Are Foodies Driving Illegal Whaling?

It's surprising that the whale meat industry still exists. Chalk it up to supply and demand, and yes, there is a demand.

This piece first appeared on EcoSalon.

At first glance, foodies might come off as organic-touting, free-range loving, culinary gurus. But not all foodie trends are friendly. Some go far for their delectable delights, so far that they embrace the controversial. We’re talking about whale meat: the other other white meat that’s keeping an entire violent food industry alive.

In U.S. waters, whales and other marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, established in 1972. Not only does it prohibit the fishing of these mammals, but also the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. There are certain exceptions – like for Alaska native subsistence – but for the most part, whales and other marine mammals are certainly on the “do not eat” list.

But that doesn’t stop some people. With high profile groups like Sea Sheperd, it’s almost surprising that the whale meat industry still exists. Chalk it up to supply and demand, and yes, there is a demand.

In March, a Santa Monica sushi restaurant, The Hump, was shut down and charged, for serving endangered whale meat. The in April, more endangered whale meat was identified in a restaurant in South Korea.

“What’s troubling to us is that apparently a lot of international sushi chefs were trained at The Hump, and, although we have no way of knowing for sure, it raises the concern that this might be more widespread than one isolated event,” said OSU Marine Mammal Institute associate director Scott Baker.

A moratorium on commercial whaling was enacted by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1986, but since then Japan has taken more than 12,000 whales in the name of research. And it’s easy to speculate that somehow some of that meat is making its way onto dinner plates.

Whale meat continues to find its way into underground foodie discussions, on forums and blogs, and although most people are well aware of the legality issues, a level of intrigue still persists, especially with the traveling foodie crowd. Which fuels responses from sustainably focused voices like

But the discussion continues, getting foodies on either side of the issue equally fired up.

“Our national horror at eating whale meat isn’t based on any empirical truths, it’s just a cultural choice we make. Unless you’re a hardcore vegan, you’re making morally shaky decisions every day about what you decide to toss into your pie hole and what you won’t, which is why your outrage at another culture’s preference is ultimately little more than gastronomic nationalism,”said Japhy Grant, contributor to True/Slant, a news and opinion site.

Whale meat: Gastronomic nationalism or a delicacy that needs to be eradicated once and for all?

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