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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish Summary

  • Ishmael feels the need to explain Stubb’s behavior—eating a newly-slaughtered creature by the light of its own oil.
  • First, Ishmael lists several epicurean circles in which whale and porpoise meat are considered delicacies.
  • Next, Ishmael explains that the main reason whale-hunters tend not to eat the meat of their prey is that seeing such an enormous pile of meat as a whale carcass takes their appetite away.
  • Plus, whales are so rich—so oily—that it’s hard to eat much of them, although it can be tasty to dip bread in their spermaceti and fry it.
  • Ishmael speculates about the nature of eating meat. Slaughtering a whale might seem like murder, but slaughtering an ox probably did the first time it happened, too.
  • He suggests that everyone is a cannibal in some way; a cannibal tribesman who kills and preserves a missionary might not be as bad as the "civilized and enlightened gourmand" who tortures geese to get paté-de-foie-gras. We’re not sure we agree with this argument, but the production methods used to make foie gras are pretty disturbing.
  • Ishmael lists several other situations in which eating an animal is coupled with using something else made from its body—eating roast beef and using a knife with an ox-bone handle, and eating a goose and using a goose feather as a toothpick.

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