Sunshine Recorder

Link: The Obesity Era

As the American people got fatter, so did marmosets, vervet monkeys and mice. The problem may be bigger than any of us. 

Years ago, after a plane trip spent reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Weight Watchers magazine, Woody Allen melded the two experiences into a single essay. ‘I am fat,’ it began. ‘I am disgustingly fat. I am the fattest human I know. I have nothing but excess poundage all over my body. My fingers are fat. My wrists are fat. My eyes are fat. (Can you imagine fat eyes?).’ It was 1968, when most of the world’s people were more or less ‘height-weight proportional’ and millions of the rest were starving. Weight Watchers was a new organisation for an exotic new problem. The notion that being fat could spur Russian-novel anguish was good for a laugh.

That, as we used to say during my Californian adolescence, was then. Now, 1968’s joke has become 2013’s truism. For the first time in human history, overweight people outnumber the underfed, and obesity is widespread in wealthy and poor nations alike. The diseases that obesity makes more likely — diabetes, heart ailments, strokes, kidney failure — are rising fast across the world, and the World Health Organisation predicts that they will be the leading causes of death inall countries, even the poorest, within a couple of years. What’s more, the long-term illnesses of the overweight are far more expensive to treat than the infections and accidents for which modern health systems were designed. Obesity threatens individuals with long twilight years of sickness, and health-care systems with bankruptcy.

And so the authorities tell us, ever more loudly, that we are fat — disgustingly, world-threateningly fat. We must take ourselves in hand and address our weakness. After all, it’s obvious who is to blame for this frightening global blanket of lipids: it’s us, choosing over and over again, billions of times a day, to eat too much and exercise too little. What else could it be? If you’re overweight, it must be because you are not saying no to sweets and fast food and fried potatoes. It’s because you take elevators and cars and golf carts where your forebears nobly strained their thighs and calves. How could you dothis to yourself, and to society?

Moral panic about the depravity of the heavy has seeped into many aspects of life, confusing even the erudite. Earlier this month, for example, the American evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller expressed the zeitgeist in this tweet: ‘Dear obese PhD applicants: if you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.’ Businesses are moving to profit on the supposed weaknesses of their customers. Meanwhile, governments no longer presume that their citizens know what they are doing when they take up a menu or a shopping cart. Yesterday’s fringe notions are becoming today’s rules for living — such as New York City’s recent attempt to ban large-size cups for sugary soft drinks, or Denmark’s short-lived tax surcharge on foods that contain more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat, or Samoa Air’s 2013 ticket policy, in which a passenger’s fare is based on his weight because: ‘You are the master of your air ‘fair’, you decide how much (or how little) your ticket will cost.’

Several governments now sponsor jauntily named pro-exercise programmes such as Let’s Move! (US), Change4Life (UK) and actionsanté (Switzerland). Less chummy approaches are spreading, too. Since 2008, Japanese law requires companies to measure and report the waist circumference of all employees between the ages of 40 and 74 so that, among other things, anyone over the recommended girth can receive an email of admonition and advice.

Hand-in-glove with the authorities that promote self-scrutiny are the businesses that sell it, in the form of weight-loss foods, medicines, services, surgeries and new technologies. A Hong Kong company named Hapilabs offers an electronic fork that tracks how many bites you take per minute in order to prevent hasty eating: shovel food in too fast and it vibrates to alert you. A report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co predicted in May 2012 that ‘health and wellness’ would soon become a trillion-dollar global industry. ‘Obesity is expensive in terms of health-care costs,’ it said before adding, with a consultantly chuckle, ‘dealing with it is also a big, fat market.’

And so we appear to have a public consensus that excess body weight (defined as a Body Mass Index of 25 or above) and obesity (BMI of 30 or above) are consequences of individual choice. It is undoubtedly true that societies are spending vast amounts of time and money on this idea. It is also true that the masters of the universe in business and government seem attracted to it, perhaps because stern self-discipline is how many of them attained their status. What we don’t know is whether the theory is actually correct.

Of course, that’s not the impression you will get from the admonishments of public-health agencies and wellness businesses. They are quick to assure us that ‘science says’ obesity is caused by individual choices about food and exercise. As the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, recently put it, defending his proposed ban on large cups for sugary drinks: ‘If you want to lose weight, don’t eat. This is not medicine, it’s thermodynamics. If you take in more than you use, you store it.’ (Got that? It’s not complicated medicine, it’s simple physics, the most sciencey science of all.)

Yet the scientists who study the biochemistry of fat and the epidemiologists who track weight trends are not nearly as unanimous as Bloomberg makes out. In fact, many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain. Which means, of course, that they think at least some of the official focus on personal conduct is a waste of time and money. As Richard L Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, put it in 2005: ‘The previous belief of many lay people and health professionals that obesity is simply the result of a lack of willpower and an inability to discipline eating habits is no longer defensible.’

Link: Kim Jong-il's Sushi Chef Kenji Fujimoto

North Korea is a mythically strange land, an Absurdistan, where almost nothing is known about the people or, more important, their missile-launching leaders. There is, however, one man—a humble sushi chef from Japan—who infiltrated the inner sanctum, becoming the Dear Leader’s cook, confidant, and court jester. What is life like serving Kim Jong-il and his heir? A strange and dangerous gig where the food and drink never stop, the girls are all virgins, and you’re never really safe. We sent Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson to meet the man who survived all the craziness.

The sushi chef was leaving his apartment when he noticed the stranger outside. He could tell by the man’s suit—black and badly made—that he was North Korean. Right away, the chef was nervous. Even in his midsixties, the chef is a formidable man: He has thick shoulders, a broad chest; the rings on his strong hands would one day have to be cut off. But he’d long since quit wearing his bulletproof vest, and the last time a North Korean made the journey to visit him in Japan, a decade ago, he was there to kill him.

The chef’s name, an alias, is Kenji Fujimoto, and for eleven years he was Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, court jester, and sidekick. He had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. It was part of Fujimoto’s job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader’s yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald’s, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.

When he finally escaped, Fujimoto became, according to a high-level cable released by WikiLeaks, the Japanese intelligence community’s single greatest asset on the Kim family, rulers of a nation about which stubbornly little is known. We don’t know how many people live there. (Best guess: around 23 million.) It’s uncertain how many people starved to death during the famine of the late ’90s. (Maybe 2 million.) Also mysterious is the number of citizens currently toiling their way toward death in labor camps, places people are sent without trial or sentence or appeal. (Perhaps 200,000.) We didn’t even know the age of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, until Kenji Fujimoto revealed his birth date. (January 8, 1983.)

What we know of North Korea comes from satellite photos and the stories of defectors, which, like Fujimoto’s, are almost impossible to confirm. Though North Korea is a nuclear power, it has yet to build its first stoplight. The phone book hasn’t been invented. It is a nation where old Soviet factories limp along to produce brand-new refrigerators from 1963. When people do escape, they tend to flee from the countryside, where life is more dangerous. Because people rarely defect from the capital, their stories don’t make it out, which leaves a great mystery in the center of an already obscure nation. Which is why Fujimoto’s is the rarest of stories.

This winter, I flew to Saku for a series of interviews with Fujimoto. I had spent six years researching North Korea for a novel, and in that time I had spoken with experts, aid workers, defectors—everyone with a story to tell about life there. Yet I hadn’t spoken to Fujimoto. It was December when I arrived, and a dusting of snow blew through the town’s car lots and bare-limbed apple orchards. Here, Fujimoto’s friend owns a battered five-stool karaoke bar, and this is where we met. Inside, it was cold enough to see your breath. The toilet was a hole in the floor where urine, billowing steam, disappeared into darkness before freezing.

Fujimoto made us coffee, which helped, and through an interpreter I asked him what he knew about North Korea when, in 1982, he signed a one-year contract to teach sushi-making skills to young chefs in Pyongyang.

"I didn’t know much about it," he said. "I knew that Kim Il-sung was the leader of the country. I knew about the thirty-eighth parallel. That’s about it."

He couldn’t recount ever having met a Korean. Still, he was restless at home, and the pay was good. So packing only his knives and clothes, he left his wife and daughters in Japan and flew to Pyongyang.

It was August when he arrived, a time when the capital city is especially alive. The summer days are long, yet the hard work of fall harvest—which requires the forced labor of all Pyongyang’s inhabitants—had yet to arrive. Families were picnickingon Mansu Hill, while young couples strolled along the Taedong River. By day Fujimoto labored for ten-hour stretches at the cooking school, showing eager trainees the art of sushi. At night he retreated to the Pyongyang hotel where he lived with other guest workers—mostly Chinese technicians and engineers—and strummed old Japanese ballads on a guitar he bought at Pyongyang’s Number One department store.

With the arrival of fall, he began training chefs on the east coast, in the seaside city of Wonsan. One day, several black Mercedeses arrived at the cooking school. The first car bore the license plate 2-16, Kim Jong-il’s birthday. The second contained five women kidnapped from Thailand to be used as sex slaves. Fujimoto was asked to get into a third car.

At a lavish Wonsan guesthouse, Fujimoto prepared sushi for a group of executives who would be arriving on a yacht. Executive is Fujimoto’s euphemism for generals, party officials, or high-level bureaucrats. In other words, Kim Jong-il’s personal entourage. Andguesthouse is code for a series of palaces decorated with cold marble, silver-braided bedspreads, ice purple paintings of kimilsungia blossoms, and ceilings airbrushed with the cran-apple mist of sunset, as if Liberace’s jet had crashed into Lenin’s tomb.

At two in the morning, the boat finally docked. Fujimoto began serving sushi for men who obviously had been through a long party already. He would come to realize these parties tended to be stacked one atop another, sometimes four in a row, spreading out over days.

All the men wore military uniforms except for one imperious fellow in a casual sports tracksuit. This man was curious about the fish. He asked Fujimoto about the marbled, fleshy cuts he was preparing.

"That’s toro," Fujimoto told him.

For the rest of the night, this man kept calling out, “Toro, one more!”

The next day, Fujimoto was talking to the mamasan of his hotel. She was holding a newspaper, the officialRodong Sinmun, and on the front page was a photo of the man in the tracksuit. Fujimoto told her this was the man he’d just served dinner.

"She started trembling," Fujimoto said of the moment he realized the man’s true identity. "Then I started trembling."

The man in the tracksuit invited Fujimoto back to make more sushi. Fujimoto didn’t speak Korean, so he had a government-appointed interpreter with him at all times. At the end of the evening, a valet handed the interpreter an envelope.

"From Jang-gun-nim," the valet said.

Perhaps the reason Fujimoto hadn’t known he’d been serving Kim Jong-il was because “no one ever called him by his real name,” Fujimoto said. “Never.”

In Korean, Jang-gun-nim translates roughly as “honored general,” and Fujimoto tried to approximate this in Japanese with Shogun-sama, or “super shogun, meaning great master.”

Fujimoto would never call him anything else. People disappeared for less.

When Fujimoto opened the envelope, he discovered five U.S. hundred-dollar bills.

Soon there was another sushi party, with many shouts of “Toro, one more!” At its conclusion, Shogun-sama tossed Fujimoto an envelope, which landed at his feet. Whether Kim Jong-il meant the envelope to land on the table in front of Fujimoto or whether Shogun-sama wanted to see Fujimoto stoop to retrieve it is unknown.

"I was pissed," Fujimoto said. "I refused to pick it up."

Kim Jong-il stared at Fujimoto, his large glasses and jowls projecting his trademark Pekingese demeanor.

Fujimoto’s interpreter whispered in Japanese that they could be shot for this offense.

But Fujimoto can be a stubborn man. His temper, he says, is “in my DNA.”

Finally the interpreter retrieved the envelope and handed it to Fujimoto.

In it was a thousand dollars.

Over the next week, Fujimoto contemplated how close he’d come to death.

At the next sushi party, Fujimoto had an apology prepared, but it was Kim Jong-il who spoke first, saying, “I’m sorry for my behavior last time.”

Over the years to follow, Fujimoto would never see him apologize again.

Kim Jong-il invited him to play yut nori, a traditional Korean board game. Through an interpreter, Shogun-sama had a long conversation with Fujimoto while they moved their pieces around the board. Kim Jong-il was curious about life in Japan; he particularly wanted to talk about movies and food. He wanted Fujimoto’s opinion on whether a person’s diet could produce longevity. Did Fujimoto believe shark-fin soup warded off cancer? Did Fujimoto eat shark genitals to increase his potency? Did Fujimoto also eat puppy soup on Sundays?

These yut nori sessions became regular, with a black Mercedes arriving to transport Fujimoto to lavish guesthouses. Fujimoto attributes his friendship with Kim Jong-il to his refusal to retrieve the envelope. “Shogun-sama thought I was different from other men, who were always trying to be nice and polite to him. He was surrounded by men who praised him.”

This is true, but it’s certainly more complicated. Though the Japanese are considered an enemy in North Korea—for their brutal invasion, occupation, and subjugation of Korea from 1910 to 1945—Fujimoto’s outsider status had advantages: He didn’t speak Korean and therefore couldn’t betray Kim’s confidences. Fujimoto was also a stranger to the complex allegiances and shifting tides of Pyongyang politics. And because he knew so little about North Korea, he tended to accept Shogun-sama’s version of reality—that the Kims were benevolent leaders beset by jealous enemies.

These were good times for Fujimoto. During the day he trained his students, and at night the shouts of “Toro, one more!” kept coming. Beautiful women were always nearby, and interesting executives kept coming and going. When he spent leisure time with Kim Jong-il, they drank Bordeaux wines and discussed Shogun-sama’s favorite Schwarzenegger movies.

Fujimoto had much to learn. He didn’t yet know that the money for these luxuries came from gulag labor or that the men he served were in charge of Kim’s special divisions: counterfeiting, weapons sales, and drug production. He had no idea that those beautiful girls were taken from their families in faraway lands and that now their sole purpose was to fulfill Kim’s every pleasure. He couldn’t have known that when people disappeared, they went to communal labor farms, re-education camps, or kwan-li-so gulags, which were total-control zones from which no one returned.

The true nature of Kim Jong-il wouldn’t come clear until Fujimoto’s next trip to North Korea, five years later. Thinking he’d had a good adventure, the chef packed up his knives and flew home to Japan—not knowing he’d give up everything to make his way back again.

Link: Hitler’s Food Taster: One Bite Away from Death

Each meal could have been her last, but Adolf Hitler’s food taster Margot Wölk lived to tell her story. Forced to test the Nazi leader’s meals for more than two years, the 95-year-old tells SPIEGEL ONLINE that she lived in constant fear.

It might have been something as simple as a portion of white asparagus. Peeled, steamed and served with a delicious sauce, as Germans traditionally eat it. And with real butter, a scarcity in wartime. While the rest of the country struggled to get even coffee, or had to spread margarine diluted with flour on their bread, Margot Wölk could have savored the expensive vegetable dish — if not for the fear of dying, that is. Wölk was one of 15 young women who were forced to taste Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s food for some two and a half years during World War II.

The 24-year-old secretary had fled from her parents’ bombed-out Berlin apartment in the winter of 1941, traveling to her mother-in-law’s home in the East Prussian village of Gross-Partsch, now Parcz, Poland. It was an idyllic, green setting, and she lived in a house with a large garden. But less than three kilometers (1.9 miles) away was the location that Hitler had chosen for his Eastern Front headquarters — the Wolf’s Lair.

“The mayor of the little nest was an old Nazi,” says Wölk. “I’d hardly arrived when the SS showed up at the door and demanded, ‘Come with us!’”

Sitting in the same apartment in Berlin’s Schmargendorf area where she was born 95 years ago, she carefully eats tiny pieces of crumb cake from a silver fork. “Delicious,” she says. Wölk has learned to enjoy food again, but it wasn’t easy.

Hitler’s thugs brought her and the other young women to barracks in nearby Krausendorf, where cooks prepared the food for the Wolf’s Lair in a two-story building. The service personnel filled platters with vegetables, sauces, noodle dishes and exotic fruits, placing them in a room with a large wooden table, where the food had to be tasted. “There was never meat because Hitler was a vegetarian,” Wölk recalls. “The food was good — very good. But we couldn’t enjoy it.”

Link: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.

Link: Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference about how the learning of science made Mark Lynas reconsider his stance on GM foods

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. I published my first book on global warming in 2004, and I was determined to make it scientifically credible rather than just a collection of anecdotes.

So I had to back up the story of my trip to Alaska with satellite data on sea ice, and I had to justify my pictures of disappearing glaciers in the Andes with long-term records of mass balance of mountain glaciers. That meant I had to learn how to read scientific papers, understand basic statistics and become literate in very different fields from oceanography to paleoclimate, none of which my degree in politics and modern history helped me with a great deal.

I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals.

My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that GM would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

The problem with genetically modified foods is not really the genetic modification, it’s the corporate ownership of those modifications and the patents on life.

Link: Totalitarianism, Famine and Us

In late 1959, Chinese officials in the provinces began to investigate wild rumors that people were eating one another. Most of the officials must have already known that Mao Zedong’s call for a “Great Leap Forward,” a planned modernization meant to catapult the country into global economic leadership, had gone horribly wrong.

In the vast countryside regions of China, and with an eye to pleasing their bureaucratic masters, Communist Party functionaries had been inflating estimates of the amounts of food that peasants were producing for transfer to the industrial zones or for export sales. They also concealed that these transfers left hungry—and often for dead—the very peasants who had done all the farming, from cultivation to harvest. The horrifying reports of cannibalism sometimes involved peasants digging up the corpses of the recently deceased, among the millions who had already died of starvation. Other times, officials investigating unrelated matters came across disturbing evidence of murder and the butchering of people for meat. In Gansu province, according to one document in a new translation of source material, The Great Famine in China, 1958–1962,  a person named Meng was found in his home with meat in a jar, which also contained a clump of hair “alongside a floral-patterned hair band.”

The worst human tragedies of the twentieth century were certainly most deadly when sponsored or at least unleashed by totalitarian regimes, and food was a crucial element of their politics. Several years ago, the German journalist and scholar Götz Aly showed in books such as Architects of Annihilation (2003) the role of food in the horrors of National Socialist imperialism. More recently, Timothy Snyder has made the conquest of more productive agricultural territory—especially the Ukrainian “breadbasket”—an essential factor in the episodes of mass death occurring in what he calls the “bloodlands.” Soviet and Nazi planners both sought to occupy the region for the sake of food, and their macabre policies dictated that those on the home front would eat before the occupants of the newly conquered territory, who were deemed too numerous to feed with limited resources. In The Taste of War(2011), Lizzie Collingham has offered an accessible survey of how deeply the origins and course of World War II followed from the difficulty—real or perceived—of provisioning humanity. Even Americans soon became aware that the fight against totalitarianism in postwar Asia depended on filling empty stomachs at least as much as on winning hearts and minds, a policy that Nick Cullather, author of The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia (2010), has elsewhere called “the foreign policy of the calorie.”

But the famines caused by totalitarian regimes can easily become a sensationalized distraction from considering the other causes of mass starvation. After all, mass hunger is older than totalitarianism, and in the most ancient records of human hunger, cannibalism is a depressingly common response to famine. In his already classic book Famine: A Short History (2009), Cormac Ó Gráda, the greatest contemporary historian of the topic, cites a Chinese woodblock from an 1870s famine that tells of a man who sells his daughter to avoid eating her; and many cases of cannibalism were reported in prior and later famines in China, under the rule of emperors and republicans alike.

That it has taken so long for the basic facts about the great Chinese famine to be recovered is not solely because of an information blackout at the time and since, but also because of the memory of such cyclical disasters. For a long time, observers assumed that the difficulties faced by Chinese communists were mainly ones they had inherited from a millennium of emperors. The persistent challenge of providing food led to vivid novels like Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (1931) and influential theories of “Oriental despotism,” according to which China’s geography and demography permitted no alterative to coordinated rule from above to provide rice for the millions—a job that crop failure sometimes made impossible. For years after the Great Famine, it wasn’t even clear that mass death had occurred. And until the appearance in the mid-1990s of Jasper Becker’s popularizing account Hungry Ghosts, it was common to grant more credence to the official and persistent Chinese explanation for the Great Famine: bad weather. 

If famine antedated totalitarianism, famine has also outlasted it—even as China’s leaders, still officially communist, have embarked on a major new global venture in food politics, with the state’s vaulting economy and hungry consumers leading them abroad in search of new sources. It is in intuitive anticipation of a new food politics that mid-century totalitarian famine is being revisited. But while the Great Famine is a terrible warning from the past, as well as an occasion for heartfelt commemoration and a tool for Chinese democrats to criticize their regime, it can distract us from the very different food politics to come—especially when it’s used by Western critics merely to sound false alarms about the role of agriculture in contemporary China’s national ambitions. The new food politics, in short, is already under way.

Link: The Island Where People Forget to Die

I met Moraitis on Ikaria this past July during one of my visits to explore the extraordinary longevity of the island’s residents. For a decade, with support from the National Geographic Society, I’ve been organizing a study of the places where people live longest. The project grew out of studies by my partners, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer. In 2000, they identified a region of Sardinia’s Nuoro province as the place with the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. As they zeroed in on a cluster of villages high in Nuoro’s mountains, they drew a boundary in blue ink on a map and began referring to the area inside as the “blue zone.” Starting in 2002, we identified three other populations around the world where people live measurably longer lives than everyone else. The world’s longest-lived women are found on the island of Okinawa. On Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, we discovered a population of 100,000 mestizos with a lower-than-normal rate of middle-age mortality. And in Loma Linda, Calif., we identified a population of Seventh-day Adventists in which most of the adherents’ life expectancy exceeded the American average by about a decade.  

Ikaria, an island of 99 square miles and home to almost 10,000 Greek nationals, lies about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. Its jagged ridge of scrub-covered mountains rises steeply out of the Aegean Sea. Before the Christian era, the island was home to thick oak forests and productive vineyards. Its reputation as a health destination dates back 25 centuries, when Greeks traveled to the island to soak in the hot springs near Therma. In the 17th century, Joseph Georgirenes, the bishop of Ikaria, described its residents as proud people who slept on the ground. “The most commendable thing on this island,” he wrote, “is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”

Seeking to learn more about the island’s reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. ‘People stay up late here,’ Leriadis said. ‘We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.’ He took a sip of his wine. ‘Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.’”

(Source: englishcactus, via ruminantics)

Link: Our Dystopian Food Supply

What does it say about America’s moral investments that corporations can buy out a government agency designed to protect us, sue media outlets for cutting into profits, and then claim that [pink slime] is, well, health food? 

When the science-fiction film Soylent Green was released in 1973, critics celebrated everything about it except the premise. New York Times film critic A.H. Weiler declared that the movie’s twenty-first century setting was “occasionally frightening but…rarely convincingly real.” How could a population unwittingly eat and enjoy human remains in the form of the popular food product, Soylent Green? Unfortunately, the parallels between this sci-fi classic and modern corporate food production would cause Mr. Weiler to spit out his hamburger in disbelief.

In March 2012, ABC News led the media in breaking the story of a company, Beef Products Inc., that takes slaughterhouse byproducts, throws them in a centrifuge, and squeezes out the ground remains through a tube of ammonium hydroxide. Known to Beef Products Inc., as Lean Finely-Texturized Beef, the media quickly dubbed the product “pink slime,” or “soylent pink.” LFTB cannot be sold by itself directly to consumers, but is instead purchased by other companies to add to ground beef products such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and prepackaged ground beef. Few consumers knew about the existence of soylent pink, especially since meat products can legally contain up to 15% LFTB without a label stating so.

Outrage began to develop as people learned that LFTB was comprised of multiple animals’ offal, and thus necessitated chemical treatment to reduce the unusually high levels of bacteria present in such remains. When consumers realized that the government was planning to buy seven million pounds of the so-called “pink slime” for the school lunch program this year, the anger over soylent pink mushroomed. We were eating and feeding our children pulverized brain, organs, and fecal matter—and had no clue.

To be fair to the food corporations, Soylent Green and soylent pink differ in that the latter is probably not comprised of people—at least most of the time. Modern methods of meat processing, however, leave a lot to the imagination. Packaging for meat usually shows either a tranquil animal out in a field or a cartoon, not the more true-to-life assembly line in a slaughterhouse. Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety, corroborates this with her recent comment: “I don’t think your average consumer probably knows a lot about how food is produced.” Corporate food culture has separated consumers from the realities of meat production, and soylent pink was able to drift into the market largely without consumer detection. We were unwittingly enjoying it in the form of America’s most iconic foods, and before consumers knew what was in soylent pink and how it was made, people loved it. Fast food hamburgers, hot dogs, and most all processed beef products sold in cafeterias and grocery stores contained LFTB.

The same confusion over food origins plagues the citizens of New York in Soylent Green’s dystopian setting, where the majority of the population subsists solely on Soylent products of dubious composition. In the film, Soylent Corporation is the only provider of food for average citizens in a world of depleted resources, where no more natural food grows. Said to be derived from plankton, their new popular food is called Soylent Green. Since Soylent food is all that is available to everybody but the elite, in a poverty-stricken and hot-as-hell New York, riots abound and are squashed by police brutality when the supply of Soylent Green is exhausted at a rations distribution center.

Link: French School Lunch Menus

Welcome to the French Kids’ School Lunch Project. In a ‘Tour de France’ of food, I post the school lunch menus from a different village or town in France every week. Click here for my weekly posts on delicious French school lunch menus.

When you read through the menus, you’ll see that an impressive range of vegetables (beet salad anyone?), all kinds of fish, a huge variety of cheeses (yes, even the stinky blue kind) all make an appearance, along with lovely dishes with a French touch (like roasted guinea fowl for preschoolers in these amazing menus from the town of Versailles).

The question is: What can we learn from the French approach? Now, French school lunches are not perfect (as I explore below), and I’m not necessarily recommending the wholesale adoption of the French approach to eating. The French eat their fair share of junk and fast food (as any visit to a big French supermarket will tell you). But what is interesting about France is the way the French have chosen to reactto the pressures of junk food, fast food, busy lives, long commutes, food marketing, and the allure of cheap, processed ‘fake foods’.

The French have decided the teaching healthy eating routines to children is a priority, and they teach children about healthy food in the classroom AND the lunchroom. So I believe that some elements of the French approach (like their well thought-out approach to ‘taste training’ for kids) could definitely work here.

In my opinion, the French approach demonstrates what can be done by communities when food–and teaching children to love eating healthy food–is a priority. Note: unlike the United States, there is no national school lunch program in France. All of the lunches you’ll read about here are funded by local municipalities. Three-course (or even four-course) freshly-prepared hot lunches are provided to over 6 million French children in the public school system every day. Even without national subsidies, these meals cost, on average, $3 per child (and prices for low-income families are subsidized), not significantly higher than the lunches provided through the National School Lunch Program in the US. So the French don’t spend much more than we do, yet their kids eat seem to eat, on average, better than ours do–even in the smallest villages and poorest towns of France. (For an interesting comparison, you can check out the Fed up With Lunch blog, where teacher Sarah Wu photographed lunches in her kids’ school for a year, sparking a fascinating debate about school food).

Why do the French put this much effort into healthy lunches? Because it makes sense–socially, economically, and nutritionally. Here’s a quote from the website of a school near Paris: “Mealtime is a particularly important moment in a child’s day. Our responsibility is to provide children with healthy, balanced meals; to develop their sense of taste; to help children, complementing what they learn at home, to make good food choices without being influenced by trends, media, and marketing; and to teach them the relationship between eating habits and health. But above all else, we aim to enable children to spend joyful, convivial moments together, to learn a ‘savoir-vivre’, to make time for communication, social exchange, and learning about society’s rules–so that they can socialize and cultivate friendships.”

Of course, these comments on the French approach to lunches are a series of generalizations. There are great school lunch programs here at home, and the French system is not perfect (as I explore below). Nonetheless, reading the French school lunch menus is an eye-opener about what kids can eat. Perhaps most astonishing of all: there is no kids’ food here. No flavoured milk (the kids drink water). Ketchup only once per week (and only with dishes with which ketchup is traditionally served, like steak). There is little any fried food (which can only be served a few times per month, according to Ministry of Education regulations).

So what do they eat if they don’t eat kids’ food? Read on: I hope the menus will provide you with plenty of food for thought. (And for more food for thought, see this fun news video–in English–on French school meals.)

Link: Revolutionary Plots

Urban agriculture is producing a lot more than food.

…The second green revolution is an attempt to undo the destructive aspects of the first one, to make an organic and intimate agriculture that feeds minds and hearts as well as bodies, that measures intangible qualities as well as quantity. By volume, it produces only a small percentage of this country’s food, but of course its logic isn’t merely volume. The first green revolution may have increased yield in many cases, but it also increased alienation and toxicity, and it was efficient only if you ignored its fossil fuel dependency, carbon output, and other environmental impacts. It was an industrial revolution for agriculture, and what might be happening now is distinctly postindustrial, suspicious of the big and the corporate, interested in the old ways and the alternatives. This is more than a production project; it’s a reconnection project, which is why it is also an urban one—if we should all be connected to food production, food production should happen everywhere, urban and rural and every topsoil-laden crevice and traffic island in between. 

Today, major urban agriculture projects are firmly rooted in Burlington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and dozens of other American cities. Sales of vegetable seeds have skyrocketed across the country. Backyard chickens have become a new norm, and schoolyard gardens have sprung up across the nation and beyond since Alice Waters began Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project almost two decades ago. Organic farms and farmers’ markets have proliferated, and for the first time in many decades the number of farmers is going up instead of down. Though those things can be counted, the transformation of awareness that both produces and is produced by all these things is incalculable.

We think more about food, know more about food, care more about food than we did twenty or thirty years ago. Food has become both an upscale fetish (those menus that overinform you about what farm your heirloom ham or parsnips came from) and a poor people’s radical agenda, a transformation of the most intimate everyday practices that cuts across class—though it has yet to include all of us. In 1969, the Black Panthers ran breakfast programs to feed hungry inner-city children, and those children—or rather the children and grandchildren of those children—are still hungry, and the inner city is still a food desert: a place where access to decent food, or even to food, is not a given. But farming has come to the ’hood. And everywhere else.

When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food. And even keeping the model and knowledge of agriculture alive may become crucial to our survival at some later point. 

The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers: Americans eat an average of three burgers a week. That’s 156 burgers per person, every year. Maybe even more burgers are getting gobbled in the midst of this Chick-fil-A storm? The folks who made The Price of Gas last year, now bring us The Hidden Cost of Burgers with a cascade of daunting figures around our consumption of that all-American favorite. But what are the costs to our health and the environment? Is there anything we can do to lessen the impact? Watch the video above to find out more. This video was directed and produced by Carrie Ching at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) as part of the “Food for 9 Billion” project. Reporting was by Sarah Terry-Cobo and the art and animation was by Arthur Jones. Funding came from the Society of Environmental Journalists and users. 

Link: Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?

Michael J. Potter is one of the last little big men left in organic food.

More than 40 years ago, Mr. Potter bought into a hippie cafe and “whole earth” grocery here that has since morphed into a major organic foods producer and wholesaler, Eden Foods.

But one morning last May, he hopped on his motorcycle and took off across the Plains to challenge what organic food — or as he might have it, so-called organic food — has become since his tie-dye days in the Haight district of San Francisco.

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.

Over the last decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.

All of which riles Mr. Potter, 62. Which is why he took off in late May from here for Albuquerque, where the cardinals of the $30-billion-a-year organic food industry were meeting to decide which ingredients that didn’t exactly sound fresh from the farm should be blessed as allowed ingredients in “organic” products. Ingredients like carrageenan, a seaweed-derived thickener with a somewhat controversial health record. Or synthetic inositol, which is manufactured using chemical processes.

Mr. Potter was allowed to voice his objections to carrageenan for three minutes before the group, the National Organic Standards Board.

“Someone said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Mr. Potter recalls.

And that was that.

Two days later, the board voted 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan on the growing list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in products with the coveted “certified organic” label. To organic purists like Mr. Potter, it was just another sign that Big Food has co-opted — or perhaps corrupted — the organic food business.

Link: Booklist: Factory Foods Exposed

Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” commercial drew in more than 5 million views, and McDonald’s has recently unveiled a plan to remove sow gestation stalls. It appears that fast food chains are trying to jump ship from the industrial farming label that’s branded the business. But why the sudden focus on animal rights and ethical farming? What exactly do terms like “free range” and “local” mean, and where does our food come from? For this week’s GOOD Books, we’re looking straight into the convoluted American food industry.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: The bible of meatpacking industry exposés, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair in 1906, was the first of its kind to uncover the nauseating realities of the American meatpacking industry. Sinclair’s story follows a family of Lithuanian immigrants who find themselves unable to attain the “American Dream” working at Chicago’s Stockyards, where their lives become nightmarish. Sinclair originally intended for this book to expose the perils and exploitation that immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry faced, but the story became the herald for food sanitation. Thanks to Sinclair’s muckraker reporting on the industry’s rat-infested and waste-water soaked meat, corruption, and its overall sickeningly unsanitary conditions, the meatpacking industry experienced an overhaul. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were both passed following the book’s release, and worker conditions slowly improved.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: Just for fair warning, this might turn you into a vegan—Natalie Portman turned into one after reading this book. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s first foray into nonfiction, he humorously and intelligently shares his personal, rocky relationship with vegetarianism. Part collection of anecdotes, part research investigation, and part social commentary on America’s eating habits, Foer shares how he came to realize how the chicken on his plate was once a living, breathing animal prior to becoming a nugget. This childhood realization ends up changing his life. From translating scientific terms to easy-to-follow layman’s description to personally investigating the ethics and horrors of factory farms, all for the sake of his soon-to-be-born son, Foer seeks to find an answer to why people eat meat without giving a second thought.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan: In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, journalist Michael Pollan deconstructs a meal on the table and literally traces it back to its roots. He grapples with the question “Where does our food come from?” by inserting himself into the frighteningly unnatural state of U.S. industrial farming, investigating the backbone of “organic” sustainability, and finally pulling on his hunting boots to shoot, gather and cook his own meal. Realizing what America eats can be queasy and shocking, but Pollan’s humorous narratives seamlessly propel the book from diseased industrial feedlots straight to the forest floor, which makes the truth a little easier to digest. His quests to present the truth behind the American food industry makes him do things from purchasing a cow who will live and die in a CAFO to following its journey into becoming a standard McDonalds burger. In the process, he works on a grass farm, observes factory farms, and eventually comes to the conclusion that everything we eat, even the menu at mega-chain McDonalds, is corn-based. Pollan unravels the tight ropes on which the food industry is currently balancing, while tackling issues like obesity, food anxiety, oblivion and ethics along the way. The message is unsettling, suggesting that Americans have planted themselves to the point of detriment, ruining not only ourselves but also the very biology of animals that surround us, but hopeful in the sense that omnivores ultimately have the power to shape what to eat.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg: While poultry and meat industries have been routinely blasted for their problems by various investigators, the fishing industry has had troubles of its own. In Four FishNew York Times’ seafood writer Paul Greenburg investigates the murky issues present in global fisheries—and the fact that the ocean’s bounty has limits. The four fish that Greenburg focuses on are the world’s dominant wild-caught and farmed fish: salmon, bass, tuna and cod. By weaving together narrative and research, Greenburg, a life-long fisherman, reveals how farming, biotechnology, and overfishing can ultimately destroy the ocean and its creatures, stressing the importance of sustainability.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Michael Marder and Gary Francione Debate Plant Ethics

The following is a debate between Gary Francione, author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, and several other titles, and Michael Marder, author of the forthcoming Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life.

The debate and the questions were inspired by Michael Marder’s controversial New York Times op-eds Is Plant Liberation on the Menu? and If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? which generated a variety of responses from animal right advocates, philosophers, and others.

How does plant ethics relate to veganism?

Michael Marder: Plant ethics shares with veganism a strong commitment to justice, which is to say, to the reduction of violence humans perpetrate against other living beings. It is by no means a threat to or an invalidation of veganism. Rather, plant ethics is an open invitation to fine-tune our dietary practices in keeping with the philosophical and botanical considerations of what plants are, what they are capable of, and what our relation to them should be.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a useful distinction between perfection and perfectibility, arguing that the latter defines human beings. If veganism considers its moral bases to be perfectible, it will, I believe, admit plant ethics into its midst. Doubts sometimes arise as to whether or not veganism is a genuinely philosophical position when its unbending commitment is mistaken for doctrinaire rigidity, and its morality—for self-righteous moralizing. A serious engagement with plant ethics will finally dispel all such suspicions, as it will demonstrate the dynamic thinking behind veganism, ready to push its own limits.

This does not mean that, having entertained the real possibility of violence against plants, vegans would throw their hands up in despair and concede that it is pointless to alleviate animal suffering by refusing to consume animal flesh and by-products. What it implies is that they would not rest on the laurels of their accomplishments but would consider residual violence against other living beings, such as plants, thoroughly instrumentalized by the same logic that underpins human domination over other animal species.

Gary Francione: If plants are not sentient—if they have no subjective awareness—then they have no interests. That is, they cannot desire, or want, or prefer anything. There is simply no reason to believe that plants have any level of perceptual awareness or any sort of mind that prefers, wants, or desires anything.

Although I am in many respects sympathetic to Jain ethics, and particular to the notion that we should never engage in intentional violence against sentient beings, I do not share the Jain notion that plants and microscopic organisms, because they are alive, have souls. You really need that sort of approach to start to make sense of your position.

I do believe that we have an obligation not to eat more plants than we need to live, but that is because I think that overeating is a form of violence to our own bodies. I also believe that we have an obligation to all sentient inhabitants of the planet not to use more non-sentient resources than we need. In both cases, we have obligations that concern plants but these obligations are not owed directly to plants.

I am all in favor of vegans perfecting their moral bases and I urge all vegans to consider embracing a progressive understanding of human rights that rejects racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and all other forms of discrimination, which are indistinguishable from speciesism.

Michael Marder: As I have pointed out, contemporary research in botany gives us ample reasons to believe that plants are aware of their environment in a nonconscious way—for instance, thanks to the roots that are capable of altering their growth pattern in moving toward resource-rich soil or away from nearby roots of other members of the same species. To ignore such evidence in favor of a stereotypical view of plants as thing-like is counterproductive, both for ethics and for our understanding of what they are.

When we, humans, use ourselves as a measuring stick against which everything else in world is evaluated, then an anthropomorphic image of sentience and intelligence comes to govern our ethics. True: the life of plants resembles our living patterns to a lesser extent than the life of animals. But to use this as a cornerstone of ethics and a justification for rejecting the moral claim plants have on us is a case of extreme speciesism.

Link: Why Japan Keeps Whaling

Every year, Japanese whaling provokes international outrage, resulting in huge damage to the country’s image. So why does it keep doing it?

Japan’s whaling advocates support the industry as a part of national identity, condemning the ‘racist’ attitudes of Western opponents in opposing whaling.

‘Many Japanese are of the view that among the anti-whaling environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, there’s an element of racism within their public communications and that Sea Shepherd especially is a racist organization and publicises anti-Japan sentiment,’ Inwood says. Tokyo-based journalist David McNeill says domestic support for whaling had actually been boosted by the activities of activists such as Sea Shepherd, which has sought to obstruct Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean sanctuary.

A collision in January 2010 between the group’s Ady Gil and whaling ship Shonan Maru No. 2 and subsequent arrest of the Ady Gil’s captain, Peter Bethune, further inflamed nationalistic sentiment against alleged foreign ‘eco-terrorists.’ McNeill says the Japanese media focused on Bethune’s assault on a crew member of the Japanese ship which he boarded, with ‘very little sympathy’ for the militant conservationists.

‘The press take their cue from the Fisheries Agency, and the media angle was look at these lunatics on the high seas attacking our fleet—we’ve finally arrested one,’ he says. ‘Most Japanese are not pro-whaling, but they’re anti anti-whaling. Japan’s line is that it has a legitimate right to whale, and the illegality is on the other side.’

McNeill says Japan’s overseas whaling activities gave it an otherwise rare opportunity to ‘stick its finger up’ at overseas pressure. ‘Japan is so diplomatically and politically under the thumb when it comes to its foreign policy. It doesn’t really have a chance to let off steam, but whaling is one area where it can. In some ways, pressure from abroad is fuelling the Japanese campaign,’ he says. […]

According to Kingston, whale meat consumption in Japan is ‘an invented tradition ’which didn’t become nationally prevalent until after World War II. Whale meat was a major source of protein in school lunches in the early post-war period, and while the industry has recently pushed for its reintroduction—an August 2010 survey found that nearly one-fifth of 30,000 elementary and junior high schools polled had served it—it has faced opposition amid health ministry concerns over high concentrations of toxic chemicals, including mercury.

A 2008 survey conducted by Japan’s Nikkei newspaper found that only 12 percent of Japanese in their 20s had ever eaten whale meat, while a 2006 survey by Nippon Research Center reported that 95 percent of Japanese had rarely or never eaten it. Another 2008 poll commissioned by Greenpeace Japan found that only 31 percent of Japanese supported commercial whaling, with the majority favouring whaling ‘along the Japanese coast but not on the high seas.’