Article from The Wall Street Journal: JapanRealTime
Feb. 1 2011
Last week, public school children at Azabu Elementary School in central Tokyo’s Minato ward got a taste of controversy — and might not have even realized it.
In observance of a national week to commemorate lunches in public schools, Azabu Elementary served whale meat.
In a written statement sent in response to questions about the menu choice, the School Affairs Section of the Secretariat of the Minato Board of Education, the group’s official title, explained that each municipal elementary and junior high school in the ward can plan special menus during this week, and include traditional, local, historical, and cultural dishes. The statement didn’t say where the meat came from, nor how much it cost — but it said it was chosen as a “special menu,” and not because of an “economic reason.” Fried whale cutlets similar to those served at the school are currently being sold by Internet retailer Rakuten for 1,000 yen ($12.20) per 200 grams.
Japan continues to face international criticism for hunting whales in defiance of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling set by the International Whaling Commission, and protesters like the Sea Shepherd group do their utmost to disrupt the hunt. Japan says the hunts are for research purposes, but some of the meat is commercially sold and finds its way to specialty whale-meat restaurants, supermarket shelves — and school lunch programs.
The meal marked a first of sorts for Azabu Elementary, which hasn’t opted before to serve whale to commemorate the week. But perhaps it wasn’t the first time in the school’s more than 100-year history: Whale was a source of protein in Japan’s post-war diet, and some middle-aged Japanese people fondly recall looking forward to whale the way today’s children look forward to pizza.
According to the Minato statement, whale isn’t a common menu option these days. But lunches with whale meat were regularly on the menu for a while after the war, when serving school lunch was restarted. Hence some schools recreated old menus including whale meat, as an effort to pass “traditional food culture” down to children.
Whale has been served at other public schools in the ward, and the Board of Education “has never got any complaint about it,” according to the statement.
Students aren’t forced to eat everything on their plates, and parents get copies of school menus in advance. That way, they can prepare for any dishes for which they might have dietary restrictions — or ethical objections.
And what did the children think? This blogger’s son said he ate all of it, and reported some of his friends liked it a lot. But he thought it was “only so-so,” and didn’t want to eat it again.
My thoughts on this article:
I am against the killing of all animals for human consumption, and I am 100% against the killing of Whales and Dolphins. Personally, it is my belief that all meat (regardless of the animal it comes from) does more harm to our bodies, then good. I am extremely concerned about children eating whale, dolphin, and certain seafood that has high mercury levels. I know that the Japanese government and many citizens do not believe these reports on high levels of mercury, and the government plays the mercury off as "natural mercury", but this is not the case. I strongly encourage everyone to do your own research on this. I don't want you to just take my word on it, just as I don't want you to take the Japanese governments word. Please look into research studies from around the world as well as in Japan, and make your own informed decision.
I do appreciate how schools try to teach their students about culture, but I do question the reason. I know and understand that I am a "Westerner" and maybe I just wouldn't get it. I would really enjoy if someone could explain it to me (nicely without calling me a racist or worse). I strongly believe in culture and tradition. But, I am at a loss with "food culture". Maybe its for the lack of strong rooted food culture in America? Don't get me wrong, that is not to say Americans have no food culture at all, because we do. However, American food culture is usually rooted in a family, not the whole country.
I question schools serving whale meat to children for many reasons. If most younger generations do not eat whale on a regular basis, why would the government push it? Why can't they let this naturally dying culture just fade away? Is it common for schools in Japan to teach tradition and culture? Does that not fall into the hands of the parents? I am asking this to try to understand the difference in culture. Seeing I have so many Japanese guest, I was hoping that some of you might shed some light on this. I feel that the job of our schools is to teach our children math, science, history, and reading and writing, of course there are a host of other courses, music, sports, foreign language, and so on. Although one could claim that feeding children whale meat, is in fact a part of Japans History, I don't think a child needs to eat the meat to understand the history. The plague was apart of Americas history, but we would not expose our children to it, just to teach them the history! Sound ridiculous? Well, with the toxic levels of mercury in whale meat, there really isn't much difference. Well, I guess there is, you see, if we exposed our children to the plague the would get sick pretty quickly and die. Feeding whale and dolphin meat to children, may take generations before it shows its true damage. 30 years from now and child could be born with a sever neurological condition, because his or her parents ate highly toxic, mercury laced seafood and marine mammals as a child. Doesn't seem very fair to me.
I do like how the school sends home a menu in advance to allow parents to decide if they want their child to eat what is being served. I guess what I would really like to know, is how many parents did not allow their children to eat the meat vs how many that did. I would also be interested in knowing what all the children thought of the meal, and if they felt that eating whale meat was the right thing to do, or if they planned on eating it again. I also think its funny that they fried the meat. This is not something that was done much in the past. But it seems that now days, people are making whale burgers and hot dogs, to try to appeal to the younger population. Its like adding cheese to veggies to get kids to eat it. Well, except veggies are not normally toxic.
Any thoughts or insights? They are welcomed!