Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cove vs. Food, Inc.

The Cove won the academy award for best documentary earlier this week. It's about the controversial annual dolphin hunt in Taigi, Japan. The mamamals are driven into cove where they are killed in brutal fashion. The meat is sold for consumption, some ending up in local school lunches in spite of containing dangerous levels of mercury.

Certainly the practices exposed by The Cove are brutal and backward. Tradition seems a poor excuse to carry on such cruelty.

But that said, what does this film really accomplish? There is no epidemic of herding dolphins into coves and slaughtering them with knives. This is an isolated, atavistic cultural practice that has somehow survived into the modern world. I doubt it has any significant impact on dolphin populations.

Contrast that with Food, Inc., one of the documentaries that lost to The Cove. The film exposes factory farming practices and Big Food marketing that have drastically degraded the American diet and led to systemic animal cruelty. The health, environmental and moral impact of these practices is enormous and universal, affecting every American in fundamental ways from obesity to heart disease to just plain bad food.

Indeed, I suspect that so-called "dead zones" created by the flow of chemical fertilizers into the ocean is a far greater threat to dolphins than an annual hunt in a single Japanese cove.

Of course, bloody footage of Flipper being knived to death makes for a far more dramatic movie. And The Cove may just be a better film (I have seen neither documentary). But I still find it interesting that liberal Hollywood honored a documentary exposing an admittedly horrific but isolated practice while snubbing one that tackled one of the most fundamental, consequential and underreported problems of our time. Bestowing an Oscar on a movie that takes on on a small, relatively powerless and friendless community in rural Japan took no real courage. Giving one to to a film that confronts and exposes some of the biggest, most powerful corporations in America would have.

I'm not condemning The Cove or the activists who made it. I agree that Taiji should stop hacking dolphins to death. I wish them well in their crusade. But they are not saving the world. If they wanted to do that, they would do something truly hard, like take on big banks and giant food conglomerates.

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