazilian and North American country music. The event was advertised as a benign event and as a "family-fun" event.

As a Brazilian national who was raised on a staunchly red-meat diet, I have only recently really thought about the habit of the national pastime, the churrasco, taking place almost on every weekend in Brazil. I have also come to deconstruct the concept behind rodeos and those eating habits, and the outcome has been revealingly horrific.

The habit of the churrasco to Brazilians (and barbeque to North Americans) carries no association in popular culture with the "idea" behind the consumed content itself, or of the process of "production" and slaughter of the content itself. The content, in this case is animal meat.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms, Churrascos and Rodeos

The concept behind conveyor-belt-style factory farming is not really well known to most people. Most of all, the association between animal cruelty and factory farming is heavily veiled under the neatly meat packages purchased in comfortable air-conditioned supermarkets. The fact is that farm animals suffer one of the worst cases of animal abuse.

There is a sense of the romanticized pastoral image of the small "farm" and that meats come from this imaginary small farm. However, the farms that are the biggest producers of meats are no longer the "old-MacDonald-had-a-farm"-type farms, they are corporate-owned modern-day huge animal farm-factories, whose bottom-line is simply profit and also to keep the stocks in good shape for the share-holders.

There is absolutely no regard to the well being of animals. The semantics involved in the way consumers "think" of certain foods soften the "idea" behind consumers' purchases, since in the English language "cows" become "beef", "pigs" become "pork", and so on. It is easier to eat an imaginary item called "beef" than it is to eat a cow. The same "softening" effect occurs in Portuguese semantics, as "vaca" ("cow") becomes "bife" ("beef").

The Brazilian tradition of churrasco is a lamentable example of mere human selfish gluttony. The rodeos that promote Brazilian churrasco, are just as lamentable in their treatment of animals, and some Brazilian rodeos such as the farra do boi (the party of the ox) in the South of Brazil, are sadistically perverse, as onlookers and rodeo participants stick broken-glass into an animals' anus to make it buck more fiercely, and then beat and literally torture the oxen until they die.

The farra do boi is one of the most brutal and despicable human engagements in animal cruelty today. Albeit it has been outlawed since 1997, the governor of the state of Santa Catarina, where the festival occurs, refuses to denounce the festival, defending it as a "tradition", and the farra do boi continues to take place under silent watch.

(For more information see website: http://www.farradoboi.org/farra/whatis.shtml)

Brazilians will promote and defend the churrasco as a national and cultural tradition with absolutely no regard to an animal's well-being, and the only interest is "how good the meat tastes". Churrascos are part of Brazilian social entertaining and as such is self-serving and does not take place for human survival, hence, this is precisely the issue that is most disturbing, since the entertaining aspect can very easily replace meat with other types of food. Particularly since Brazil has such a variety of tropical fruits and vegetables available. The equivalent of churrascos in the USA are "barbeques". North Americans tend to respond politically and emotionally when confronted with animal treatment and consumption issues.

The issue of animal cruelty is even more controversial; and is often dismissed as being "exaggerated" or pertaining to a particular political or religious agenda. Nevertheless, both Brazilians and North Americans rarely deconstruct or correlate the "idea" behind meat-eating and factory-farming, rodeos, circuses with animal cruelty.

Organizations in the USA involved in the prevention of animal cruelty such as PETA and MSPCA often are also dismissed as organizations that have either become too "radicalized" or "inflammatory", or too "soft" in the popular mind. Too often, certain counter-arguments for animal liberation profess that the animal cruelty rhetoric comes from "tree-hugging-earthy-crunchy-granola-touchy-feely"-types, and fail to understand that most of the central arguments come from rational ethicists and philosophers who tend to be far removed from such stereotypes. Counter-arguments to animal cruelty prevention are almost always based on emotional and political rhetoric, and as such are mostly misguided and oversimplified.

Rodeos do not occur for human survival, they are held only for human entertainment. The deconstruction of this entertainment is very simple: rodeos (and also circuses and dog-racing) are cruel and should not be considered a "family-fun" activity or a "fun" activity at all, especially for the animals involved.

Rodeos teach and perpetuate the idea that animals can be exploited for the sole purpose of human entertainment, in addition to desensitizing viewers to grotesque animal cruelty and humiliation. The message is imbued in an archaic -type of "machismo" as the male-cowboy becomes and is perceived by viewers as the ultimate "dominator-of-the-beast". Rodeos are simply a promotional entertainment gimmick. The only ones who gain are the rodeo promoters and the so-called modern-day "cowboys" (vaqueiros) with their cash-prizes.

The Brazilian Feira and Ethics

The counter arguments to animal cruelty prevention often claim that animals are worst off in the wild. These arguments merely reflect static situations that are one-dimensional. If animals are worst off in the wild, why should humans, exacerbate the situation by contributing to their suffering, particularly because humans claim to know better?

Furthermore, this kind of discourse is similar to slave-owners who claimed that their slaves were worst off in Africa, and that they as slave-owners were actually "providing" Africans with a "better" life. Animal cruelty receives similar popular and political attention that African slavery and women suffrage movements received in the past.

Some will argue that the situation is different because Africans, Amerindians and women are humans, and animals are not; however, some hundred and fifty years ago, many did not consider them humans either.

People of African and Amerindian ancestry and women have long struggled for past 500 years for enfranchisement and their status as "humans" on the American continent. As the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham noted about animals: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?". And if the answer is "yes", then ultimately humans have an ethical obligation to not intentionally inflict pain on animals.

Humans possess reason and therefore humans may reason about animal cruelty and choose options to avoid inflicting pain on animals. Living beings that possess a central nervous system are capable of suffering and feeling pain, and therefore, why inflict pain intentionally when there are so many options available in avoiding to do so? This is a question that Brazilians need to start asking themselves, particularly since the rich variety of fruit and vegetable options available in a feira (Brazilian street market) are multifold and unlike anywhere else in the world.

Any observer may notice that in a feira there are different types of each fruit available, for example, for bananas: banana-nanica, banana-ouro, banana-prata, banana-maçã. There are different types of lemons, limes, oranges, among other fruits that the feirante (street-market vendor) will shout-out to announce his or her produce. The varieties and shapes of each fruit are staggering and wonderfully "Brazilian", and like the Brazilian population itself, uniquely colorful and sensual.

Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that offer such a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in both urban and rural regional markets. These varieties and rich sources of food and nutrition are seemingly taken for granted in Brazil, and the national lust for churrasco is intoxicating and blurring the judgment of Brazilian ethical rationale.

There seems to be a coexisting relationship between social disenfranchisement and animal cruelty. And wherever churrascos, rodeos, circuses, dog-racing, cock-fighting and animal cruelty are common, the wider and more acute the social gap and income disparity exists.

The "myth" and notion of beef as a single source of protein in Brazil, is also in need of debunking. Low-income populations in Brazil are the ones most affected by such "myths" and they are most likely to "buy into" such outdated and untrue "old-wife-tales". For example, in non-vegetarian southeast India there are severe cases of lack of nutrition among the human population.

However, in west India, where the majority of the population is vegetarian, severe lack of nutrition is non-existent. Therefore, meat eating is not necessarily linked to nutrition, and similarly; nor is the lack of meat eating linked to poor nutrition.

There seems to be a correlation between the way humans treat animals and the way humans treat other humans (i.e.; those who commit homicide and rape often have a history of being offenders of animal cruelty). According to a Veja magazine article published in May 2003, there were over 30,000 homicides in Brazil in 2000, almost double the number of homicides that occurred in Brazil in 1990.

Those stunning figures should help to illustrate the correlation between the treatment of humans and animals in Brazil. Amnesty International has also indicated through a press release in May 2003, that Brazil is in violation of human rights, and according to Timothy Cahill, Amnesty International Brazilian investigations leader, the statistics on violence in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are reminiscent of war statistics.

The saying learned from Mahatma Gandhi, should be reiterated in this case: "one should judge a nation by the way it treats its animals". Some will argue that this saying denotes that animals should receive better treatment than humans, but actually it means something entirely different. The message is simple, wise and powerful, that is; humans who treat animals with dignity will most likely treat other humans similarly.


Alan P. Marcus is Brazilian currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Geography at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Contact e-mail: amarcus@geo.umass.edu 

Works cited:
Veja Magazine. May, 2003.
Singer, Peter. 1975. "Animal Liberation". HarperCollins Publishing, New York NY.


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