After the appearance of a news story out of Canada this week, the media are once again covering seal hunting. Most of the coverage I’ve seen or read has seemed relatively fair, save for a subtle ethnocentrism that would probably go unnoticed to most westerners.
I want to address the underlying assumptions that seem to be fairly common in commentary on the topic among blog commenters and non-journalist media personalities. The idea of eating seal meat is treated as an absurdity, an obviously disgusting idea: something that only a barbarian would do. Yet most people think nothing of the meat they consume or how it is procured.
Seals are somewhat exotic to most Americans, and when we do see them, it is at places like Sea World, where they are presented as pets doing tricks. They’re cute and cuddly and very amenable to anthropomorphizing, so eating them is to many people considered immoral, similar to how most people in this country react to the idea of eating dog or horse meat. But we’re used to thinking of cows, pigs, and chickens as food, and most of us never think of them as anything else.
If you probe at this more deeply with people, they cite the seals’ intelligence, trying to rationalize the inconsistency of their ideas. But pigs are very intelligent animals, and could probably be trained in ways comparable to seals. Then they start in on the cruelty of the hunt. Sure it’s cruel: killing animals for food is never rainbows and sunshine. It’s brutal and bloody. We have yet to breed an animal whose only desire in life is to be dead on our plates, a la the pig at Milliway’s pitching his own meat, and I personally find hunting a lot less deplorable than factory farming in many ways.
Before people express disgust at other groups’ practices, I wish they’d take a look at the things they take for granted in their own lives.