True to form, slavery and fascism were invoked yesterday in the debate over the recent pledge by a group of prominent U.S. chefs to boycott Canadian seafood in protest over commercial sealing.
The intentions of the Humane Society and forty Food & Wine 'Best New Chefs' may be honourable but the decision to boycott Canadian seafood over the commercial seal hunt is fraught with implications that go well beyond the propagandist photo ops of cuddly cubs and seal mascots arm in arm with the likes of Mission Chinese's Danny Bowien. And charges of hypocrisy, levelled by both Anthony Bourdain and Montreal's Dave McMillan may have some merit. Take, for instance, the appearance of a chef like Sean Brock on the list, long a staunch advocate of cultural preservation and who, at this very moment, is in Charleston for Cook It Raw.
Mario Batali, whose signature is on the petition, finally adressed the controversy this morning.
I'm holding canada accountable for its policy
RT.Hold hard working Canadian fisherman hostage until the govt intervenes.Way to go big guy!— Mario Batali (@Mariobatali) October 29, 2013
The seafood ban is directed, apparently, at those provinces where the commercial "slaughter" (to use a ubiquitous Humane Society and PETA trope) takes place. But how to monitor and regulate that? Who is ultimately responsible for the oversight? And how will the Humane Society and the likes of Mario Batali, Cat Cora, Michael Symon, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Michael Voltaggio ensure that age-old Inuit land rights and, ultimately, the cultural birthright of a people, are respected?
To loosely paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, this herd mentality is misguided, at best, and would serve the greater good if directed in the chefs' own backyard. Perhaps screenings of Food, Inc. and A Place at the Table should be arranged at the next James Beard Awards or Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Here are some relevant excerpts on sealing from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
The following graph shows estimates of the total population for Northwest Atlantic harp seals from 1952 to 2013. The population in Canada is currently at approximately 7.3 million animals, over three times what it was in the 1970's.
[Graph: Fisheries and Oceans Canada]
Sealers must follow a strict three-step process that is as humane – if not more so – than most other methods of dispatching wild or domesticated animals in the world. This process ensures that animals are killed quickly and humanely.
This three-step process is prescribed in Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations and applies to all sealers with commercial or personal use licenses. The Regulations also stipulate that only seals that have reached the age of self sufficiency are taken. It is illegal in Canada to harvest juvenile seal-pups, also known as whitecoats or bluebacks.
"When there is a good seal harvest, it can account for up to 30% of my salary? Just in the Magdalen Islands there are 900 sealing licences. 900 licences mean 900 families." Denis Longuépée, Sealer, Magdalen Islands, Quebec.
In Canada, approximately 70 per cent of the commercial harvest occurs in the area known as the Front off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, while about 30 per cent occurs in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are also subsistence harvests in the Canadian Arctic. There are both commercial and subsistence harvests in Greenland.
Seals have been harvested for food, fuel, clothing and other products for hundreds of years. Seal pelts are transformed into a wide range of final products including coats, vests, hats, boots, mittens, trims, seal leather items, and novelty items. Seal oil is used in Omega 3 health products, in paints and for fuel in Northern/Inuit communities. Seal meat is sold in a variety of raw and prepared forms for both human and animal consumption.