In the early 1900s, the anthropologist/explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, after living with Eskimos for a long time, returned to tell Americans what he had learned about nutrition. Eskimos ate meat almost exclusively, he said, which contradicted the usual emphasis, then as now, on diversity and fruits and vegetables. Yet Eskimos were healthy. Eskimo diet became even more fascinating when it was realized they had very low rates of heart disease — much lower than Danes, for example. In the 1970s, two Danish doctors, Bang and Dyerberg, found that Eskimos had large amounts of omega-3 fats in their blood, much more than Danes; that was the beginning of the current interest in omega-3 and the idea that fish and fish oil are “heart-healthy”.
I like fermented (therefore slightly acid) whale oil with my fish as well as ever I liked mixed vinegar and olive oil with a salad. . . .
There were several grades of decayed fish. The August catch had been protected by longs from animals but not from heat and was outright rotten. The September catch was mildly decayed. The October and later catches had been frozen immediately and were fresh. There was less of the August fish than of any other and, for that reason among the rest, it was a delicacy – eaten sometimes as a snack between meals, sometimes as a kind of dessert and always frozen, raw. . . .
[At first, Stefansson didn’t want to eat decayed fish.] While it is good form [in America] to eat decayed milk products and decayed game [well, well], it is very bad form to eat decayed fish. . . . If it is almost a mark of social distinction to be able to eat strong cheeses with a straight face and smelly birds with relish, why is it necessarily a low taste to be fond of decaying fish? On that basis of philosophy, though with several qualms, I tried the rotten fish one day, and if memory serves, liked it better than my first taste of Camembert. During the next weeks I became fond of rotten fish.
So Eskimos ate fermented whale oil and a lot of rotten fish. (“A lot” because if they didn’t eat a lot of it, Steffanson wouldn’t have felt pressure to eat it.) I had no idea that Americans used to eat decayed game.