10 June 2011

Eat nice in Iceland: Tourists urged to avoid whale meat

You know how it is. You're a tourist in an unfamiliar place—whether another continent, country, or state—and you want to have the most authentic experience possible. So you check out the local food scene to make sure you get the flavor of the region. When my Yankee friends would visit me in the South, they couldn't wait to try grits and fried okra. And after I moved to New England, I was urged to feast on steamers and hot wieners. But what happens when a "traditional" food turns out to be not just untraditional, but actually cruel?

That's the message the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) is trying to get out this summer. IFAW has teamed up with the Icelandic Whale Watching Association (Icewhale) to make sure that tourists to Iceland don't seek out whale meat in the mistaken belief that it's traditional Icelandic fare.

The new campaign, called Meet Us Don't Eat Us, encourages tourists to enjoy whales by watching them frolic in the ocean, rather than encountering them dead on a dinner plate. Using advertisements, leaflets, and volunteers at tourist hotspots, the campaign will inform visitors that, despite the perception that whale meat is commonly consumed by native Icelanders, the stereotype isn't true. In fact, only 5% of Icelanders report eating it on a regular basis.

An IFAW spokesperson explains that the organization is "concerned that an estimated 40% of tourists are persuaded to eat whale meat under the mistaken belief that it is a traditional Icelandic dish. This means that whales are killed each year just to be sampled by curious tourists." The IFAW reports that the amount whale meat sold in Iceland has risen in recent years, and believes the only reason for the increase is number of tourists persuaded to try it.

According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, Iceland receives over half a million visitors each year who spend $14 million dollars. Thanks to the Meet Us Don't Eat Us campaign, less of that money will be going to support commercial whaling.

Anyone wishing to help with the campaign this summer by volunteering in Reykjavic Iceland may contact the Volunteers for Peace page on Facebook or the the SEEDS Iceland Project.

Elizabeth Gordon | Facebook
Elizabeth is an Asian-Appalachian writer, activist, and college professor living in north central Massachusetts. Once an avowed carnivore, she was a vegetarian for 15 years before making the conversion to veganism. She is passionate about trying to live a life that lessens, rather than contributes to, the amount of cruelty and suffering in this world. Follow Elizabeth on her Vegosphere blog and Facebook page.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/supersum