Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let Them Eat Broccoli!

I don't even know where to begin....

"It's amazes us that a Canadian official would indulge in such bloodlust," said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"It sounds like she's trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have."

... PETA today likened Jean's sampling of seal heart to "taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice."


Aside from the implications that the Inuit are Neanderthals and Middle Easterners beat women, do I really need to point out that, in an Arctic environment, meat is not only the most practical and the most healthy food choice (especially when eaten raw), but also the most environmentally sound? That in Nunavut, this is what your 100-Mile Diet looks like? That this is not some quaint tradition or lifestyle, but the only practical way to live and eat in the far north?

Are these people so completely divorced from reality, so utterly removed from the natural, physical world, that they fail to see why people who live in an arctic environment would do something as 'disgusting' as eating raw meat instead of, you know, driving their Hybrid car down to the Whole Foods Market for lentils and organic broccoli to cook on their Bullfrog-powered stove in their converted loft condo like all truly humane, ethical people do?

This, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with western civilization.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to corn ethanol, and organic spinach packed in clear, non-recyclable plastic clam packs, and re-usable hemp shopping bags imported from Malaysia.

This is the kind of thinking that has gotten us into this mess in the first place. It's our sanitized, plastic-wrapped, individually portioned food system that insulates us from having to even think about the more distasteful aspects of where our food comes from that has led to everything from factory farming, obesity and widespread food poisoning, to the implications of relegating food production to our society's version of untouchables.

Jamie Oliver has something to say about meat in his 'Jamie's Italy' cookbook. He writes this in conjunction with a photograph of an old Italian farmer standing next to a freshly slaughtered sheep as he waits for its blood to drain into a bucket on the floor:

I'm highly aware that the picture opposite is both graphic and gruesome, so I'm going to explain why I decided to use it in the book, and also why this whole chapter is quite visually gritty. This was an incredibly normal sight in Italy. I felt strongly about using it because I found that when I spoke to Italians about their meat, most of the time they would tell me about the natural surroundings in which the animal had lived and what it had eaten throughout its life, foraging for lovely herbs and chestnuts and fruits, and about how it was treated.

... It was important to me to show this in the book, because it's an honest reflection of what I saw in Italy, and also because far too many people in Britain and the U.S. choose to close the door on these uncomfortable aspects of eating meat. And for me, therein lies the problem. Because the majority of people don't want to see the dead animal that their cut of meat is coming from, big corporations have jumped in to solve the problem - out of sight, out of mind. Animals are battery-farmed in disturbing conditions and pumped full of antibiotics (because disease is so rife in the confines that they live in). And, of course, they can then offer you a mass-produced leg or breast of chicken, or they'll try to help you feed your kids by processing, reformulating, reshaping, and repackaging meat so it's unrecognizable. With a cocktail of additives and preservatives, colorings, and flavor enhancers in food, it's not hard to realize why Britain is one of the unhealthiest countries in Europe and why my kids' generation is the first to be expected to die before their parents. How completely shocking is that?


I would also point out that Italians, and most other people around the world, eat far less meat than North Americans. As someone who has killed animals for food, I can tell you that it gives you a whole new respect for the meat you consume, and a greater reluctance to waste it or eat too much. Perhaps if more people had that sort of respect we wouldn't think we had to choose between eating burgers and chicken fingers every day, or trying to become a vegan in a northern climate.

Now. Can we maybe talk about the Arctic University Jean proposed the other day?

UPDATE: Love this video of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain participating in an Inuit feast of raw seal. I especially liked the reference to a "meat-filled pinata" :) H/T to Mind of Dan.


  1. I hope those PETA people get eaten by a crazed seal.

  2. equating eating seal heart to the beating of women... stay classy PETA

  3. I remember falling in behind two tourists at the Ukrainian Heritage village outside Edmonton. They were so stereotypically blue haired, black sox in sandals venerable elders with thick NYC accents I was looking for the candid camera. The exotic experience was complete on hearing their puzzlement finally conclude the strange birds pecking and scratching all around were...chickens. "like used to hang in the window down at the butcher's".

    It was my first time experiencing urbanites so completely removed from their food.

    I wish there was a lot more education, book learnin' *and* hands-on when it came to food. I'm looking forward to the legal shift from urban lawns to locavore yard gardens and rabbit/chickens hutches.

  4. There might not be anything wrong with eating seal meat when in seal country - I agree with you there - but there is DEFINITELY something wrong with the Governor General wading into political territory. The GG is supposed to be as apolitical as possible, all the better to represent Canadians at official ceremonies and such. It cheapens the office to pander like this. I think that might be why some people (like me) reacted the way we did.