For those of us living in the US, Thanksgiving is a time when thoughts turn to tradition (for more on this you can visit our North American blog). So my eye was caught when reading an article in Iceland’s Morgunbladid newspaper on an award that had been given to two students by the American Anthropological Association for their study of traditional Icelandic food habits.
Sveinn Sigurdsson and Ashlan Falletta-Cowden looked at generational changes in diet, and concluded that most of the younger generation in Iceland were no longer sure as to what constituted traditional Icelandic foods. Eating habits have changed greatly over the course of the past three decades, and Sigurdsson pointed to the fact that today’s youth in Iceland are more apt to eat chips and pizza than traditional foods such as singed sheep heads.
This would tally with a poll that was conducted in 2006 by the Capacent Gallup Group, which showed that whale meat was being consumed on a regular basis by only 1.1% of households in Iceland. The same poll found that roughly 82% of people aged 16 to 24 never eat whale meat.
So just why is Fisheries Minister Einar Gudfinnsson trying to promote the Icelandic whaling industry? It could be that Japan’s recent decision to allow imports of whale meat is causing hope that the stagnating domestic demand for whale meat could be offset by sales to Japan. The only problem? Japan’s market seems to be equally on a downhill slide, as the leading whale meat restaurant in Tokyo has said it will close its doors due to economic losses.
A key issue across all of this is this attempt to define exactly what constitutes tradition. Culture is both evolutionary and adaptive, more fluid than static. Discussions on “traditional whale eating cultures” are at the very center of the current debate in the IWC, with pro-whaling nations attempting to blur the distinction between whaling for true subsistence need and whaling for profit.