TO eatery ig­nites de­bate over seal meat

Times Colonist - - Life -

TORONTO — 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 more than 4,500 dig­i­tal sig­na­tures from around the world and prompted a slew of one-star re­views for the res­tau­rant on Face­book and Yelp.

Toronto-based Anishi­naabe artist Ay­lan Couchie launched a counter-pe­ti­tion in re­sponse, which has been 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,” New­man said, 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.”

Seal hunt­ing ad­vo­cates say that, as with 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.

Jonas Gil­bart, a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for SeaDNA, said 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 said.

Seal hunt­ing is heav­ily reg­u­lated by the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans, and Gil­bart es­ti­mates that last year, SeaDNA only har­vested about 17 per cent of the quota set by the govern­ment.

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