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Monday, November 29, 2010

My Last Shameful Supper

Posted by Tony Perez on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 12:33 PM

Hi Blogtown.

Soon I'll be attempting to fill the large and presumably fashionable shoes of Patrick Alan Coleman by taking over the Mercury's Last Supper column, but in the mean time, it's an honor to contribute to one of my favorite Teen/Star Trek/Cat Blogs in the city. I'm on vacation at the moment—actually on my way home—so I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce myself.

My name is Tony Perez. I'm an editor at Tin House Books and I’ve lived in Portland for a little over four years now. I like Flannery O'Connor, Bob Dylan, whiskey, and basketball. Not telling enough? Hmm...

When I was in youth group some years ago, we'd build intimacy by making new kids share whatever it was they were most ashamed of (for those of you that didn’t have the pleasure, all pubescent boys in evangelical youth groups are ashamed of the same thing). We'd lovingly hmm and nod and furrow our brows, thereby encouraging vulnerability and an exaggerated sense of brotherhood.

Good enough for me.

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So, I've been in Europe for a couple weeks visiting a wine-maker friend, and as my vacations tend to be, this one has been guided largely by my stomach (and/or liver). I've found, however, that while traveling, my gastronomical ethics are a little more lax than when I'm back home. Like someone in a Vegas marketing campaign, or a kid justifying his trysts because summer camp is in a different area code, my sense of responsibility apparently vanishes as soon as I’m handed a menu in a foreign tongue.

Foie gras, in case you haven’t paid attention to the hissy fit PETA throws around Bastille Day every year, is a mousse or paté made of fattened goose or duck liver. Essentially, a tube is stuffed down the bird’s esophagus and it is filled with corn boiled in fat (and holy shit is it delicious). Some helpful hyperbole that I try, while eating, to push from my mind is the gluttony scene in Se7en where Kevin Spacey has killed a fat guy by stuffing him full of canned Spaghetti (or, if you prefer, Method Man’s threat on the interlude before his self-titled song). At home, I do my best to buy food from responsible producers. I nobly pay the extra 29 cents for cage-free eggs! I eat dolphin-safe tuna! But I swear to god: In France, I cannot resist foie gras. I ordered it in restaurants with toasted baguette and marinated onion, I bought it from the butcher when I was supposed to be bringing home Thanksgiving turkey, and had I cash on me, I surely would have grabbed a can of it on my way to the airport. Call me weak (or chubby—I can’t imagine that stuff is good for you), but wait, it gets worse…

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With the exception of the climate and the persistent smell of rotten-egg farts, the only thing keeping Iceland from being the coolest place on the planet is the prohibitive cost of existing. When budget travelers tire of cured fish at the continental breakfast buffet, they can choose between mediocre pizza, burgers, or “Italian Soup” for around $20. The distinctive Icelandic lobster I splurged on was distinctive only in that it more closely resembled a crawdad. I’ve been told there are some great restaurants in Reykjavik, but they were universally outside my price range.

So, when an otherwise typical menu offered me a whale sandwich with lobster mayonnaise, I didn’t hesitate. I should have. Unlike the foie gras, which assuaged my guilt with a flavor and texture that made and still makes me giggle, my whale was—perhaps unsurprisingly—rubbery and tasted like a week-old steak that had been stored in fish guts. I choked it down with Danish beer at $10 a pint. I’ve seen Whale Hunters, I’ve read Charles D’Ambrosio’s phenomenal essay on the Makah tribe, and I know instinctively that it’s wrong to eat an endangered species for reasons no more complicated than touristic boredom. Not a case of “Forgive them father, they know not what they’ve done.” I was cognizant of my sin.

The next day, while perusing the International Business Times (ok…I googled Iceland+Whale Meat), I realized that the country’s whaling practices came under fire from the U.S. and international conservation groups just days before for defying trade bans. According to the article, Iceland has killed 273 endangered fin whales over the last two years, despite the International Whaling Commission's warning that removing more than 46 from the population each year is unsustainable. I understand that it’s tough to stop a sovereign country from continuing practices that have long been a staple of one of their biggest industries (especially considering their less-than-stellar foray into stock brokerage), but it is crucial to curb the kind of mass poaching that will surely occur if a large and willing market like Japan—where fin whale is a delicacy—is open on the buying end (see Blue Fin Tuna). Iceland seems committed to using whaling as a piece of its rebounding economy, and as the nation’s population is a little bit smaller than Clackamas County, foreign trade—and dwindling whale populations—appear imminent.

But here I am, casting stones while somewhere in my digestive system sits traces of that very same rubbery, bland mammal. Can you relate? Can you forgive me? Do I deserve to have crappy whale meat stuffed down my gullet through a gavage?

Thank you for having me, Blogtown. Pray for me.

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