Seal meat on resto’s menu ig­nites de­bate

Chef ’s dish launches both hu­man, an­i­mal rights dis­putes

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - CULTURE - The cana­dian press

There are many dishes on the menu at Kukum Kitchen that re­flect chef Joseph Shawana’s up­bring­ing on the Wi­ik­wemkoong Un­ceded Re­serve on Man­i­toulin Is­land, but one in par­tic­u­lar has at­tracted a great deal of con­tro­versy: seal tartare.

An on­line pe­ti­tion launched last week called for the Toronto restau­rant to re­move seal meat from its menu, stat­ing that “seal slaugh­ters are very vi­o­lent, hor­rific, trau­ma­tiz­ing and un­nec­es­sary.’’ The pe­ti­tion has at­tracted over 4,500 dig­i­tal sig­na­tures from around the world and prompted a slew of one-star re­views for the restau­rant on Face­book and Yelp.

Anishi­naabe artist Ay­lan Couchie launched a coun­ter­pe­ti­tion in re­sponse, shared by mu­si­cian Tanya Ta­gaq and has nearly matched the sup­port of the orig­i­nal cam­paign.

Lenore New­man, the Canada Re­search Chair for Food Se­cu­rity and En­vi­ron­ment and au­thor of Speak­ing in Tongues: A Cana­dian Culi­nary Jour­ney, con­sid­ers some of the prac­tices in rais­ing chicken and pork for con­sump­tion to be far more cruel — and far more com­mon — than the seal hunt.

“Even if (the orig­i­nal pe­ti­tion) is well-in­ten­tioned, there are lit­er­ally thou­sands of restau­rants in Toronto that serve meat that is pro­duced in much worse ways,’’ says New­man, adding that seal meat is an easy tar­get for crit­i­cism be­cause its roots are Inuit.

“I do think there is some un­der­ly­ing racism in our cul­ture around other peo­ple’s food. In Canada we have this huge his­tory of op­press­ing In­dige­nous cui­sine, and telling In­dige­nous peo­ple how they should be eat­ing.

“Con­trol­ling peo­ple’s food is about con­trol­ling them.’’

The prac­tice of hunt­ing seal, whether for meat or fur, has been con­tro­ver­sial for years. High­pro­file an­i­mal rights ad­vo­cates in­clud­ing Pamela An­der­son, Paul McCart­ney and Mor­ris­sey have crit­i­cized Canada’s seal hunt.

De­fend­ers of the seal hunt cite its eco­nomic and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance in Inuit com­mu­ni­ties.

The au­thor of the orig­i­nal pe­ti­tion, whose name is no longer at­tached but who has been iden­ti­fied else­where as “Jennifer,’’ said she was not sin­gling out any spe­cific cul­tural prac­tice.

“Although this is an In­dige­nous restau­rant, the seal meat comes from a com­mer­cial com­pany called SeaDNA there­fore has noth­ing to do with the In­dige­nous hunt,’’ she wrote on­line.

In her counter-pe­ti­tion, Couchie wrote that she dis­agreed.

“After read­ing our emailed con­cerns, Jennifer’s re­sponse was to as­sure us that she is ‘not anti-In­dige­nous’ and stated that, ‘the slaugh­ter of any be­ing is wrong’ — which begs the ques­tion: Why is Jennifer N. tar­get­ing an In­dige­nous restau­rant when there are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of restau­rants in Toronto that serve meat?’’

Seal hunt­ing ad­vo­cates say that like any other com­mer­cial meat trade, the prac­tice can be done eth­i­cally. In a state­ment shared by Couchie on Twit­ter, Shawana said he spent months re­search­ing seal meat sup­pli­ers be­fore set­tling on SeaDNA.

“As an avid hunter I was taught at a very young age to re­spect the an­i­mals as a whole,’’ Shawana said.

Jonas Gil­bart, a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for SeaDNA, says the com­pany fol­lows a sus­tain­able model and uses meth­ods that are more hu­mane than the ones used by com­mer­cial slaugh­ter­houses.

“With­out sus­tain­abil­ity, we don’t have an in­dus­try,’’ Gil­bart says.

i was taught at a very young age to re­spect the an­i­mals as a whole. chef Joseph shawana

Torstar news ser­vice

Chef Joseph Shawana at his restau­rant, Kukum Kitchen, in a Toronto mid­town neigh­bour­hood.

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