Whale meat tastes like nationalism


With the world seemingly shifting towards the vegan end of dietary range, either out of choice as in the USA and UK, or by the increasing incidence of diseases like obesity and diabetes as in China, it comes as a surprise that Japan left IWC to resume whale hunting for meat.

Whaling industry prospered in the 17th to 19th century primarily due to the demand for whale oil. With petroleum replacing the need of oil, and the economics of whaling which included procuring costs and its sustenance depending on the dwindling whale populations, whaling industry went for a demise. IWC was conveniently set up in 1946 to provide for the conservation of whales and some regulation on the whaling industry. But there were nations that hunted whales not just for the oil, and there were nations that developed efficient methods which along with lower wages still made whaling economical. These nations, most notably Norway and Japan opposed IWC’s moratorium on whaling.

Whale meat seems to be a food of compulsion rather than of choice. Lack of protein sources in arctic countries like Norway, Iceland and Greenland made whale meat acceptable for consumption. With economic prosperity however, human consumption of whale meat declined. Norway still hunts whales for animal feed on its profitable fur farms. Iceland earns more by preservation of whales than by hunting for meat, whale watching is a lucrative business in tourism.

The demand of whale meat as a source of protein, grew in Japan after World War II when the country was in shambles. With a spectacular revival its economy over the next decade it soon joined the club of rich nations and people forgot the years of penury and the taste of whale meat. The new generation doesn’t even remember to have once eaten the meat, and with reports of poisoning of our oceans and high levels of heavy metals in whale meat, it seems unlikely that it would be back on the menu.

So why did Japan leave IWC? It is a question that puzzles the world, especially given Japan’s overt attempts of creating and maintaining an image of a responsible nation. One explanation, and the most reasonable one, is that it is about politics. There are constituencies that depends on the whaling industry, those which thrived even during the period when Japan was a member of IWC. It didn’t stop the Japanese from hunting whales, but they did it for scientific research, a deep and thorough research that necessitated killing of the whales. With world politics increasingly tilting towards the right, Japan doesn’t seem to be unaffected. The government made a strong political statement of Japanese nationalism by moving from the earlier hypocritical stand of scientific research and openly defying IWC to preserve centuries old tradition.

This article is motivated by my current interest in whales but with no idea about what whale meat tastes like.

Have you ever tried? Would you?