It’s much fattier than beef and the liver is fatal (years ago the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel used to issue certificates to guests who had “eaten a polar bear entirely at their own risk”). But a cluster of Longyearbyen residents are feeling serious indigestion without taking a bite of it in reaction to a suggestion the meat could again appear on local menus.
A delegation of four business leaders from Longyearbyen and elsewhere in northern Norway visited their counterparts in Nunavut, Canada, last month to explore cooperative economic opportunities between Longyearbyen, Finnmark, Greenland and Canada, Svalbardposten reported Tuesday. Among them was making bear and narwhale meat from Canada available to businesses in Longyearbyen.
“One can imagine that they can serve on Svalbard what they are lawfully over there, but we are not allowed to hunt for this,” Marit Karlsen Brandal, a northern regional manager of Innovation Norway, told the newspaper.
Serving polar bear meat used to be a regular, if rare, occurrence in Longyearbyen, said Stein-Ove Johannessen, head of Culinary Network Svalbard. Doing so again can be part of a stepped-up effort to gastrotourism, which is “one of the most popular forms of tourism.”
“Previously, the governor distributed polar bears who were shot in self-defense to dining places in town,” he told Svalbardposten. “I have repeatedly advocated that they be open to that again. Of course, you can import polar bear meat, but I’m even more interest in focusing on narwhale. It’s very good meat.”
The article sparked a quick and furious reaction on local social media.
“This is unbelievable!!!!” wrote Sophie Cordon, a photo tourism and gallery manager, on her Facebook page. “How can we consider having on the menu two species standing on the ‘red list’??? Polar bears are under the vulnerable category and narwhals are strongly threatened!! Is this how Longyearbyen becomes a sustainable destination??? This is the best way to get tourists to boycott Svalbard and with good reason!”
While indigenous peoples in Canada are allowed to hunt polar bears (and some use their quotas to offer commercial tours), the animals have been a protected species in Svalbard since 1973.
“I’ve also been completely upset since I’ve read this,” wrote Miriam Marquardt in response to Cordon’s post. “I think it’s a crazy double standard…come to look at polar bears in Svalbard – where you can’t chase them – but eat Canadian polar bear in a restaurant…??? We have no Inuit population here who have allowed to hunt…polar bears are protected because of a good reason. If you have to eat polar bear then please go to Canada or Greenland… but didn’t come to Svalbard!”
But Pål Berg, a local business developer who was part of the visiting delegation, said the article with headline suggesting bear meat might return to menus was putting a “twist” on what happened during the trip.
“I was on the tour and can confirm that it was entirely about things other than eating endangered species,” he wrote on Facebook.
Politically incorrect meat – at least in the minds of some – is already featured on local menus in the form of whale and seal. Yann Rashid, a local guide, stated even if residents find the idea of serving polar meat distasteful plenty of visitors will likely indulge.
“Serving up polar bear on a plate in Longyearbyen would most likely work as people always want to try something exotic without perhaps thinking about the consequences,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “When I ask audiences if they have ever eaten whale meat before, most have tried this in Iceland or Norway, even though they do not think this is a right thing to do. Where there is demand, a supply will follow.”
The errant belief that polar beat meat is still available in Longyearbyen still exists among many outsiders. Guests regularly inquire about the possibility and an article published last year by the Anchorage Daily News headlined “The perils of eating polar bear” offered some colorful – and obviously outdated – morsels about doing do in Svalbard.
“The Norwegian restaurateur André Grytbakk, manager of the upscale Huset in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, occasionally dishes out polar bear steaks with potatoes or a slice of roast in red wine sauce,” the article noted. “He also offers a bear meat snack with lingonberry pickle. As it’s ‘a rough kind of meat,’ the chef recommends a heavy wine with it, such as full-bodied Bordeaux, from the Huset’s 1,200-bottle cave.”
As for the Radisson and its certificates, in addition to satiating guests’ egos they “also serve as liability releases for the hotel. According to one guest, the bear meat there is boiled for six hours and fried another two, to kill parasites.”