I’m always eager to tick another food off my unwritten checklist of all the many edibles available to omnivores such as myself.

In Quebec recently, I ate at La Traite, a restaurant on a Wendake (essentially Huron) reservation that focuses much of the menu upon food items that incorporate ingredients that might have been used by the first inhabitants of this land, including local spices and flowers. This is fascinating to me, as I think First Nations/Native American foods are, most unfortunately, usually neglected on restaurant menus (unless you count Mexican food, which is certainly one of the most developed of all indigenous cuisines.)

Before lunch, we had some sausage, both formed and loose-tartare-like, made of seal.

Seal seems to be one of the few wild and undomesticated foods that can be served in Canadian restaurants; as in the US, there are government regs for meat harvesting that dictate that most meat must come from farms, but seal is an exception. I was told that it was harvested by First Nations people (likely Inuit) and is available only during limited times of the year.

If I had to compare seal to any commonly known meats, I’d say it’s closest to beef, though there is a slight gaminess (for lack of a better word, and there really are not enough words – at least at my disposal – to distinguish beef from bison from seal, etc.). I understand that seal is supposed to have a “brininess,” and this app was salty, but I couldn’t determine if that was a natural flavor of the meat or if the salt added as part of the sausage making process. The seal meat was not fatty at all (which I’d kind of thought it would be), though that lack of fat could have something to do with the cut (if there even are “cuts” with seal).

Overall, a pleasant eating experience. I had thirds because, you know, it may be the last time I ever eat this creature.

BUT…later, out for drinks with some other journalists, a travel editor from Ontario mentioned that he didn’t partake of the seal for ethical reasons, reminding me of the whole debate about seals and seal harvesting…and the fact that seal meat is banned in the US and EU. I wasn’t thinking; at the sight of sausage, I apparently have no conscience.

Political correctness is not a consideration, though I do try to avoid eating species I know to be endangered (like Bluefin tuna) or that are harvested under inhumane conditions.

BUT…much corporate cattle is raised in conditions that would probably be considered inhumane, and many tons of that meat are consumed in this country every day.

So what’s the moral difference between eating seal in Quebec and eating a hamburger at places like Mickey’s or George’s Restaurant in Oak Park? I’m not sure there is any difference, and it’s quite likely the seal live more natural lives than our beef cattle…and they may very well be harvested more humanely.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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