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"Why Protest Eating Whales? People Eat Cows All The Time!"

In response to the revolting news that a sushi restaurant in California has been illegally offering whale meat sushi to select diners, there has been a predictable backlash on the internet.  The most common line of reasoning goes something like, "Don't be such a hypocrite!  So what if the Japanese eat whales?  Have you seen what happens in a slaughterhouse?"

The charges of hypocrisy are thick on the ground, and poorly received.  This argument is meant to get people to stop criticizing the whale hunters, and the Japanese people who eat their harvest.  (Excuse me, the "leftovers from their scientific oceanographic ventures.")  But the truth is that it is actually an excellent argument in favor of going vegetarian.

Anyone who has qualms with the slaughter of dolphins yet happily tucks into a pork chop should indeed stop and think about things for a minute.  We as a nation are horrified when people criticize us for keeping pigs in feed lot and slaughterhouse conditions.  Despite the fact that pigs are intelligent, feeling animals - about as smart as a toddler, according to a study which recently made the news.

I don't doubt the Japanese react the exact same way when they are criticized for their whale slaughter.  And surely a whale's life on the open ocean is better than that of a factory farmed pig destined for the slaughterhouse.  Those who advocate free range beef for ethical reasons would surely have to admit that whale meat is more ethical than pig's meat on that basis.

The American consumer does an excellent job of psychological compartmentalization.  Aided of course by the fact that the "meat" you buy at the store looks nothing like an animal.  In fact, most of the meat people consume is hardly even recognizable as food.  Who's to say where the pepperoni on that grocery store frozen pizza came from originally?  It could be an extruded plasticized food substance, for all we can tell.

And yet, our grocery stores run on cruelty, just as surely as the Japanese whale sushi industry does.  For every image of coves turned red with the blood of trapped and slaughtered dolphins, someone can retort with a picture from a slaughterhouse or feed lot.  Chickens with their beaks removed so they don't peck each other; pigs with their tails cut off, so that they aren't bitten off.

I can only hope that some of the people who watch "The Cove" and who are nauseated by the story of the federal whale meat bust at Hump sushi restaurant are finally able to confront their own hypocrisy.  Our industrial factory farm system truly is no better than the Japanese whale fishery, and is arguably worse.  

But each of us has a choice.  We can choose not to participate in the system of cruelty.  It's as easy as putting down the fork and ordering something else off the menu!  As simple as fixing a cheese sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, instead of a ham and cheese.  Living a cruelty-free life is easy, but facing that truth can be hard.

Creative Commons-licensed image of delicious vegetarian sushi courtesy of Flickr user imwearingcons