I read something in the news today about Norwegian whaling and it reminded me of my ALT days, and school lunches. More specifically, ...
... the first time whale meat turned up on the school lunch menu.
I was blissfully ignorant to it. Lunch trays were presented in the usual manner – soup, salad, rice and meat. That day’s meat, however, was something new to the palate, a halfway house between chicken and liver, and decidedly chewy.
Returning to the teacher’s room I had the sense that I was being avoided. Colleagues busied themselves with their work and went out of their way to avoid contact. With some trepidation, the school secretary approached to enquire about the lunch,
“Yea, not bad,” I replied. “The meat was a bit funny though!”
“It was whale,” came a grave reply.
I bolted! I rammed my fingers down my throat and did a sort of dirty protest on the Principal’s desk and promptly left my job to brave Antarctic waters with a stint on the Sea Shepherd.
Actually, I did none these things. I didn’t even have the strength/motivation/balls/sufficient knowledge of the facts, to turn down the dish when next it was served. Added to this, these hands/gnashers are probably stained with the blood of myriad of foodstuffs of questionable origin. Why would I single out the whale?
Why whale for lunch?
I’m yet to figure out why whale meat should be turning up in public school lunches at all. Given the furore that surrounds the issue outside of Japan, I had always assumed it to be something that could only be acquired in the most exclusive of eateries. The kind of places that exist to provide the bored rich with a way to find some sort of stimulus in the vacuum of having boatloads of cash and no soul. Hence a market for whale blubber, mink furs, blood diamonds...that kind of thing. However, unassuming school lunches, really?
A utilitarian approach
Perhaps it’s a utilitarian approach to feeding the masses – where the life of one octopus might equate to a couple of bellies filled, a single whale could meet the demands of a school in one fell swoop.
Indeed, if the Japanese are going to continue their whaling program, then using it to provide economical school meals to ease the burden on working class taxpayers surely sits better than flogging it off to the highest bidder heartless enough to sell it on as novelty.
When asked about why whale should be turning up for their school lunches most of my Japanese colleagues, then and now, have expressed mild surprise. Some, however, have posited the idea that, because whale is no longer the everyday fodder it was in ‘days of yore’, the occasional appearance in a school lunch is a way of keeping young people in touch with the old life.
Yet, despite the surprise at a slice of whale sitting next to Pokémon stationary sets and unmarked notebooks, there seems to be no sign of remorse when it comes to eating it. Perhaps here there really should be no surprise at all.
I recall having grimaced my way through Japanese TV shows that involve young presenters on board a fishing vessel in giddy repose at the sight of a shark being speared in the head then cutting to the TV studio a day or two later for said shark to be wheeled out on a tray, frozen whole, to the wows of the audience. The sorry creature had unwittingly been drawn into an aquatic form of ‘snuff’ broadcasting.
From fish based exploitation TV to casual indifference at eating endangered whales, one could be forgiven for sensing a lack of sympathy toward the origins of the nation’s ocean based dinners. This outsider, for one, has often felt a sense of ‘if it lives in the sea, let’s eat it’ philosophy when it comes to Japanese cuisine.
Saving the whales? Join the queue.
Such indifference could be an ominous sign for the future of the whales and the people that are fighting for them. Indeed, if, after years of lobbying, brave campaigning and simmering rhetoric, the issue of eating whale is being met by serving it up for school dinners, then the campaigners are going to need all the support they can get from those of us in the Japanese school lunch queue and thus on an unexpected ‘front line’ for saving the whale.