As we've all just experienced, Christmas may be a time for coming together and embracing our common bonds, but it can also highlight how different we are from one another. An interesting example of this came my way recently when my pal Jaina gave me a can of Finnish reindeer paté. Here in America, of course, reindeer are so closely associated with Santa that eating one of them is out of the question. Why, we'd sooner chow down on Fido or Mittens than Donner or Blitzen, right?
"That's definitely a big problem," acknowledged Gordon Poest, corresponding secretary of the Michigan-based Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association. "If you're selling reindeer meat, do you call it venison or do you just go ahead and call it reindeer?" At the moment this question appears to be moot, because my local butcher shop said they couldn't procure any reindeer meat anyway.
No such problem exists in Finland, or anyplace else in northern Scandinavia, where reindeer are indigenous and plentiful, Santa Claus is a trifle, and the local Sami people have been eating reindeer meat, drinking reindeer milk, and making reindeer hides into leather for centuries. As Poest explained, "You buy reindeer meat there like you buy beef here. It's a staple of their agricultural industry."
Back in the States, the reindeer biz is still a fledgling field. Poest said his organization's 200 members own just a few thousand of the animals, most of which are rented out for Christmas exhibits or cultural-education projects. As for the meat, Poest (who owns eight reindeer himself and said he was "eating some right now" when I called) was enthusiastic: "It tastes more like beef than like venison. It's very tender--nice, lean meat." No wonder Rudolph was so eager for a safe, steady gig on Santa's sleigh team. (No address available for Klymanen Oy; Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association, Inc., 3626 80th Ave., Zeeland, MI 49464)
Inconspicuous Consumption is an occasional
feature which examines a variety of products and services--some unusual, many exceedingly ordinary, but all worthy of close inspection.