Whale meat is not something I normally ponder. However, I encountered Nancy Shoemaker’s article “Whale Meat in American History“—posted for free by the History Cooperative—and, voila!, for a moment I do ponder it….
Dr. Shoemaker points out that while whales play an notable role in American history (think Yankee whalers, whalebone stays, pre-petroleum whale-oil trade), we don’t do much with them any more (a bit of research, a few killed by Native Americans).
I think Shoemaker goes a bit off track when discussing the cultural complexities of taste and palate (we’re a nation who doesn’t eat whales, and core American culture considers them basically not-food, while the Japanese and others do eat them). This is the land of anthropology, a terrain sometimes poorly understood by historians.
Over the past several hundred years, especially in the past three decades, the whale-eating divide has emerged as a tense global struggle—one that cannot be understood within the existing interpretive frameworks typically applied to post-Columbian world history. (p.6)
Shoemaker’s greater error, though, is to argue that whale management and the International Whaling Commission are such a key part of global ecology dialogue. Overall, I think Shoemaker’s connection between US cultural attitudes toward whales and global policy conflicts is overblown—whales are only a weak factor in either global ecology or international differences of opinion.