TO eatery ignites debate over seal meat
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.