Monday, November 18, 2013

Whale Sushi, Salt Junk and Other Mysteries of the Sea | PitchKnives ...


Eat at your own risk.

I’ve had whales on the brain this week. First, an article from The New Yorker’s annual food issue informed me that a fashionable sushi restaurant in Berkley, California just got busted for serving black market sei whale meat. The restaurant is now closed, and the offending parties are facing up to ten years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

While I don’t condone the eating of whale meat, I am a little confused about why this incident caused such a furor. Why is okay that we eat some mammals and not others? Surely part of the reason is because many whales are endangered, but serving up horse is also illegal in California, and we’re not suffering a horse shortage. Is it because they’re smart? Need I remind all the bacon lovers out there that pigs are pretty smart, too? (In Japan, for example, whence the contraband sushi came, it is culturally acceptable to eat whale, though it is not in vogue with the younger generation, and the government has recently unloaded several tons of its whale meat surplus on Japanese schools for Traditional Culture Week. In comparison to a week of whale on the cafeteria menu, my elementary school’s dreaded enchilada casserole seems pretty benign.)

While I react to the confusing problem of which animals are acceptable for consumption with vegetarianism, my co-worker Devin goes for the opposite approach. “Whales? Sure, I’d eat them,” he announced confidently. “Horses? No problem. It’s not like I’m going to go shank someone’s pet, but I’d eat some horse. Dogs, cats, sure. I had this pet iguana, Freddy? But it didn’t stop me from eating iguana meat. I’ll eat anything except other primates. Well, and rats. And maybe street pigeons.” This seemed like a strange collection of forbidden fruits, but I suppose we all have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.

But back to whales. Devin would almost certainly fare better than I aboard a whaling ship; I reached this conclusion while attending an event called “Thar She Blows!” at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint this weekend, celebrating the 162nd anniversary of the first U.S. release of Moby Dick. Amid the “Melvillainy” on offer (including a sea shanty sing-along, a dramatic reading of one-star Amazon reviews for the book and a pitch for a television version in which Captain Ahab would be played by Zooey Deschanel) was a presentation by a woman who had spent three weeks in Nantucket reading through old whaler logbooks to see what the crew members ate. While the typical menu for a week ran something like, “Hash, hash, salt junk, hash,” there were sometimes a few special treats, particularly if a woman, like the captain’s wife, were on board to cook them. Holidays, for instance, might be celebrated with fresh doughnuts, fried up in boiling whale oil. Merry Christmas, everybody! Have another whale-nut!

When it came pure stomach-turning power, however, the whale-nuts paled in comparison to the closing act of the evening, a reading from one of the texts that inspired Moby Dick, a firsthand account of the destruction of the ship Essex by a mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore whale. Post-whale-attack, the crew that remained were stranded in light open boats with no provisions two thousand miles off the shore of South America. Given that, it’s something close to a miracle that eight of them actually survived after three months at sea, but only by shooting the captain’s seventeen-year-old nephew and eating him.

I don’t often find the opportunity to say this, but I’m with Devin on this one. Other primates are definitely a no-no. But given the right dire circumstances, I’m not ruling out street pigeon.

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