Kū-Kūm’s seal meat dish causing a stir in Toronto

A small restaurant in Toronto that has been serving up a selection of Indigenous foods from across Turtle Island for a while now – is causing a stir after putting seal meat on the menu.

A small restaurant in Toronto that has been serving up a selection of Indigenous foods from across Turtle Island for a while now – is causing a stir after putting seal meat on the menu.

“It’s our culture, it’s our history,” said chef Joseph Shawana from the restaurant Kū-kūm located in the wealthy neighbourhood of Davisville northeast of downtown. “Our food is just as important as our languages and a lot of communities in Canada and in North America itself lost their language and as sad as that is we lost part of our identity.

“If we lose a little bit of our food identity then we are losing ourselves.”

According to the restaurant’s menu, seal tartare is served as a starter with bannock crostini and is topped with quail egg.

But a petition demanding that the restaurant take the seal off the menu is now circulating.

More than 3,000 people have signed it.

In a statement to APTN News, petition author Jennifer Matos said it’s not what’s on the menu – it’s where the restaurant is getting the seal meat from.

“Kukum kitchen may be an Indigenous restaurant, but they are sourcing the seal meat from the commercial hunt,” Matos wrote.

Matos said she started the petition because the company that provides the seal meat – SealDNA – gets its product from hunters on Magdalen Islands – not Indigenous hunters.

Shawana said he worked for weeks to find a suitable supplier.

According to the company SealDNA, the company follows strict hunting regulations set out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Shawana said mainstream meat is a lot different than seal.

“Beef, chicken, pork, they are raised in a lot worse conditions than a seal,” he said. “A seal is out in the wild and it eats what is naturally eats, it’s not eating corn, not eating any antibiotics or it’s not given any hormones, this is as natural as meat comes.

“Its part of our culture, its part of our identity.”

And now a counter-pro seal – petition has been started to keep the meal on the menu.

Alyan Couchie from the Nipissing First Nation in Ontario said she started it to educate Manos about anti-Indigenous behaviour and colonialism.

“It’s important that we support Indigenous-owned businesses and restaurants in particular,” she said. “It’s such a great way to share the culture, share the food with everybody not just with indigenous people, it’s great for settler Canadians to be able to come in and try these foods as well.”

At the moment, Couchie’s petition is trailing Mato’s petition by about 500 signatures.

According to Shawana, no matter how the petition numbers play out – seal is one of the restaurant’s top sellers.

And he will keep serving it.

“We have to pay homage to our brother and sisters up north and what better way to, as their main source of protein is seal,” he said.

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1 thought on “Kū-Kūm’s seal meat dish causing a stir in Toronto

  1. Kukum Kitchen is an Indigenous based business….and by attacking an Indigenous business, one shows a colonized mind set….a white privileged view of the world….very much a racist attempt at suppression of one’s rights to do business in a legal and proper fashion….something that supposedly a democracy like Canada was built on. The seal meat sold by Kukum is legally obtained….sold by a Canadian company….after being harvested & processed under very strict Canadian government regulations. It is used at Kukum to honour the Inuit, and these northern peoples’ contribution to our traditional Indigenous food heritage.

    More important overall is that an attack of any kind on the seal hunt as legally conducted is also an attack on Inuit hunting practices….on the traditional Inuit seal hunt. Because if one seeks to limit or end the east coast seal hunt around Newfoundland or elsewhere in the Atlantic, then one also invariably affects the Inuit hunt….to most a seal is a seal, often a “cute little helpless seal pup with sad eyes”, no matter where it lives or whom harvests it. Just watch the film “The Angry Inuk”. This documentary examines the controversial Canadian commercial seal hunt protests by animal rights activists, which negatively impact remote Inuit subsistence hunters living a thousand miles away. (See https://www.nfb.ca/film/angry_inuk/). So this attack on Kukum is not merely an attack on an Indigenous business, which is wrong enough, but ultimately an attack on an Indigenous way of life.

    Kukum Kitchen is absolutely our favourite restaurant….great service and incredible food….been there 10 times….looking forward to new menu later this month….and Kukum being open for brunch….

    My partner & I love everything on the menu….the food is fantastic….….the seal tartare is very good…..the staff very welcoming….the entire atmosphere is engaging (with a beautiful art mural)….great ambiance….a true culinary and cultural feast. AND despite the comments from some who have obviously never been to Kukum about seal meat being served, I highly recommend Kukum….even for those who are Vegan, since there are several Vegan choices on the menu….if you haven’t been there, you should try it….if you do not want the seal there are lots of other choices on the menu….honestly instead of writing ‘fake’ bad reviews on some place you’ve never been, you should go….try it before you knock it.

    Chi Miigwech to Chef Joseph Shawana for bringing Kukum Kitchen to Toronto. Kukum Kitchen is a great addition to the Toronto Indigenous community (and it has been good to see so many of our community and allies support Kukum Kitchen). After years of having so many of our ways being suppressed, it is now time to celebrate being Indigenous….to celebrate our arts….our crafts….our culture….our dance….our heritage….our languages….our music….our traditions….and yes, even our foods.
    Certainly Kukum Kitchen is very busy, with many non-Indigenous customers. Perhaps, Kukum Kitchen, a tiny 30 seat restaurant, in its own way is aiding reconciliation by sharing just a bit of Indigenous culture and tradition with mainstream society….feeding their hearts and minds and spirits as well as their stomachs.

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