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« A Small Victory for a Few Taiji-Captured Dolphins | Main | Let's Hope Smart Sensuality Pink Dolphins are Smart Enough to Stay Out of Japanese Waters »

When the Menu Calls for Whale Meat or Monkey Brains, Count Me Out

Lemurs aren’t the only ‘green beings’ served in upscale restaurants around the world.

Today’s Atlantic Food Channel features David Nakamura’s “I Ate Whale Meat”.  Nakamura shares the fact that most Japanese don’t eat whale, and that the determination to continue eating the meat comes from the ‘old guard’, who refuse to be pushed around by the Americans.

The Aussies and New Zealanders are ‘good guys’, but they’re not prevailing on the issue either.

anti-whaling protestors demonstrated in London in early March, 2009Most Japanese young people either haven’t eaten whale meat or don’t care to. The whaling industry is trying to stimulate demand, serving whale meat in school lunches.

Admitting mixed financial results and cost concerns, the Institute for Cetacean Research, the organization behind Japan’s whaling programme and Kyodo Senpaku, which operates the whaling fleet, announced last winter that they were closing their restaurant Yushin.

As a Japanese whale addendum, David Nakamura’s interview subject says that it was the Americans who encouraged Japanese to eat whale meat for protein, in the rebuilding years after World War II. Even if true — the world has gotten smarter since then.

I will relate my own cultural story about eating unusual animals. In all honesty, had I let the dinner proceed, I would probably be a vegetarian today. Reality is that I’m trying to eat very consciously, local, free range, little beef, etc. but I am not a vegetarian.

Monkey Brains

Years ago, I sat down to dinner in a very exclusive restaurant in China. Luckily I was with a dear colleague and friend, a South Korean man who handled me beautifully and had none of the paternalism associated with South Korean men at the time.

Monkey for sale, Gangzhou, ChinaIn my role as head of design and product development for Victoria’s Secret, I was accustomed to honorary dinners and banquets. I’m proud to say that I was very popular working in developing countries, not being one to sit in my five-star hotel room, waiting for product appear. i was always in the fire pits, so to speak.

I have an adventurous, Cultural Creative taste for food and exotic experiences. And I try very hard to acknowledge and honor international customs different from my own.

This night in China, we sat down to a table for four people. I don’t remember all the particulars — Max told our hosts that I ate almost anything — snake soup, no problem. At about the same moment our hosts explained their food choices to me, I asked about the hole in the middle of the table.

Excitedly, they told me that it was for the monkey — and we would be having one for dinner. Actually, just the brains, which are considered a great delicacy in China. I was a very important woman, so of course, we would kill a monkey on my behalf.

Simply stated, the monkey is brought alive — but inebriated —  to the table; ‘secured’ with his semi-shaved head above the hole in the table. It’s my understanding that the staff smashes the monkey head in such a way to preserve the brains from too much damage. There’s an art to this act.

Then, grotesque as this vision is, one digs out the monkey’s brain with a spoon. Supposedly, the monkey brains cure impotence.

Horrified but unwilling to make a scene, I sat speechless at the table, deciding my next move. Granted, I needed these business men, but they needed me moreso.

Knowing that I was putting Max in a tough situation with our Chinese hosts, I decided this was all his problem, and he could blame it on me anyway, once I left the table.

The Formosan Macque, living in the Wu Shan Monkey Preserve“Max,” I whispered, leaning over and holding the menu in front of my face, “I am about to ask the location of the ladies room. When I leave the table, you explain that under no circumstances, will a monkey be killed in front of me — or in the kitchen — in my honor. When I return to the table, I don’t want to hear the word ‘monkey’ mentioned for the rest of the evening. Sorry, Max, but monkey brains are a ‘no go’.”

And that’s precisely what happened. The hole in the table was closed upon my return. We all were smiling; dinner was absolutely fabulous and the word ‘monkey’ was not uttered again in my presence.

Now if we could only bring the same international diplomatic solution to eating whales and dolphins in Japan, the world will take another small step forward in raising our collective culinary consciousness. Anne:

More reading

See: Let’s Hope Smart Sensuality Pink Dolphins are Smart Enough to Stay Out of Japanese Waters

When the Subject Is Women’s and Whale Rights, the Japanese Fall Far From Grace

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