When food is part of the main focus of a film, it is portrays in many different ways. Food can be a representation of a culture, identification of individuals, or use as a guide to narrate a story. In the documentary The Cove, which is a film that follows Ric O’Bary and a team of animal activists, free divers and film makers in their mission to expose the dolphin slaughter that takes place in Taiji, Japan, food is being portray as something controversial. From the film the main food in focus is dolphin meat, here the audience is not being ask to embrace the idea of dolphin meat, but instead the film is adding uncertainty to the idea of food by implying questions such as “is dolphin meat consumable food?” and “what can be define as food?” Thus, putting dolphin meat onto a controversial spotlight and posing the question of to eat or not to eat.
One of the most controversial points about dolphin meat that the film captures is the fact that they contain high levels of mercury. This fact shows that dolphin meat is not something that should be consume since it will cause severe health damage to those who eat it and lead to an epidemic if they do not stop soon. In order to make this point more controversial the film shrewdly use images from the mercury poisoning incidents from Minamata and of young children who are eating the dolphin meat to bring that emotional appeal to the audience. By putting the image of the boy who is eating side by side with the image of the boy who is suffering from the Minamata disease, the latter picture is a powerful statement of what can happen to the little innocent boy if something is not done soon. Moreover, since the picture of the normal boy is in colors and the one who has the disease is in black and white, it is like seeing the present and history. Thus, implying that Japan might step backward into a dark time of history where a large mass of people can die from simple task of eating dolphin meat. By comparing the current dolphin slaughter to that of the Minamata incident the film is raising the level of controversy over dolphin meat not just because dolphins are dying but that humans can have a fatal effect from it too. As a result, the fact that death of dolphins can be relate to death of humans, this argument enable more people to realize how disturbing it is to consume dolphin meat and consequently induce debates and action from them.
Having a high level of mercury in food is already quite controversial, however, the documentary also imply another debatable point about dolphin meat and that point is whether dolphin meat is considered as food at all. In the film dolphins are portrays as intelligent beings. They have special ways of communicating with each other, they can recognize patterns and respond to it, or recognize themselves in the mirror or on TV. In the shot where a dolphin is playing with the bubble ring and be able to produce a new ring out of the previous one the camera follows the dolphin’s movement in a smooth fashion, thus making it looks very elegant, also the blue background from the water implies a sense of mystery regarding the dolphin. Putting all that together, the shot captures the dolphin not as an animal or fish but as a beautiful and mysterious being. Dolphins in this film are considered to be almost the same level as human and to use their meat as food is not acceptable. However, that is what the film view them as, not everyone may have the same view and some people may see dolphins as another fish in the sea. As a result, from the standpoint of the film one cannot help but ask if the fishermen are the bad ones since they do not have a chance to express their view much. Different cultures and different people have various ideas about what can be food. Hence the question of “is dolphin meat a type of food?” is never clearly answered in the film, and that just add more debate to the already controversial meat.
From the way that the documentary was made, the film left a powerful message about dolphin slaughter and the fatal effects that can result from it. By relating the death of dolphins to death of humans, dolphin meat becomes a controversial issue that adds more uncertainty about what we considered as food and raising the questions regarding ethical issues in food production.