Why do we love leather and hate seal skin?

Calgary Herald, August 4, 2015

The tunic looked like something Kate Moss would throw on over black leggings with Beatle boots. It was black, with wide three quarter length sleeves and a smattering of hot pink polka dots the size of salad plates. It was gorgeous. And it was made of seal skin.

I spotted the $1,550 piece hanging in a stylish boutique in downtown St. John’s, a city where there is no shame in wearing seal skin in the wet cold winters (or this year’s wet cold summer). The shop, one of a couple of high-end seal skin stores in town, also had long coats in cobalt blue, mitts of all colours and high heeled boots with a practical rubber sole. I also spotted the more traditional seal skin boots I remember people wearing growing up in Alberta’s dry cold winters.

But that was before someone decided the seal hunt was cruel and must be stopped. Those poor little seals. They’re so cute with those big black eyes, how could anyone club ’em over the head? The very effective propaganda featured white pups — the veal of seals, if you will — and in more recent years Paul McCartney, a card-carrying vegan who also objects to a poached egg.

The party line is that the seal hunt is awful, sealers are monsters and the world would be improved considerably if the Newfoundland sealers trying to eek out a living on the ice stayed home and tried their hand at knitting doilies instead (If only more people had stood up for the poor, ugly cod as they were being fished to within a breath of extinction).

There are about 7.4 million seals off Newfoundland and about 8,000 licences to hunt them. We’ve all seen the videos of sealers on the ice. Nothing pretty about the seal hunt, to be sure. Nothing pretty about where your favourite leather belt came from either, but we haven’t seen that video.

Everyone has an opinion about the seal hunt and I wonder what your steak might think about it. It might point out that at least that seal got to live its life in the wild. At least it wasn’t raised in captivity destined to end up on your plate, next to some garlic bread and a double baked potato. At least, your sirloin might say wistfully, that seal had some good livin’ before it was shot (That’s right, shot.  Sealers don’t use clubs anymore. They use guns, just like your buddy who hunts deer).

If you’re of the view that the seal hunt is cruel because they suffer, I expect your medium rare, bacon- wrapped filet mignon might have a thing or two to say about that. After all, cattle don’t look like they’re having a ton of fun crammed into those trucks on the way to the feed lot. I’ve seen more than a few big black cow eyes look out from those trucks on the highway (I’ve seen a few horse eyes too, as they’re on the way to a show all pampered and adored). Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from your chicken fingers about their lot before they were packaged in a cardboard box. Or fish sticks if you’re a pescatorian. If you’re a vegetarian, you could ask your leather jacket.   

The fact is, we inflict a lot of cruelty on all kinds of animals for our sustenance, pleasure and convenience. But this column isn’t about cruelty to animals. It’s about consistency in humans. And it’s often lacking.

I can’t make a hamburger patty and am thoroughly grossed out by my Nana’s fur stole with its row of tiny animal feet (or maybe it’s tails, either way: Ewww), but I have no problem ordering a steak or buying leather boots. I have a few pairs that would look pretty great with that pink-polka dotted tunic.

In Newfoundland, people roll their eyes when the leather-loving, foie gras-gobbling folks in the EU come down hard on the seal hunt. And they just shake their heads when yet another PR campaign features pretty little whitecoats even though seal pups haven’t been part of the hunt since U2 was cool.

It’s not unlike Albertans rolling their eyes when the latest Hollywood celebrity leaves his or her 20,000 square foot home to take a private jet to protest against the evil tarsands. Or when Jane Fonda beaks off about the greed of oil and gas companies but doesn’t know what OPEC is.

Protests are important and Jane Fonda is entitled to her opinion. So are you. It’s all well and good to object to seal hunt. Fill your boots. But maybe just check first to see whether they’re leather.

 newfoundland 226
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