The dangers of dirty food seem to be a major concern for the Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. In Reykjavík Afternoon on August 14, a talk show on local radio station Bylgjan, he claimed that Iceland should be producing its own food and perhaps export it to other parts of the world. His reason: Icelandic food is clean and if we dare let in foreign meat we are setting ourselves up for a risky situation.
He fears for us, his citizens and countrymen, for foreign meat may carry a common parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. In the interview, he e quoted a controversial study that linked changes in the human behavior to the parasite.
Professor of pharma- and toxicology Magnús Karl Magnússon responded when asked about the studies quoted by the prime minister that the research was considered controversial within scientific circles.
Professor Magnússon added that the infection was not reason enough to prohibit the import of foreign meat to Iceland, especially seeing that it exists in Iceland too.
In my opinion, it is the individual’s choice to decide whether to ingest meat from other parts of the world or not. The government can offer incentives to encourage the public to rather buy Icelandic products, but at the end of the day it’s not the government’s place to make that decision.
This deviation of protectionism is simply not logical in an age when people travel to all parts of the world. If anything, our worldly experiences make us crave for diversity in our food shopping.
But it’s not just the antipathy to the very concept of freedom of choice, it’s the undercurrent that fuels the fear of the foreign.
During the World War II, women who associated with foreign soldiers were condemned by society, and for a while their punishment was to go to labor camp in the countryside. To be seen with an American or British soldier was cause enough to ruin a woman’s reputation.
I came across this text from the Fjallkonan a website about women’s history. The text comes from the book Úr fjötrum: íslenskar konur og erlendur her by Herdís Helgadóttir, a book about Icelandic women and their interaction with the foreign soldiers stationed in Iceland during the Second World War. In the book, a young woman describes the situation at the time:
“When we arrived at school in the autumn of 1940, we were told we would be expelled if we had anything to do with the soldiers... it was fanaticism and nonsense. Any girls seen talking to soldiers, even if they were just asking the way... were ‘Englishmen’s whores’ ... there were such prejudices…” (Pages 185-186).
I dread to think what the administration at the time would have thought of my bringing back a foreign spouse.
The Icelandic government also refused to accept European Jews running from Nazi persecution on the mainland of the continent. Many who came were sent back. For interested readers, an article on the Jewish Center for Public Affairs website gives an overview of Iceland’s history with the Jewish community through the ages.
The dialogue about this period of time in Icelandic history is Iceland’s Pandora box. No one wants to accept responsibility. So, this fear of the foreign goes back a long way.
A more recent example is Iceland’s poor performance in living up to its obligations to welcome asylum seekers and refugees and provide them with the appropriate services, and grant them visas so that they can get on with their lives.
In 2013 it was reported that only 6.5 percent of asylum seekers are granted a permanent visa in Iceland.
On the ILGA Europe website, Iceland is not a recommended destination for asylum seekers. Food or people, diversity is a good thing and should not be germified or vilified for reasons of origin. Iceland may be isolated in a geological sense but it certainly is not in the international community that is the modern age.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org