Stefáns, Stefán Birgir. “Þorramatur – Hangikjöt An Icelandic Tradition.” Flickr, 24 Jan. 2014, www.flickr.com/photos/sbs_iceland/15292147007.

Background:

It is not a surprise that one of Iceland’s most popular festive dishes includes lamb. Iceland’s sheep population is more than twice as large as it’s human population. “There are about 800,000 sheep in Iceland and only about 323,000 Icelanders” (Unlimited, Iceland). Hangikjöt, translated as “hung meat”, is a dish that requires delicate preparation. Traditionally it is made from lamb due to its unique taste, but it is not uncommon to find Hangikjöt made from mutton, or horse meat. It’s name comes from the way the meat is prepared which involves smoking it for long periods of time with Icelandic birch or dried sheep dung, giving it its original taste. More recently Icelanders have started eating tvíreykt hangikjöt, which translates to “twice smoked hung meat”. This hangikjöt has been smoked for longer, and is “more like the old country hangikjöt which often hung high above the kitchen fire for many months” (“Hangikjöt”).

Cultural Perspective:

Hangikjöt, despite having no religious meaning, is traditionally eaten by Icelanders over the Christmas holidays. After the traditional Christmas meal, leftover hangikjöt is often used on Icelandic flatbread, or in sandwiches. (“Traditional Icelandic Christmas Food”). As mentioned previously, hangikjöt can also be made from horse. As discussed by Dr.Stamant and Dr.Paul, there are a lot of cultural differences involving food. There are dishes and ways of producing/consuming foods that some cultures may find socially acceptable and even enjoyable/beneficial, while others bizarre and almost taboo. The consumption of horse meat in Iceland is not only common but a traditional delicacy. American culture however, may find this very bizarre and even unethical. The commonality of human interaction with horses, makes it socially unacceptable to consume them. From a globally cultural perspective it is safe to say that despite having differences in moral beliefs, not one perspective on food is right or wrong.

Socio-economic and Political Perspective:

One of the reasons Icelanders like this dish so much is because of the way the sheep are farmed. Unlike in Iceland, the meat industry in America revolves around the quantity of meat as opposed to the quality, in means to obtain the most profit. In addition to excessive breeding, American factory farms use vast amounts of hormones on the animals to make them larger. As people have become used to consuming these products, they’ve become unable to taste a difference between processed and unprocessed meat. For this reason they will often buy the cheapest meats (despite the way it is produced), further helping these companies become richer. As people become aware of these conditions however, companies find new ways to make their foods more desirable. As talked about by Dr.Perdue, people (57%) in America, will likely spend more money on foods (mostly eggs) that are said to be organic, or cage free. For more profitable reasons, companies will often times include words and even colors or symbols on their product’s packaging that make others believe they are healthier and better for the environment, when in fact they aren’t. The way that meat is produced in Iceland however, revolves around its quality. The sheep to make hangikjöt are farmed in an old fashioned way: free to roam around the wilderness of unspoiled highlands all summer without any supervision, and graze on grass, plants and herbs which contributes to their rich flavor (“The 5 Best and 5 Worst Types of Icelandic Food”). Without the use of hormones and other chemicals in the meat’s production, Icelanders are not exposed to their dangers. As all the meat is organic and farmed the same, it is unlikely to see a vast difference in price. Therefore, Icelanders consume the purest meat without added chemicals/preservatives, giving them the healthiest options.

Environmental Perspective:

As mentioned by Dr.Perdue and greatly talked about in the film Cowspiracy, animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of water waste, deforestation, and global warming. Additionally, factory farming in the U.S doesn’t prioritize animal welfare. Not only does the way American companies farm animals have detrimental effects on our environment, but the treatment of these animals is unethical. In contrast, Iceland’s distinct method of farming allows for higher welfare conditions for the animals. As mentioned, the sheep farmed in Iceland, as opposed to animals in America, are free to roam, and fed an appropriate diet. In doing so, Icelanders are exposed to healthier foods, the environment poses less threat, and these animals are treated fairly, producing better tasting meat.

Sources:

-Unlimited, Iceland. “Everything You Need To Know About Icelandic Sheep.” Iceland Unlimited, icelandunlimited.is/blog/icelandic-sheep/.
-“The 5 Best and 5 Worst Types of Icelandic Food.” Iceland Travel Guide, www.planiceland.com/5-best-and-5-worst-foods/.
-“Hangikjöt.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Nov. 2017, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangikj%C3%B6t.
-“Traditional Icelandic Christmas Food.” Iceland Travel, www.icelandtravel.is/about-iceland/annual-events/christmas-in-iceland/traditional-food/.