Friday, January 29, 2010

You eat cows, we eat dolphins

This was a line from a documentary I recently saw - The Cove.

As a piece of documentary film, I cannot recommend this strongly enough, though I found it impossible to watch the last 5 minutes of the film and other short parts were difficult to get through as well. The overall story is a documentary about how the last 5 minutes of the film were shot and it is fascinating.

What I am taking the time to write about, however, is just a few lines from the film. A small Japanese village (Taiji) is the source of pretty much every dolphin at all of the world's very popular sea entertainment facilities. Only a handful of dolphins are sold each year (though because of their quite high two- and five-year mortality rate in captivity, sea entertainment facilities always need a ready supply of entertainment dolphins). In addition to the handful that are captured for sale to the sea entertainment industry, approximately 35,000 dolphins are brutally slaughtered for their meat.

When interviewed, a few Japanese officials had the following to say:

1. You eat cows, we eat dolphins.

2. I have never been shown a valid reason why these creatures (the dolphins) are different from other animals

3. It is a matter of pest control (the dolphins, after all, eat some of the same fish that Japanese fishermen target for harvest and they eat a lot of them).

To me, those lines were some of the most interesting in the film. Not for the reasons the film-makers had intended, however. I am sure the film-makers thought of those lines a "crazy" (they certainly presented them in that light). To me, however, they are all true. They represent the hypocrisy of attempting to label the horrifying slaughter of these caring, intelligent creatures as a moral repugnance all the while chewing on your hamburger.

It is a very fine line saying Creature X is deserving of nothing more than a short life of torture because we savor the taste of its flesh, but Creature Y is "too smart" or "too cute" or "too loving of man" to deserve the same fate, thus we must protect it and become outraged if someone does not share that view.

If you are a person who eats meat, or dairy or eggs, you are effectively surrendering your moral authority to complain about the atrocities in kind others commit. Ultimately these things are all interconnected. A person who has lost empathy and respect for some non-human animals will not be far from losing it for all.

If you do watch The Cove and are horrified by what you see, please give that horror some thought before your next meal.

UPDATE:
Doing some additional searching, I found this CNN clip in which O'Berry replies to this exact criticism with "Well you don't torture pigs and cows for 30 hours before you kill them." It is too bad the CNN reporter did not press this point.

-- posted by Paul Scott