Friday, March 4, 2011

Whale Meat and Friday Abstinence

I just got back from a dinner meeting of The Postech Times' staff and student-reporters. Indirectly in deference to my Catholicism, we went to a local Japanese-style raw fish restaurant. (A Korean-style one would have been better: more food, less presentation.)

One of the side-dishes were were served was decidedly Korean: whale meat. Whale meat was new to many of my students, but it is nothing new to me, having lived from 1997 to 2000 in Ulsan, Korea's 8000-year-old whaling capital, and having married into an Ulsanite family. (My wife won't eat it; it's men's food.) Yet, as a Catholic, and today being Friday, I was met with a dilemma.

Is whale a mammal, as our science textbooks tell us, or is it a fish, as one of the scientific asides in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick insists? (A left-liberal friend of mine insists that those passages should be excised, like the n-word from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I admit to excising in my published adaptation of the work that can be seen on this blog's sidebar.) Can a Catholic eat whale meat on Friday?

My conscience decided to follow the greatest American novel, and then I remembered the question didn't matter, as the Korean bishops have issued an exemption from Friday abstinence when it comes to dinner meetings, a big part of Korean culture. So, I savored the succulent blubber with a guilt-free conscience, even as most of my students, though Korean, were unwilling to sample the regional delicacy.

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Blogger Matt Frost said...

Psst! It's Melville! (feel free to delete this comment upon correction)

10:28 PM  
Blogger Dauvit Balfour said...

I believe you mean Herman Melville.

Regardless, that's an interesting dilemma. I would consider a whale a mammal (because, let's face it, 19th century biology was still pretty rough), but never having had occasion to eat whale meat, I don't know how I would classify it for purposes of abstinence. I'm glad you got to enjoy it, anyway.

10:50 PM  
Blogger AngryLemming said...

First, by all classifiable means presently available to us, it is a mammal. But, that's not the point.
The point is sacrifice of a filling meal (which red-meat was a central part of). While the bishops may have given an exception, I think it is based on an understanding of the spirit of the law understanding, you have somehow missed here.
It doesn't matter (in this day/age/culture) what color/kind the meat is, so long as we restrain ourselves and reenforce our habit of self-restraint and humility toward the lives given to sustain our own. Friday is a day to spare a life, near to ours (or identical) in overt value. A fish did not have any overt emotive response, but a mammal did. That was the old line, the new line is internal and more complex. Basically, I think you split hairs here: did you eat until you were sustained, or until you were full?

10:51 PM  
Blogger AngryLemming said...

Also, separate point (which I had to calm down to note): please, don't censor others' works. For any reason.
Just because the classification of a whale has changed; or, they used a word we find offensive, please stop forging leaves onto their "naughty-bits" - let their work and legacy stand on it's own legs, rather than at your knees.
(Okay, there is a point at which I will never be 'not-angry' about such undertakings as stripping any possible Christian reference or symbolism from Narnia, or homosexuality from Wilde. It just smacks to me of an inauthentic engagement with the work. That feeling brings with it much frustration and bile, but this is as good as I think I can muster.)

11:03 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Matt and Dauvit, thanks for the corection. I blame the soju at dinner for having me mistake the authorship of what is my favorite American novel! I'm a romantic, and side with Melville against modern biology.

AngryLemming, well, I didn't stuff myself, and there were only four little pieces of whale meat, two of which I ate, so I guess I'm kosher.

The exception the Korean bishops granted acknowledges the local culture and the fact that this is a multi-religious society. Catholics would look like jerks, not saints, if they refused to party with their co-workers on Fridays.

The American bishops have relaxed the Friday rule for abstinence, but here in Korea it stands, except for dinner meetings.

11:06 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

AngryLemming, perhaps it was the word "whale" that made you angry. If I had eaten twoi pieces of beef, which would have also been legit, you probably wouldn't have been moved to comment.

Here in Korea, we eat Minke Whales, which are not endangered. That said, on my recent visit to Maui where Humpback Whales breed, I couldn't help but feel a bit hungry every time I saw one, even as I admired their beauty.

I "censored" Twain's use of the word "nigger" in my adapatation for the same reason I "censored" other difficuly vocabulary: the product was meant to be a simplified version of the original, without explanatory footnotes, for an audience of intermediate-level language learners.

11:21 PM  
Blogger AngryLemming said...

Not at all, though, I think I can imagine what you are aiming at. Let me assure you, I am a very open eater of meats, bordering on carnivorous and I have actually wanted to try whale, since I read about whaling as a young New Englander.
What got my hackles up was this part:
Is whale a mammal, as our science textbooks tell us, or is it a fish, as one of the scientific asides in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick insists? (A left-liberal friend of mine insists that those passages should be excised, like the n-word from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I admit to excising in my published adaptation of the work that can be seen on this blog's sidebar.)
It isn't that you ate whale (which I wish I were in an position to get easy-enough access to - let alone live octopi), but the editing/censorship of others' works.
I know there are many reasons (some of which I feel are valid, if only on an emotional level - such as "nigger" in many pre-post-post-Enlightenment works) but, I fail to see the merit or need to do so. I think it is offensive to see a fig leaf plastered on a Bernini, where he did not put it - a testament to human short-sightedness and prejudice toward art. I think 'a greater voice of human experience tread here and was choked by historicism' when I see such things. One cannot (to my often derelict mind) cut out the exegesis from the catechesis, in regard to any work. It does harm to our human legacy and our understanding of the work. I see no value in the stripping of non-sense from Dr. Seuss, why should I see any gain by humanity or our understanding of ourselves by ripping certain words or phases from Chaucer/Coppleston/Shelley/Donne/Bernini/Degauss/Clemens/Poe/Tolkien/Rahaner? Chaucer (for the most vulgar example) invented the modern meaning of the slang "cock". Shouldn't it have as much weight as the meaning of the word Kunti? Or, perhaps better put, doesn't forbidding a word/phrase from history mean we will fail to recognize it's meaning? Isn't that a greater threat than facing our shortcomings?
I'm going to assume the best of your intentions, however, as the last line of your comment puts forth a position that you had a targeted audience of lesser mental capacity (I think that's what you mean by "intermediate"). I'm, honestly (I am NOT trying to troll you, but I think we are coming from two very different yet intrinsically valid angles here), I'm not sure why anyone would undertake such a task.
It may show my age or background to say, I could read and understand the context of "nigger" in a book without associating it to a person. I'm not sure where the line is now, but I think if I could understand the lines between what was in the past and what was current in the early 80s, "intermediate" should have moved beyond my 3rd-grade understanding of the world by now and eradicated the need for such censored editions of artistic value and perspective.
I don't think it is "difficult vocabulary" but a step we must embrace to understand and dispel in our collective conscience as well as conscious. Without it, we are doomed to redirect and retread that same step in our growth as people.

12:16 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I see your point, in fact agree with you, and invite you to eat both whale and live octopi the next time you are in Korea. I also ate some kind of live sea-sluggish creature whose name I forget tonight, which was quite delicious.

I should have been clearer that the fact that "a left-liberal friend of mine insists that those passages should be excised" was something I disagreed with. I disagree with it so much, in fact, that I am willing even to follow Melville in his argumentation (valid at the time) that whales were fish. When I ate whale earlier this evening, I did so, in a sense, as a 19th Century New Englander.

About the n-word, I don't think Koreans learning English by themselves could have any idea how to approach the word "nigger" with its many, varied nuances, some negative and some in fact positive, so I used the word "slave" instead, just as I might have changed a word like "tread" to "walk." I did so for linguistic, not potical reasons.

I think the recent excising of the word "nigger" from the mnost recent publication is absurd and offensive. The fact is, Nigger Jim is the most sympathetic and wisest character in Twain's book.

12:43 AM  
Blogger AngryLemming said...

I must admit, your openness to critique is a breath of fresh air to me. I have been filtered, which is fine, edited (which is okay in a stretch), and have been outright blighted/rewritten by other authors.
I understand and respect the need for personal space and the need for comment moderation, but I like the way you have embraced a more 'internet' version of the concept. Thank you, for not blowing me off or speaking under my 'voice'. Engaging me in comments has been enlightening and rewarding for me on a level which has little to do with our current engagement. Thanks, again, for being a truly big person in your own corner of the web.
After nearly a year of subscription to your feed, I was not braced for the revelation of this latest post, which prompted me to comment.
I'm not sure if I think you're wrong. I think we are different on a mid-level, in our Catholicism and I think I will stay subscribed, because of/in spite of it. Like watching Cloé, I think there is much I can yet benefit from reading you.
My objection is getting off-topic at this point: rending of a work of art and an interpretation of art. There is a difference and there may be valid reasons for an interpretation, but I prefer a brutal (no matter how horrible/perhaps even "evil") the given work may be, I think everything should be given a goodly bit of slack.
As far as I'm concerned, popular culture and sensibilities confine art, in spite of that, art finds a way to articulate something about ourselves we aren't necessarily ready to face. We may not like it, or even understand it, but it is there, waiting for us to catch up. It is the ultimate and most intimate form of the Unheimlech. Art is a goad. As far as I understand it, it is a monstration of what people are in fact and a warning to be better, for our own sake. But, I digress...
I must be away to bed now. Sleep well. I admire your articulation of your points so far and look forward to waking up.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Sticking to tradition (and what better to do!), my understanding is that you were probably OK, anyway: aquatic animals in general seem to have been traditionally lumped under 'fish', and when there's real doubt, conscience decides. Jimmy Akin discusses it briefly here.

I have to confess that whale meat doesn't sound like it would be good; but perhaps that's because the thing my mind associates most strongly with whales is blubber.

1:17 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Sleep well, I, too, need to go to sleep soon. I agree with what you say about art.

My adaptation of Twain was not meant as a work of art, but as a work of pedagogy. That said, I hope readers got some sense of the spirit of the great book, which is rightly loved all over the world.

Not to brag, but I think I did a pretty good of conveying that spirit, as I did with Tom Sawyer and Ben Franklin's autobiography. I've never met any of the Korean readers of my adaptations, but I hope they've gained a bit of insight into the best of what our young but old country, America, has to offer.

1:24 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Brandon, thanks for the fascinating Jimmy Akin link. If beavers and otters were okay, surely whale is kosher.

One thing I've learned to love in Korea is fat, whether it's pork belly (samgyupsal) of whale meat.

1:42 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

If it swims, it's a fish. The same goes for capybara in South America where the eating of those tasty rodents is allowed.

2:54 AM  
Blogger tubbs said...

I remember reading 'Sir Gawain' in English Lit 101; I was grossed out at some medieval vigil feast with porpoise served as a fish delicacy.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Francis Xavier said...

The Catholic classification of fish has always been "outcome-oriented." When the Spanish made it to South America, the platypus was, for liturgical purposes, a fish, albeit with red meat.

5:32 AM  
Blogger said...

Abstinence Fridays? As far as I know they haven't been observed in Australia for years, except in Lent.

5:44 AM  
OpenID danightman said...

Re: LTG,

In answer to Joshua, I believe the tradition is that since Whales are an aquatic creature they are allowed to be eaten on the Fridays of Lent. One interesting angle to this is that this created a market for whaling that was one of the first big industries for the Basque kingdoms.

This was mentioned in one of my favorite books, "A Basque History of the World" by Mark Kurlansky. The article reminded me about it.

The one meat I'm curious about in relation to Lent is alligator. I was looking to see if that met the Friday obligation, and according to the Diocese of Baton Rouge. alligator, being a reptile (and aquatic) is "permitted if desired."

12:37 AM  
OpenID danightman said...

Re: Francis X,

There's also the exception of Muskrat in Michigan.

For you consideration

Tastes like chicken? I can't say.

8:21 AM  
OpenID danightman said...

Re: Francis,

The Platypus is in Australia.

Were you perhaps thinking of the Capybara, the world's largest rodent, which lives in South America. There is a dispensation on that during Lent, and the meat is said to be like pork.

The lenten white "meat"?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Francis Xavier said...


You are right; the ravages of time transformed "platypus-like animal" to platypus!

4:32 AM  

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