It has quietened down of late, though the controversy surrounding Japanese whaling in the Pacific emerged again a few months ago. Public debate was bolstered by both the renewed action of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace (particularly Sea Shepherd volunteers boarding the Yushin Maru No.2 and subsequently being ‘kidnapped’ in January) and the Australian Governments talk of undertaking surveillance of the Japanese Fleet (Air and Sea). Criticism of Japanese whaling largely stems from opposition to eating whales based on whales being majestic creatures, bundled in with the myth of a scientific basis for Japanese whaling and the protection of endangered species. Similar arguments to the former are made against the killing of Dolphins for human consumption.
A recent podcast I sporadically listen to, unrelated to this issue, fostered some further thinking on many of the non-considered assumptions shaping opposition. The response of the podcast host’s to a listener email, including the content of the email, provide a clear example of the hegemony of western ideals—the pervasiveness of this hegemony indicative given the progressive ideals of the hosts. Given a recent decision by the Seoul City Government to seek reclassification of dogs as ‘livestock’ [Seoul Times], I though it worth exploring this a bit further.
The aforementioned email to the podcast referred to an American TV commentary on the Asian ‘delicacy’ balut:
a fertilized duck (or chicken) egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell.[wikipedia]
The hosts were critical and referred to the exoticising fetish and masculinity embodied in the representation of this ‘food’ by western males. I agree with their assertions on this, yet noted that they also referred to the consumption of the embryo as ‘disgusting’. I agree that it is disgusting, yet the hosts did not challenge the dichotomous relation in which what people in Asian Countries consume is constructed as oppositional to what is considered acceptable in Western Countries (a good/bad dualism). In leaving the western construction of acceptable ‘food’ unchallenged, the hegemony of western notions are left unchallenged.
The constructed and imperial notion of acceptable ‘food’ underlies much of the opposition to whaling and has been rightly pointed out by the Japanese Governent, though very much ignored by westerners. How different is eating whales to eating cows or any other species considered ‘food’ in the west? Arguments about humane slaughter do not add up, nor do arguments about being reared for human consumption—the rearing of animals in the West routinely face such criticisms.
Arguments against eating dogs is similarly based on how they are perceived by people in the west—cute, cuddly and ‘man’s best friend’ [SMH]. It might be effective to expose people in the West to such practices, yet we need to be very specific in how it is done, otherwise in exposing the ‘horrors’ we see in other cultures, we inadvertently locate our own as superior and perpetuate imperial and colonialist rationales.
To perhaps put it in specific terms, in focussing on select aspects of carnism without challenging carnism as a whole, we can inadvertently and unintentionally construct a good/bad dualism. In exposing select aspects of carnism as disgusting, specifically those considered unpalatable in the West, they can be dismissed as aberrations as well as perpetuating racism and imperialism. The West is good, the East bad. The outcome is not a challenge to carnism, rather can be seen as analogous to boundary work as outlined by Gieryn. [wikipedia]