The politics of food

Put down that fork! How could you eat that? Don’t you know what you are doing?

Alas, food, like so much of life, has become politicised these days as activists of all kinds seek to rob me of my enjoyment of food simply to advance their cause. I’ve been encouraged to eat less meat, eat local meat, eat food only that I have grown myself, and to give up some of the best foods on the planets all in the name of political food causes. It’s enough to make a man want to snack.

Have you been accosted by the organic crusader intent on making sure pesticides do not cross your lips? I have some sympathy for the cause; who really wants to eat apples dunked in a chemical bath of who knows what when a beautiful natural one will do? Put another way though, proper use of pesticides has increased crop yield, meaning more food to feed the people of the planet, and all the while life expectancy has been going up. I also have to question the ecological benefit of trucking in Amy’s Organics frozen pizza across 2,800 miles of highway from California to Ottawa. Which brings me to the latest in political eating; eating local.

Once upon a time, people ate locally because…well, because that’s what was available. Now, however, the emphasis is on following The 100 Mile Diet. Haven’t heard of this? Essentially you restrict yourself to foods grown within 100 miles of your home, nothing outside that boundary can cross your lips. In some parts of the developing world this is called reality, to westerners it is a political cause to help fight climate change.

Let’s get the obvious problems with this diet out of the way for me. I live in one of the coldest capital cities on the planet. While there is much farmland around Ottawa, we do not produce coffee, tea, decent wine, orange juice or even sufficient wheat to make bread locally. Have I mentioned the winters?

Perhaps it was the cold Ottawa winters, or her trip even further north, or perhaps a desire to eat something she was told tasted a bit like sushi, but last month, Canada’s Governor General Michaelle Jean created a stir in Europe with her decision to eat part of a seal’s heart. Madame Jean was attending an Inuit festival in Rankin Inlet, a northern aboriginal community on the north western coast of Hudson’s Bay, when she took a traditional blade, known as an ulu, and helped the local women butcher a seal, asking at one point to taste some. Not bad she said (you can see the video here). Those on the Euro progressive left were at a loss for who or what to support, a poor, just slaughtered seal or the traditional way of life of an indigenous people. Not surprisingly, the seal won.

The story was picked up around the world, mocked on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, called bad taste by Radio Netherlands while the Sydney Morning Herald just seemed puzzled. A widely quoted spokeswoman for the European Union’s Environment Commissioner said, “No comment. It’s too bizarre to acknowledge.” Others, unfortunately, didn’t feel the same way.

A woman named Barbara Slee with the International Fund for Animal Welfare told the Times of London, “The fact that the Governor General in public is slashing and eating a seal, I don’t think that really helps the cause, and I’m convinced that this will not change the mind of European citizens and politicians.”

I don’t think Madame Jean is too worried about changing the minds of European citizens or politicians but her defiant act of eating any part of the seal was definintely her way of telling Brussels to go stuff it. The EU recently voted in favour of banning seal products to protest Canada’s commercial seal hunt which supplies seal pelts to a mostly European clientelle and has done so for nearly 400 years. Ms. Jean’s political act of eating seal was in response to the political act of Eurocrats trying to tell Canadian hunters they could not sell their traditional products to Europeans willing to buy said product.

The main claim is that the seals are inhumanely treated, yet some of the main groups behind the push to ban the seal hunt, like PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are nothing more than radical animal rights activists hoping to get all of us to become vegetarian. Quite frankly I’m more likely to get behind People for the Ethical Treatment of People.

Right now though I’m hungry and about to tuck into an Argentine beef steak with a nice glass of Bordeaux. We aren’t boycotting either of those are we?

Brian Lilley is the Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations 1010 CFRB in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal. He is also Associate Editor of Mercatornet. Follow Brian on Twitter.


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