Dietary Wisdom from the Canadian First Nations

Four years ago I went with my family on a cruise to the Canadian Arctic.

We went pretty far north. Into the red areas below:

Anyhow, if you're interested in more details drop me a line. I'm happy to talk Arctic stuff, especially after meeting Marc Lanteigne who delivered an excellent talk recently at HKU on "China's Evolving Arctic Strategies."

Nonetheless, I wanted to talk briefly on something that struck whilst on the trip.

This is Stevie. He is a First Nations, indigenous Canadian.

A man of ultra-reticence. He said like 8 words during the entire week, which is behavior pretty much generally and universally badass in my book.

One of the activities the boat organized was a bit of arctic char fishing. Mind you, this far north (Resolute Bay is 74.6975° North, that's way up there) there ain't any salmon--it is arctic char, and arctic char only. But hey they're still salmonids, and the flesh is virtually just as fatty and flavorful it turns out.

Here is a member of our group fishing:

Here was the bounty:

 Wild Arctic Char

Wild Arctic Char

What then happened just blew me away.

Stevie couldn't give two chars for the fish. Alas, we had these beautiful silvery bullets of tasty meat, well, Stevie was indifferent.

All Stevie cared about was fat, not meat. 

I learned that from Stevie's perspective the arctic char was more trouble/energy expenditure than it was worth. Yes, us urbanites drone on about salmon sushi and smoked salmon, etc.

But All Stevie cared about was blubber.

 Stevie invited us to taste narwhal (center) and ring seal (upper left). The ring seal was delicious. It was such an amazing experience to not only try these foods, but to connect with an ancient, indigenous diet and nutritional philosophy.

Stevie invited us to taste narwhal (center) and ring seal (upper left). The ring seal was delicious. It was such an amazing experience to not only try these foods, but to connect with an ancient, indigenous diet and nutritional philosophy.

He wanted seal. He wanted narwhal. And more than anything he looked forward to the one-whale (likely a Bowhead Whale) quota his community was permitted to annually. Nothing went to waste. In fact, the heart/liver/organ meat was often consumed first--these were the prized foods.

I remember Stevie fondly. I can't help but think maybe he was right. As we begin to close out 2015 and I think more about my food choices for 2016, maybe the ideal of "head to tail" should actually begin with the organ meat first, with the muscle second. Maybe that is how we should think about it. 

More Reading: Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth for more on this idea (I highly recommend the book).