Monday, April 20, 2009

Some animals are *not* more equal than others

I hope I don’t alienate any of you who read my blog; I didn’t feel I could put off writing something like this any longer.

On my way to work today, I saw that one of the ubiquitous fish tanks in the front of one of the ubiquitous mom-and-pop restaurants seemed to have a hose of some kind wrapped up near its top. As I came closer, I saw that the hose was moving and actually separated into individual strips. Then, as I got closer, I saw that what it actually was, was dozens of eels that had wrapped themselves around the heating element. Some eels were trying to wriggle their way in by forcing others off. I don’t know why they were doing this; maybe the heater was running on half power or had recently stopped working and the element still had some warmth. Be that as it may, I found it to be both repellant and sad.

I do my best to step back mentally and separate myself from my natural feelings when I unavoidably walk past all of the tanks in all of the restaurants holding all of the creatures: fish of all kinds, squid, eels, octopi, swimming and floating and sitting on the bottom and clinging to the glass, waiting all unknowingly to be netted, killed, and eaten (sometimes alive, in the case of the octopi). It’s the same trick I had to teach myself at supermarkets back home, walking past the lobster tanks. I’m secure in my beliefs and it doesn’t bother me that hardly anyone I know agrees with me, and I retreat into my “serenity to accept the things I cannot change” mode as best I can. It always saddens me a little bit, but I wall myself off pretty well, until I see a dead fish they haven’t removed or one swimming upside down or a tank where the fish are nose-to-tail for lack of space… or eels desperately clinging to a heating element.

In many ways, Korea is no worse than the West in this regard; just because we don’t see the slaughterhouses doesn’t mean that the cows and pigs are better off than these sea animals—in fact, in many ways I’m sure they have it much worse. I’m even almost resigned to the fact that some few Koreans eat dog; logically, if not emotionally, it’s the same thing. It’s the fact that so many people believe that the adrenaline that pumps through a dog’s system with terror and pain makes the meat taste better that I find hard to think about. I understand eating meat; I did it for 38 years myself. I don’t understand a mindset that making food taste better is worth torturing animals.

The most appealing aspect of Buddhism as far as I’m concerned is its call for compassion toward all beings. I don’t, however, understand how apparently no Buddhists (at least here) except for the clergy practice it.

Another, more trivial, turnoff for me is marketing meat in a cutesy way, as if the animals are delighted to die. Many, many of the restaurants here have grinning cartoon animals on their signs, flashing the peace symbol, giving a thumbs-up, grinning ear-to-ear, practically gleeful in their invitation to come on in and “Eat me.” Sometimes I’d like to say that to the restaurant owners myself.

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