It’s attention grabbing, it’s been getting a lot of press, and a lot of it negative. Doing anything but petting and cooing over a baby seal causes outrage from far-flung places like Europe and New York and Australia. But to eat a seal heart amongst local Inuit dignitaries commands nothing less than global consternation. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has had a field day with this issue over the past week. (Interestingly enough, as a bit of a side note, this past week also featured a photo shoot with baby seals on an episode of Canada’s Next Top Model off the coast of Prince Edward Island – a very unique, very cool choice of locations in my opinion).
In case you haven’t heard, Canada’s Governor-General Michaelle Jean has been busy up in Nunavut, Canada’s Arctic territory, doing what she does best: forging relationships, strengthening ties between communities, and above all representing Canada as our representative ‘Head of State’. It was all pomp and circumstance until she attended a ceremonial meal with local Inuit leaders and partook in the culinary offering du jour: seal hearts. After a few bites, being the guest of honour, she expressed that the meal was “delicious.” As you can imagine, the PETA people were furious, European bougeois were up in arms, Manhattan aristocrats were aghast. They were calling for her head! How could she partake in such a vile, bloodlust act? She’s giving Canadians a “neanderthal” image abroad. By participating in this act, she is supporting the annual seal hunt in Eastern Canada! Michaelle Jean personally kills baby seals! Well, to hell with them I say.
As an ecologically-minded person, I am not at all against what Ms Jean did. I fully support her bringing attention to the Inuit way of life, living sustainably, something they had been doing for thousands of years. Fresh seal, along with caribou and arctic char, are local delicacies that are central to their traditional way of life. It actually makes me angry to see people chastising those people for living their lives the best way they know how. I mean, I can’t believe these people don’t have soybeans and nuts growing in their backyards? And if they don’t, well maybe they can go to Whole Foods in Iqaluit or Rankin Inlet where they can buy their organic tempeh and ground round. Give me a freakin break, those communities are above the tree line! It is arctic tundra! It costs enough just to make sure they have fresh milk, let alone fresh and canned vegetables, all imported from thousands of kilometres away. The healthiest foods available to the Inuit and northern communities are those locally sourced, wild game and fishing have provided the Inuit with the nutrients they need to live long, healthy lives. It beats powdered milk and canned Spam, not that anyone on the Champs Elysee or Park Avenue ever has to choke down for dinner.
A part of me also takes these attacks on Governor-General Michaelle Jean personally. She was pilloried for being a gracious guest amongst a culture that differed from her own. When you were young and you went to your friend’s house for dinner and they made something you didn’t like, you were told to be polite and eat it. She succeeded in doing that, that’s her job. As a representative for the country and (the Queen) she pushes the envelope and causes us to reflect on our own identities as Canadians and challenge ourselves to imagine and re-imagine who we are as a collective culture within the world. Her role might be ceremonial and she may represent some abstract figurehead (the Queen of England) that we only have a connection with because we see her face on the $20 bill, but Michaelle Jean brings this huge disparate country together like no one else in public life. And the woman just oozes class while doing so.
Don’t listen to ‘em Michaelle, just continue to be yourself. You make us proud to be Canadian.