Food is very important in Norwegian culture, a proud part of their identity, however, food connoisseurs in Europe have always thought the Nordic countries lack quality and sophistication in their cuisine.  (Finland is always picked for the worst cuisine in Europe every year.)

I find that the ideas behind food in Norway is very different to the rest of the world.  Norwegians respect simple, honest food; food that still tastes of the land; food that can be grown yourself or hunted.  I’ve often seen Norwegians literally drool over the thought of boiled new potatoes!

The way Norwegians cook their food retains a wildness and often takes me back to a rustic way of life – think Vikings.  I could very much imagine sitting round a Viking camp-fire and eating Buljong or Fårikål.

dishednorwegianlamb

Even though Norwegians are a highly ‘sophisticated’ society that still finds value in living off the land, Norway is often challenged by animal rights activists for retaining their food traditions.  In stores it is common to see whale and seal meat.  Even though I ‘eek’ at the thought, these exotic meats are actually a normal part of the Norwegian pallet.  You can often buy whale steaks and seal stew at restaurants and fishermen (often called whalers) sell fresh whale and seal meat right from their boats.  (In Tromsø, there is a memorial statue, Fangstmonument (Arctic Hunter), right in the centre of town in the Market Square commemorating the whalers and fishers who lost their lives in the Arctic Ocean.  They were the ones who turned Tromsø into a thriving little city.)

boatman

Because these ‘cute little seals’ and ‘beautiful majestic whales’ are being used for the consumption of humans, the ‘civilised world’ often sees the hunting and killing of these creatures as barbaric.  I used to be a little bit ‘ify’ about the idea myself until I learnt the Norwegian point of view.  As seals and whales cannot be domesticated, like cows, they must be hunted in the wild.  This enables the animals to have a wonderful life, free and happy without pens or genetically modified food, in their natural environment.  Each year has a specific quota set by the industry to control numbers.  The whalers and fishermen follow set guidelines in capturing and slaughtering, and also waste control (and if you know anything about Norway’s environmental and humane standards you will know that these animals are treated with the highest respect).  Seals are actually considered quite pesky animals, similar to seagulls – they eat through fishermen’s nets and if their numbers aren’t controlled they can cause havoc on the environment.  The Minke whales are not endangered or threatened.  In fact, the whales have some of the highest numbers in the world.

Norwegians don’t excessively eat whale or seal – it is a normal part of life that is good for a well balanced diet in Norway.  In fact, seal is more valued for its fur and leather but Norwegians eat the seal meat not to be wasteful.  The meat is also very high in unsaturated fats, even more so than fish oil.  Omega 3 is especially important for living in an Arctic climate where there is six months of darkness every year.

There has been some controversy over the import of seal products into the EU.  As of 5th of May 2009 the EU parliament decided to ban the IMPORT of all seal products.  (Does this mean there will be new EU sealing hunters starting up companies to meet the demand?)

Please see below for the Norwegian Coastal and Fishery Departments guidelines of seal hunting.

Well, what do you know!  We, animals and humans, are all interdependent in helping the world to survive.  We are always hearing about how humans need to be controlled in their consumption – but it also seems that animals also need to be controlled with their consumption so we can all save the world we live in.

snow-grouse

The other main animals that are hunted for human consumption in Norway are Moose, Snow Grouse, Deer and wild Reindeer (in the South – the Reindeer in the North are herded by the Sami).  These animals are seasonal game and are again controlled by hunting regulations.  There is also very strict guidelines on disposing their carcasses.  Again, these animals cannot be farmed, like pigs, and thrive in the wilderness.  In fact, this year there are an excess of Moose roaming around and there is not enough food for them all.  This means they are venturing into urban areas which can be very dangerous especially when they hang around roadsides and farms to find a little extra food.  Not only can this cause traffic accidents but can also be dangerous for children playing or walking to school.  So, the government is considering rasing the hunt quota for this year.

Even though game animals are hunted and eaten, they are still held close to the hearts of all Norwegians.  Seeing moose might be a regular occurrence in Norway, but it still makes Norwegians excited when moose come round the house for a visit.

moose-cow

moose-bull

I find that Norway is very environmentally conscious and are very responsible when it comes to using their own resources.  I like the fact that Norway uses respectfully what nature has given.  There are no species that are consumed by humans that are in danger.  And there is no waste because of taste, trend or ‘modernisation’.  In Australia thousands of Kangaroos are culled each year, not eaten, but slaughtered just so they won’t be a bother to farmers.  This would never be accepted in Norway.

So even though Norway’s cuisine has little admiration from culinary experts it certainly has the best food tradition.

From The Norwegian Coastal and Fishery Department:

Sealing is one of the traditional means of livelihood for people in the countries around the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic. The Norwegian seal hunt is based mainly on harp seals and hooded seals. Stocks of both species are growing, and neither species are threatened.

Norwegian sealing is sound resource management
In all, there are about eight million harp and hooded seals in the North Atlantic, and almost three million in the areas where Norwegian sealing takes place. Stocks of both species are growing.

To maintain seal stocks at a reasonable level, it is necessary to harvest them. The daily energy requirement of a harp seal is equivalent to two and a half to three kilograms of herring or capelin. The large seal stocks are making heavy inroads into stocks of various fish species, including some that are used for human consumption. In the North-east Atlantic, harp seals alone eat as much herring as is caught by the whole Norwegian fishing fleet.

If seal populations become too large, some species may migrate over long distances to find food. This has at times resulted in massive seal invasions along the Norwegian coast. The animals eat large amounts of fish that would otherwise be used by people as food, and cause extensive damage to fishing gear and fish farms. In addition, thousands of seals have drowned after becoming entangled in fishing nets.

Different marine species influence one another both directly and indirectly. The people who are responsible for managing them must take such interactions into account. If it is decided to harvest one stock, the effects of this decision on other species must also be considered. This is a generally accepted principle that applies to the management of all wild species that are not threatened.

Subsidised for environmental reasons
For a long time, the market for sealskins was weak, reducing the profitability of the sealing industry. However, the prices of skins have risen in the past couple of years, and most of the income from sealing is still derived from the sale of skins. There is also growing interest in other products such as meat, blubber and carcasses, including seal oil for medicinal purposes.

Norwegian sealing currently receives state support. This is necessary to ensure sound regulation of seal stocks and to maintain traditional hunting skills so that seal populations can continue to be appropriately regulated. At the same time, purposeful efforts are being made to develop markets for new seal products, so that the industry can become independent of subsidies.

Legislation and control
Norway has strict, detailed legislation governing sealing, including dates for the sealing season, quotas, methods of killing, mandatory training for sealers, approval of vessels and inspection.

According to the legislation, animals must be killed as quickly, humanely and painlessly as possible. The only types of equipment Norwegian sealers are allowed to use are rifles and the hakapik (a kind of gaff). Adult seals are shot with rifles, while seal pups are killed using either a rifle or a hakapik. The hakapik may look primitive, but is in fact an efficient tool that stuns an animal immediately and kills it quickly. Norwegian legislation does not permit catches of suckling pups, in other words pups that have not been abandoned by their mothers. Films have been shown of seals being skinned while apparently still alive, but is important to realise that these animals are in fact dead. Muscular spasms can occur in all animals after death, and last longer in seals than in other animals. This is because seals spend long periods under water, and their blood can therefore carry large amounts of oxygen. In addition, the muscles can function for some time even without an oxygen supply.

Sealers are required to take a course and a shooting test every year before the sealing season. Each sealing vessel carries an inspector on board. The inspectors have veterinary qualifications or the equivalent, and report directly to the fisheries authorities.

Independent international studies show that in Norwegian seal hunting the killing is faster and more considerate than the game hunting on land.  This was confirmed in 2007 in a report by the European food safety agancy – made for the European Commission. www.norge.se/policy/environment/sealing/sealing.htm

www.norway.org.uk/policy/environment/marine/sealing.htm

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