I ate the whale and I liked it
I love whales. They are beautiful, majestic – and delicious. And they – or rather this post – will lose me an unknown number of friends and readers.
On the way back to Reykjavik this afternoon from a day-long tour of southern glaciers, beaches and waterfalls, the tour guide – let’s call him Johan – offered the bus-ful of my fellow tourists a few suggestions for good places to drink and eat around town. The latter in particular caught my attention: 3 Frakkar (Three Frenchmen or Three Trenchcoats) and Saegreifinn (Sea Baron), both apparently, according to a no-nonsense and apparently not disturbed at all Johan, serving whale meat, with Sea Baron offering whale skewers called “Moby Dick on a stick”. I was intrigued.
3 Frakkar was closer of the two to where I was staying for the night. It was however also grossly overpriced (45 euro for a whale steak. Honestly. It’s not aunicorn). It was also coping it in reviews:
And so on, in a similar vein. Proudly brought to you by Sea Shepherd.
I decided to try Sea Baron instead.
Alas, no Moby Dick on a stick any more, as I’ve discovered when I got there. Sea Baron doesn’t publish its menu online and plays its cards close to its chest, hence no online backlash. But there were other whale options. I decided to go with a steak, at 15 Euro (1900 Krona) much more reasonably priced than at 3 Frenchmen.
Sea Baron, situated close to the Reykjavik waterfront, is more of a small, old-style tavern than a fancy restaurant. As I sat there after 6pm waiting for my dinner to arrive, the place was bustling with hubbub and activity, with a constant line waiting to order at the register, albeit more ordinary seafood choices.
How was the steak? Medium rare and delicious. Particularly with a traditional horseradish-flavoured sauce.
How do I feel about committing this sacrilege? There are around 20,000 minke whales in the seas around Iceland; a few dozen at most are hunted each year. They are not an endangered species, and the fishing in accordance with a quota set by the Icelandic government does not endanger them any further. But they still remain everyone’s favourite sea mammal. They’re beautiful, they’re majestic, they sing their haunting songs. How can I be such a monster as to eat them?
I consider the above aesthetic argument in favour of abstention to be morally vacuous. So the ethics of eating an animal are to be now decided by its looks and the cuteness factor? That makes as much sense, and is as offensive, as arguing that we should leave beautiful people alone, but by all means, punch the ugly ones. It is snobbery and elitism of the worst sort. But animals are indeed all equal. What’s the difference between a cow or a sheep and a whale? (apart – once we agree they are not endangered – from its size?) They are all living things, they are all mammals, they all feel pain, including to varying degrees when killed (varying, depending on the method of killing and the swiftness of death). I’m clearly not a vegetarian, but at least vegetarians have a consistent attitude to animals and their flesh – all animals and all flesh. But if you are a meat eater, as most people are, there is really no logical and objective argument for distinguishing between farm animals we eat (and a small number of wild animals we hunt) and other animals out there like the whales.
In their long look at Icelandic whaling, Al Jazeera reports that most Icelanders don’t eat whale meat, and that most of it is therefore consumed by tourists, including the increasing numbers of visitors from China. Why tourists? Because whale meat is such a rarity, not available virtually anywhere else around the world and, due to the long-standing international controversy over whaling, such a culinary taboo, almost as bad as committing an act of cannibalism. Of course it’s nothing of the sort. The disgust about eating whales is an irrational sentiment and a moral panic, a form of culinary elitism that doesn’t bat an eyelid at hundred of millions of farm animals being killed and consumed every year (including cute calves and smart pigs) but artificially draws the line at the gentle giants of the deep.
Sea Baron – highly recommended. And now it’s time for me to dive deep to escape the death threats.