Friday, May 29, 2009

Cute fluffy bunnies of the sea or dinner?

Okay, this has gone on long enough. All this bullshit about the Governor General eating some seal meat that is. It is no better or worse than eating a big mac, roast chicken or a salmon steak.

Meat is meat and this is simply a matter of cultural differences. Different people in different parts of the world eat or avoid different kinds of animal protein for all kinds of cultural and religious reasons. Try getting a bacon sandwich in Islamabad or Tel Aviv, or stewed dog in Philadelphia or jugged moose in Timbuktu or Okinawa-style horse sashimi in Cincinatti, or whale meat in London. Try asking for rabbit in Tokyo or a nice sirloin in New Delhi.

Some societies have culinary cultural prejudices that are so strong that they don't eat any meat. Many individuals have adopted vegetarianism on health or ethical grounds and more power to them, but for a lot of people on this planet a vegetarian diet is not only impractical, but nigh impossible. You can't live on vegetables in a place that can't grow a sufficient quantity of them and so for people in the far North, vegetarianism isn't really an option. The Inuit and the Lapp have survived for millenia on meat - fish, caribou, reindeer, whale, seal, hare - you name it - if it swims or runs, its edible and there isn't much else edible in the far north.

People, historically, have eaten what was available to them in most societies. At the same time, our various societies have evolved certain prejudices about eating companion animals or those that we consider unclean for religious reasons often based on bronze age sanitary conditions, when a bad clam could mean life or death. Other religious restrictions require animals to be killed in certain ways on the argument that such a method is the most humane. As our culture has become more globalized, these prejudices have either faded and are kept alive strictly as religious traditions or have become more strictly localized and often clung to in the name of tradition. Many Jews and Muslims no longer keep strictly kosher or halal, and dog is not widely eaten outside Korea as far as I know. Most Japanese no longer eat whale except as a sort of delicacy, while it used to be part of the school lunch menu for a variety of economic reasons.

But a new kind of prejudice has emerged as people have gotten farther from first hand experience with the food they eat, especially in the developed world. We don't like to see where those hamburgers and chicken fingers come from. We don't like to acknowledge the realities of the factory farm, the feedlot and veal pen. We like the sausage just fine, but we don't want to see how its made. We like the steak, but we don't want to see the slaughterhouse.

And so many condemn hunting as barbaric. They see no need to for people to go out into the woods and shoot Peter Cottontail or Bambi's mom when one can go to the supermarket and get slices of Wilbur and Babe wrapped in cellophane on nice anticeptic styrofoam trays. We don't like to eat anything cute - rabbit, deer, squirrel and yes, seal - all fall into this category.

I'll agree that buying your feedlot fattened beef and factory farmed chicken at the supermarket is a more efficient way of getting animal protein than hunting deer. I'll even specify that the majority of hunters in North America don't need to hunt to put groceries on the table. I'll even put aside all the "wildlife management" models that are used to argue the need for culling animal populations to avoid animal starvation based on the notion of man replacing natural predators. I'll also put aside the issue of fur for the moment.

I won't put aside the simplistic "all meat is murder" argument beloved by some, because frankly it's complete bullshit. Mother Nature is red of tooth and claw, and we are part of nature. Man would not have survived the stone age, nor flourished as we have, without eating meat. Animals eat each other and for all our strivings and philosophy, we are part of the food chain. I'll admit we eat too much meat these days and treat animals badly on the whole, but anything that walks or swims or crawls is a meal for something else in the long run, circle of life, ashes to ashes etc etc.

Which bring us back to the seal hunt and Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean. The objection seems to be that she ate a cute little seal, the ones with the faces like puppies and the big sad eyes, and she ate it's heart! raw! Oh noes! Icky! -- and those nasty Canadians go out and massacre poor helpless baby seals for fun and profit in the cruelest ways imaginable! It must be true, because I saw it in a PETA brochure. All that video footage you've seen of Newfies and Eskimos killing baby seals looks bad and is great for raising funds, but most of it is no worse than what goes on in any other abattoir.

Have a look around for the facts, not the PETA version of them. Most of what you hear from PETA on this subject is complete bullshit. In fact, most of what you hear from PETA on most subjects is complete bullshit. Their latest campaign, a boycott of maple syrup to convince the Canadian government to ban the seal hunt, is like boycotting American kiwi growers to convince the American government to end the Iraq War.

I don't always agree with Penn Jillette - in fact I think he's often guilty of selective use of the facts to prove points that conform with his own beliefs, but Penn and Teller raise some interesting questions about PETA here -- though I think they do a severe disservice to their own arguments by allowing Dennis Prager and Ted Nugent on camera.

The extremists of PETA who want to "free" pets and domestic animals don't do any favors for the cause of protecting animals who actually need protecting. I agree that there should be limits on testing things on animals, but I'd rather things like AIDS drugs were tested on rats than humans. If we are going to have chemical cosmetics, they have to be tested for safety and I'd rather they were tested on animals than humans. Animal experiments are a vital and necessary part of medical research and there are millions of people alive today who would be dead if it weren't for scientists sacrificing the lives of a lot of rats, rabbits, dogs and monkeys.

Whether Canada needs a commercial seal hunt is an open question, but the hunt wouldn't exist if people weren't buying sealskins. Whether the commercial hunt is any more or less humane than the poultry, beef or pork industries is not in question. There is virtually no difference. And Michaelle Jean was joining Inuit subsistence hunters for a meal. And there is no grounds I can see for criticism of the Inuit for hunting seal for food -- there aren't a lot of grocery stores up in the Arctic Circle

So if you want to go full PETA and eschew the use of animals in any way, be my guest. Stop wearing leather and eating meat and eggs and dairy - and stop using modern medicine and modern materials such as mylar that involve the use of animal products. You should also be aware that destruction of habitat is the real threat to most animal species, so stop using roads and living in cities or even wood or concrete structures and get yourself a nice unheated cave somewhere. You have the right to make that decision of conscience, but so do other people and our decision may not be the same as yours. Humans as a species have eaten meat and worn skins since the dawn of time, I don't expect we will stop anytime soon just because a few people get a bit squeamish. The outrage over Michaelle Jean sampling some seal is in large part misguided, misinformed, arrogant and hypocritical.

crossposted from the Woodshed

No comments: