Earlier today, Anthony Bourdain came out swinging his Twitter club in opposition to the Humane Society of the United States' Protect Seals campaign, which seeks an end to the commercial slaughter of seals in Canada. Jonathan Benno, Alex Stupak, Danny Bowien, Stephanie Izard, Scott Conant, and many more are among the culinary all-stars who were honored earlier this month by Food & Wine in conjunction with signing on to the awareness campaign, in which the chefs agree to stop using all Canadian seafood until a moratorium on slaughter practices and seal products is reached. Chefs opposing the killing of seals — what could possibly be wrong with that?
On its surface, the cause seems like an abundantly good one. After all, the Humane Society estimates more than 2 million seals have been killed for their blubber (or "oil") and pelts since 2002. The seal-oil industry, which revolves around omega-3-fatty-acid-related health claims, entails animal suffering — we're talking "conscious pups being impaled on metal hooks and cut open," after all.
The industry may be rampant with crime and the smuggling of products designed to circumvent bans on the trade of marine mammal products, but as Bourdain has more or less been tweeting, a uniform ban on slaughter would devastate Inuit and other First Nations populations for whom the killing and consumption of seals is an inexorable part of their culture.
I'm all for protecting seals, but a total ban dooms the indigenous people above arctic circle to death or relocation. @dannybowien consider— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
I completely understand well meaning intentions of good hearted chefs who signed this petition. But they are wrong . Visit the Inuit— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
And there is certainly a commercial dimension to Indigenous seal hunts. They should be allowed to make a living as well as feed themselves.— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
Here's Bourdain on the practice as a matter of literal survival:
Please examine Inuit dietary requirements and traditions @chefsymon thanks!— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
The television host even referenced his own No Reservations episode in which he took part in an Inuit hunt and ate raw seal meat. Elsewhere, Bourdain called out the actual terms of HSUS's "Chefs for Seals" boycott as disproportionally punitive.
To hold the entire Canadian seafood industry hostage over sustainable, absolutely necessary tribal practice is ill considered.— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
Granted, Twitter is a difficult if high-profile forum for debating such a nuanced and disputed issue, but the immediate fire sparked by Bourdain's tweets brings the level of chefs' involvement in the seal-slaughter debate into sharp relief. Are the chef-signatories taking a stand against commercial seal slaughter just extending already strong commitments to quality and sustainability? Is this a case of big-name culinary figures taking a stand on a very complicated issue? Is Anthony Bourdain just contrarian by nature?
@ChefsForSeals how about letting the Inuit make a living? Or is it just leave them enough to eat?— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) October 28, 2013
In any event, Danny Bowien is onboard. The Mission Chinese Food chef responded to Bourdain's tweets "Oui chef!" so rapidly that one wonders how much these chefs are actually invested in the issue. Meanwhile, Joe Beef chef David McMillan tweeted in support of the Inuit continuing with tradition, and for everyone to just mind their own larders. "I don't pretend to know what's going on in Washington state," he told Eater Montreal, "so don't try playing smart about the province of Quebec and the Inuit nation."