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Eat your heart out, PETA

Thursday, May 28, 2009

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  • A lamb's heart and trachea (iStock Photo)

    A lamb's heart and trachea (iStock Photo)

Written by Greg Beneteau

What’s in a heart? Well, it’s a good source of protein, iron and vitamin B12, for one thing. As Governor General Michaelle Jean knows, it’s also high in political controversy and scorn, with just a dash of racial insensitivity.

Jean waded into a politically charged debate during her trip to the arctic this week when, as a guest at a community centre in Rankin Inlet, she enjoyed the spoils of an Inuit seal hunt. After helping skin the seal carcass with a traditional ulu blade, she asked for a piece of the heart and swallowed it whole, remarking afterward that seal hunting was part of the traditional way of life for Inuit. (Jean was apparently informed that the heart was a choice cut reserved for elders; why she thought it was alright to ask for it is beyond me).

It was a less-than-subtle poke at European Parliament, who voted to ban seal products last month in response to protestations about the industrialized, annual cull of hundreds of thousands of seals in Canada. The EU legislation makes an exception for small community hunts by Inuit, but that hasn’t quelled concerns economic growth in the north would suffer, hence Jean's heartfelt reaction (pun intended).

The GG’s actions were too much for animal rights groups who had lobbied the EU for the ban. They piled on, accusing the Jean of blurring the line between subsistence hunting and a commercial seal hunt.

Or, at least they tried to. Some of the seal hunt’s opponents targeted Jean’s actions rather than the symbolism of those actions. The resulting uproar carried more than a hint of racism.

"It sounds like she's trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have," reamarked Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Eating a seal heart reminds PETA of a lesser evolved species of man? Really? It reminds me of Inuit cultural practices, which evolved over thousands of years and discourage wastefulness. It’s either that, or buy the insanely expensive tofu they ship in from the south.

Not content to stop there, Matthews decided that having Jean follow in the footsteps of her hosts was akin to "taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice."

He went on to say that although PETA disagreed with seal hunting by the Inuit their real target was the commercial hunt, which accounts for more than 90 per cent of Canada’s commercial yield of seal products.

That mind-boggling statement - almost as mind-boggling as PETA’s boycott of Canadian maple syrup, “a product that is vital to the country's economy,” in response to the seal hunt - exposes a big problem with animal rights activism. If, as PETA claims on its website, “animals are not ours to eat” and “animals are not ours to wear,” the Inuit should also be subject to criticism for their animal eating, animal wearing ways.

Given Canada’s shameful history of trying to impose European values on aboriginals, such a move would rightfully cause a public backlash. This leaves PETA in a position of looking down on aboriginal practices as the moral equivalent of beating women but not having the heart to do anything about it (pun intended).

A spokesperson for the U.S-based Human Society conveyed the same sentiment, saying there was “public understanding” of Inuit practices at the same time she was denouncing the move as “repugnant” and “offensive.” An EU spokesperson said the whole affaire was “too bizarre to acknowledge,” without bothering to clarify what she found bizarre; eating seal heart or making a public statement with it.

In the larger picture, the animal rights movement is going to run into trouble if thinks such posturing is going to influence people who eat meat as part of their traditional values. Many people in Western countries have grown detached from the food they eat, so campaigns that anthropomorphize cute seals or poor, defenseless lobsters are largely successful. In places where it's common, by necessity or culture, to interact with your next meal, it must seem a pretty silly notion that the only way treat an animal humanely is to not consume it.

One might presume Jean doesn’t eat hearts on a regular basis, but some of the Inuit who were with her that day do. If animal rights groups universally oppose the eating of animals they should come out and say it. That way, the bleeding hearts of the world would realize their actions have consequences beyond KFC and MacDonald's.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon.ca and is fine with meat eaters, even though he’s a vegetarian.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: salacious crumb on May 29, 2009 @ 5:08pm

    In these times, the times of global warming, humans really need to cut back on their meat consumption. Scientists as such are saying that if one really cares about making an impact in the fight against climate change, eating meat only during festive occassions is a way of demonstrating that commitment. PETA could have been playing and leading a really active role in advocating the reduction of meat consumption in Western society. And yet, they have devolved into a really sorry sad organization whose mission and message seems to have been lost on the people representing the organization. Werent they the ones advocating the renaming of fish into "sea kitten"? I mean just think

  2. Posted by: salacious crumb on May 29, 2009 @ 5:09pm

    of the sheer idiocy of such thinking. I used to think the branding poop into something fancy remained in the monopolistic sphere of right wing conservatives, but clearly they have competition in the form of PETA. Giving PETA any sort of voice in these times like giving media time to people who claim they can see air.

  3. Posted by: Jessica on Jun 1, 2009 @ 8:28pm

    PETA bothers me to no end. Salacious crumb is right, PETA did want to rename fish "sea kittens" because they believe people respond better to the idea of saving something cute and fluffy rather than something slimy and smelly. PETA is using the same marketing tactics as McDonalds -- get people hooked when they're young and impressionable and you've got them hooked for life. Instead of advocating people making informed, intelligent decisions about their own lives, they take advantage of the impressionable nature of youth. The fact that anyone takes PETA seriously is despicable.

  4. Posted by: alex on Jun 1, 2009 @ 10:56pm

    Check this out. This piece by Rex Murphy was certainly the most rational take on the Michaelle Jean story that I read or heard.

    http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/rex_murphy/seal_of_disapproval.html

  5. Posted by: on the other hand on Jun 2, 2009 @ 2:10pm

    The reverse is true. People get hooked on the idea that eating meat is normal in our society when they're young. If most people had any idea what happens in a factory farm, they'd never eat meat again.

    The way we treat animals is the truly despicable thing.

  6. Posted by: itshardtopost on Jun 2, 2009 @ 3:09pm

    on the other hand:

    Hate to break it to you, but meat and animal products are a necessity for people. Adults can get away with a vegan diet, but not so much for children. They need proteins and vitamins that you can't get very well from a vegan diet.

    Humans are naturally and biologically inclined to eat meat. It's not just socialization the way you think it might be.

  7. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 3, 2009 @ 3:13am

    re: alex

    i'm down with rex murphy! you like rex murphy, too!? i thought i was the only one!

    hey, i was just wondering... do you often drift to sleep at night wondering what it would be like to name your first born child rex? i figure it could work for either a boy or girl. what do you think?

  8. Posted by: Jessica on Jun 3, 2009 @ 8:06pm

    on the other hand:

    I'm all for choosing veganism/vegetarianism but what PETA promotes is entirely biased and is not a full picture. It's important to teach children to respect animals and the world around them, but it's an entirely different thing to hijack their nutritional needs in order to push forward a political agenda.

    And furthermore, in order to get rid of factory farms you would have to give up the way of life you hold so dear. You can't have ipods and cell phones without the industrialization that led to factory farming. On the other hand, you've accepted a certain way of life, and how you live will adversely affect animals, whether you eat them or not. Take a look at your ecological footprint and take note of the extremely large area of this planet you take up before you cast stones at an industry that grew out of the need of comfort for the consumer.

  9. Posted by: Salacious Crumb on Jun 5, 2009 @ 1:26pm

    Jessica,

    I agree with you on the first point (ie PETA hijacking of the political agenda). However Im not sure Im comfortable with the end part of your latter point (ie casting stone at an industry growing out of the need of comfort for the consumer).Im not sure where you are going with it (maybe you can clarify). I do think we need deindustralization, and one that shrinks enough so as to minimze carbon footprints. I agree that this industry grew as big as it did because we consumers demanded it. But are you saying we shouldnt try to deindustrialize?

  10. Posted by: peta...u take my breath away ~_~ on Jun 7, 2009 @ 1:55pm

    i would like to see peta live up in the arctic eating...i dont kno...snow? HELLO, these people's ancestry depends on eating animals and their blubber for mere survival and some still do!! leave them alone for god's sake. i can assure you they dont waste the animals they kill. PETA is a result of the richness of the west, the only way humans can pick and chose their food source. This only happens when food is abundant and when you can afford to buy supplements and such. anyways...ill just stop because i kno im talkin to the air anyways ~_~

  11. Posted by: Hannah on Jun 13, 2009 @ 3:36pm

    This article brought up some good points, particularly addressing the tension between animal rights and subsistence hunting.

    However, I think the arguments are more nuanced than they seem. For instance, in Toronto, meat eating is ethically indefensible for various reasons. The moral territory becomes murkier when you change the context: if seals are the only things that keep the Inuit alive, it's less bad for them to eat seals than for a Torontonian to eat a steak.

    As for the comment about beating women, I think that's quite an apt example of reductio ad absurdum. No reasonable person thinks it's okay to beat women JUST because it's custom or tradition, and so similarly, eating a piece of seal heart can't be morally permissible JUST because it's custom or tradition. I think Matthews was trying to provide a solid example that refutes such a principle, not claim that the Inuit seal hunt and the beating of women are equally bad, morally speaking.

    However, his Neanderthal comment can only be taken as an insult: eating seal heart is no more barbaric than the way most of the world treats animals.

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