In Support of Kūkŭm Kitchen & Chef Joseph Shawana

Over the past week, there’s been heated discussion in the news and on social media about a petition that was started by Toronto resident Jennifer Matos, regarding the serving of seal meat at Kūkŭm Kitchen in Toronto. Kūkŭm Kitchen is a great customer of ours, so this issue is of interest to us.

The Context

Matos started this petition because she felt it was unethical to serve commercial seal meat and wanted Kūkŭm Kitchen to stop serving it. Yet, as others have pointed out, Matos has seemingly not targeted one of the other sixteen thousand nine hundred and thirty-four other restaurants serving meat. Some of the supporters of Matos’s petition began to give Kūkŭm Ktichen poor ratings online because of the petition.

Aylan Couchie, a writer and artist from Nipissing First Nation started a counter petition to point out that targeting one of four Indigenous owned restaurants in Toronto and not any others is anti-Indigenous, especially given the detrimental effect anti-sealing campaigns have had on Inuit peoples culture and livelihoods.

So, how exactly is the original petition anti-Indigenous?

Couchie and settler food historian, Ian Mosby, published a very thoughtful piece in the Globe and Mail that discusses how food has been a major tool in the Canadian colonial project against Indigenous nations more broadly. For the Inuit nations, seal-hunting has been a particularly contentious issue in their continuing struggle against colonialism. Therefore, Couchie & Mosby argue that by targeting Kūkŭm and insisting that seal-hunting remain a subsistence activity for Inuit people enforces the idea that all Indigenous nations must remain in the past. Not to mention, thinking the seal-hunting business is subsistence only is also historically inaccurate: the commercial seal industry has existed in Canada for well over a hundred years.

For those interested in learning further about the issue, Couchie & Mosby recommend watching the 2016 documentary film made by Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril called Angry Inuk. It is available to watch on iTunes Canada.

Kūkŭm Kitchen’s Stance

Chef Joseph Shawana, who owns and operates Kūkŭm Kitchen, is from Wikwemkoong Unceded Reserve on Manitoulin Island. Chef Shawana chose to serve seal meat in a seal tartare dish to honour Inuit culture and support their livelihoods. In an interview with the CBC on As It Happens, Chef Shawana stood by his decision to serve seal meat and explained that he feels Matos petition stems from misinformation.

Chef Shawana and the team at Kūkŭm did their due diligence and researched their menu extensively before their launch. They source their seal meat from SeaDNA in Canada, a company that adheres to Canada’s strict guidelines for commercial seal hunting and prioritizes creating products that use the whole seal. In fact, because of improved guidelines for the industry, seal populations in Canada have skyrocketed in the past forty years. Seals are not considered in any way to be an endangered species (and contrary to what Matos’ original petition leads one to believe, it is illegal for the commercial hunt to kill seal pups in Canada).

At 100km Foods, we take the sourcing of food very seriously. We commend Chef Shawana and his team at Kūkŭm Kitchen for their ethical standards and completely support him in his decision to continue serving seal meat at his establishment.

By: Genrys Goodchild