I won’t eat factory-farmed meat. I make an annual donation of the Humane Society. I cried (twice) while watching Bambi.
Yet somehow this year, I ended up at a cockfight on a farm in Nicaragua. Right after Sunday mass, any sins that were repented away are promptly put right back on. While fights can take place any day and any where there’s dirt, chickens and a crowd, Sunday is game day. NFL Sunday here is the Nicaraguan Fowl League. One fan even wore a makeshift jersey—a white t-shirt with a rooster drawn on the front.
You see the cocks before the fight. There’s a guy who acts as a cock coach but looks more like a pimp who flails around this decrepit, washed-up, has-been chicken in front of the fighters. It’s a training session for the fighters and a scouting session for the betters. Some fighters bob and weave. Some counter attack. Some duck and cover. You assess then place your bets.
Cocks are clipped and given official regulation gloves. (In Mexico they’re given regulation 1.5-inch blades.) The fights last 3 rounds, or until one rooster hits the dirt canvas. 3 hours of 3-round pecking and clawing. The chickens lasted longer than I did. I lasted until 5 minutes before the fight started before leaving.
I asked one spectator about the fight: “It’s just like boxing,” he said. “Same weight class. Same size. So it’s fair.”
“Otherwise it would be cruel?” I asked.
“Exactly!” he replied.
Cruel. But cruel as it was, in the moment, I felt less guilty about being at a cock fight for five minutes—cringing at the sight of bloodied chickens—than I’ve ever felt about being in line at a KFC for half an hour, salivating at the sight of fried factory-farmed chickens, far more cruelly raised than the cockfighters—at least these chickens on this farm in Nicaragua have a fighting chance.
A timezone away back in Washington DC, any remaining guilt will wash away.
What amazes me isn’t the culture of cockfighting and how anyone can watch it. I understand that part. Go to Madrid and preach about bull fighting. Go to Pass Christian, Mississippi and preach about dog fighting. Go back 200 years ago and preach to a New Englander about slavery. Words don’t uproot a tree, just like words don’t uproot deep cultural traditions. That’s clear. What baffles me is me. The tourists who go down and pay extra to watch a cock fight to “experience and understand the culture,” smile at locals as if this is all ok, then come home and for-shame the same people they couldn’t stop smiling at just a timezone away.
For-shaming comes with a disclaimer. “I didn’t bet, I just went for a minute to experience the culture.” “It was part of the tour package.” “I was on vacation; I would never support cockfighting as a regular practice.” “At least It’s not as bad as factory-farming animals.” And best of all, “It’s a pretty backward country to let this happen.”
Backward in an eerily similar way to a country that didn’t legally ban cockfighting in all 50 of its states until 2008 (it is still legal in the US territories of Guam and Puerto Rico). The US is 100 years ahead in science, technology and innovation, but let’s not pretend we’re ahead in ethics.
Letting chickens, dogs, bulls…patients, students, non-combatants, or USDA-approved farm animals suffer for gain comes from a culture of excuses and making disclaimers about things happening right in front of our faces that we refuse to acknowledge. The culture that allows cockfighting isn’t limited to Central America; it’s universal.