Feet on the ground. The Faroe Islands, part 2/4

1 July 2012

Being so close to the elements also puts people in a proximity to their food that would have European or North American city dwellers blanching. Everyone in the Faroe Islands knows a fisherman and a farmer.

Most Faroese can dress a sheep carcass after slaughter and being able to gut and fillet a fish is a skill that just goes without saying. There’s an urban myth that in any big city you’re no more than ten metres from a rat, but in the Faroes you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re nowhere more than twenty metres from a sheep.
A good few Faroese can also dress a whale carcass and this is where outsiders tend to fail to see a down-to-earth people who understand where food comes from in a way that’s alien to city dwellers.
Opprobrium has been heaped on the Faroese on occasions for not abandoning a tradition that goes back to settlement of these islands a millennium ago. It’s something the Faroese find uncomfortable and it’s not easy for them to understand the sheer virulence of strangers from land-locked states who want to tell them how to live. I’m sure that the Faroese also find it bizarre that urbanites don’t see a connection between cattle or poultry and that pink stuff that comes in styrofoam trays from supermarkets. But they’re too reserved to say so out loud.
The hunt for pilot whales is not an organised, commercial venture; it’s an occasional, ad hoc event that takes place if and when the whales show up. No money changes hands and the meat is shared between households in much the same way as it was a thousand years ago when people first arrived in these  islands and a whale could mean the difference between starving and surviving the winter.
These animals aren’t in danger of extinction and for those who live close to their environment it’s difficult to understand the attitudes from much of the rest of the world, and the vehement hatred that goes with it from people they have never met. That’s not to say that this is written as a defence of whale hunting. Let’s say it’s written more as a defence of the rights of coastal people to decide for themselves what’s right and what isn’t.


After all, the Faroes have no standing military, no secret service, nothing nuclear, no extremist politics, and they do have a better environmental record than most in looking after the place they live in, including a days-at-sea fisheries management system that has a pliability sadly lacking in the currently fashionable ITQ model. Its effectiveness, as always, is open to endless debate and like any fisheries management tool, it has flaws. But while the Faroese system has its opponents, it is generally approved of and has not sparked the bitter recrimination and controversy inspired by the mechanisms that bureaucrats seem to prefer.

This article was originally written for a business magazine, the Faroese Business Report

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