The Hump was singularly well located, overlooking the runway at the Santa Monica Airport, a great place to watch rattling vintage planes and featherweight experimental aircraft take off and land. It served things few others could or would: blowfish, which contains a deadly toxin and can be fatal if improperly prepared; keiji, super-fatty salmon babies which, before they are sexually mature, follow the adult fish to the rivers, where they are harvested. (One in ten thousand salmon caught is keiji, and the price can be as high as $150 a pound.) A sign on the door read, "Warning! This sushi bar does prepare live sea food in full view, at the counter." It was routine to see a chef take out a live eel and drive a spike through its brain, and serve it seconds later. Live lobster would be cut in half and presented with the tail meat draped over the carapace, and the head, still moving, beside it on a bed of ice. Eddie Lin, who writes an adventure- eating blog called Deep End Dining and frequented The Hump, said, "The effect of it is the animal is watching you eat it."
Brian Vidor, the restaurant's owner, is tall, with bushy white hair and the warm but slightly furtive manner of someone who has spent too much time in camp. In the seventies, he worked as a guide in the safari park at Great Adventure in New Jersey. Then Chipperfield's, a British circus-and-carnival company, hired him to go the Sudan to capture white rhino calves, elephants, hartebeests, and topi for a zoo in Prague. They scouted for the animals from the air, in a small plane called a Piper Super Cub, and rounded them up with trucks, darting the mothers with tranquilizers so they would not stampede when the hunters took their young.
After that, Vidor took a job with a company called International Animal Exchange building a safari parkbaboons, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, tigersin Miyazaki, Japan. For the next fifteen or so years, he travelled all over Asia, building zoos. In Taipei, he drank snake blood in Snake Alley, and tried his first insect: a Jerusalem cricket, fried with garlic and red pepper, served with beer. In Singapore, he had scorpions on toast. By the early nineties, he had become a flight instructor. Landing at the Santa Monica Airport, he noticed a "for lease" sign, and decided to become a restaurateur, recreating his favorite Asian street foods at a restaurant called Typhoon, where part of the menu was devoted to edible insects. Following Jonathan Gold's recommendations, Vidor often ate in the San Gabriel Valley. Several years later, he opened The Hump upstairs for the customers who had graduated to a more morally complex and expensive confrontation with omnivorousness.
Whale consumption occupies a special place in the Japanese conscience. In "Tsukiji," a book about the Tokyo fish market, Theodore Bestor, a professor of anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard, writes that whales are the object of "ritual concern," mourned in special Buddhist services called kuyo. Historically and etymologically considered fishkujira, the word in Japanese, means "major fish"whales were exempt from Buddhist prohibitions against eating meat. (Catholics, historically, saw the issue similarly, and allowed whale on Fridays.) After the war, when there were food shortages, it became an important source of protein. Canned whale, mostly less desirable sperm whale, became the Spam of mid-century Japan, remembered fondly by some aging Japanese, reviled by others as something they ate only in desperation.
In spite of the moratorium, Japan continues to take several hundred whales a year in the name of scientific research. Before it was possible to collect accurate D.N.A. from small tissue samples, they said they needed genetic information to understand stock structure; now they say that they need to examine the stomach contents for the purposes of ecosystem management. The hunt, which is accomplished by firing an exploding harpoon at the whale, is considered by many to be inherently inhumane. In any case, U.S. scientists have a hard time finding anything useful in the Japanese data, because the whalers go only where they know the whales to be, and do not carry scientific observers aboard. Pro-whaling politicians and organizations insist that whale stocks are healthy, and characterize the opposition as "culinary imperialism."
Excerpted from Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear. Copyright © 2013 by Dana Goodyear. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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