Should I eat that?
People chat near hanging ducks during a foie gras contest in Saint-Palais, southwestern France. (Bob Edme/Associated Press)
Sampling the local cuisine is a big part of travelling -- especially when it’s a little out of the ordinary.
But in some destinations, it may not be the taste or texture that travellers have a hard time stomaching. Because of the manner in which an animal became dinner, ordering up a delicacy can often put an ethical dilemma on your plate.
Here is a look at the top should-I-eat-it conundrums.
Shark fin soup
On 1 January, this special-occasion, luxury delicacy was nixed from menus at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels group (which includes the Peninsula) because of its effect on dwindling shark populations. The fins are cut from sharks who are then tossed back in the ocean, where they are unable to swim, and thus slowly die. California also passed a law last year that bans the possession, sale or distribution of imported shark fins.
While turtle eggs may not sound appetizing the world over, they are eaten in several Central American countries, particularly Nicaragua and Guatemala. Some even think they are an aphrodisiac. But the practice has pitted researchers working to save endangered and vulnerable turtle species, like the olive ridley, against poachers who snatch the eggs from nests.
Whale is eaten in Japan, Iceland and Norway, despite a decades-old worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling. (Catching whales for scientific research is still allowed, but not all countries abide by the international rules.) Many species of whale are endangered, thus the practice of eating whale meat is contentious, even in countries like Japan, where the food is a cultural tradition. In the US, meanwhile, sale of the meat is illegal -- a California sushi restaurant faced federal charges in 2010 for serving whale meat to customers.
Not many travellers will find themselves in a situation where they can sample this songbird, a French delicacy that is, nevertheless, outlawed in France. Travel Channel star Anthony Bourdain got to try it, but clearly, he has connections. The now-endangered bird is roasted and eaten whole -- bones and all -- by diners who shield their faces with napkins, supposedly hiding their greed from God. Yes, it’s that forbidden. (Ortolans are not the only endangered songbirds in Europe. The EU has also banned large-scale capture of other birds in places like Malta and Italy where there is widespread poaching.)
The bluefin is prized and very costly, and its fatty flavour is especially popular in sushi. But the money to be made on this fish has given fisheries across the globe “the incentive to exploit bluefin populations at unsustainable levels,” said the non-profit Pew Environment Group. According to the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Atlantic bluefin is a “species of concern” and is subject to sometimes-ignored quotas set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. But the pressure to take bluefin off restaurant menus has been growing. The Food Network TV show Iron Chef America banned it in 2010.
Even many lovers of this duck-liver dish don’t like to talk about how the buttery delicacy ended up on their plates. Ducks are force-fed corn, though a pole put down their throats, in order to rapidly expand their livers. A local California TV report warned that images of the practice were “disturbing”, and the unseemly treatment of the ducks led the state to enact a ban on the menu item that goes into effect 1 July. Of course, some chefs and foie gras aficionados are not too pleased about the government crackdown. And a similar ban in Chicago in 2006 did not have staying power: it lasted two years, before the city council repealed it.
Lori Robertson writes the Ethical Traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org.