Country Food

caribou-11

I was watching the news on TV the other day, and there was a story about the high cost of food in the north, and whether more couldn’t be done to help lower costs so that people could get good, nutritious food at a reasonable price. There was a boycott going on with the main grocery chain, which claimed it was doing what it could, and would try to do even more. The government, of course, also received poor marks for their part in food delivery.

What piqued my interest was when one of the people being interviewed said something like ‘We used to eat a lot of country food, but not any more. Now, most of the food we get is from the store’.

What’s going on here? Is no one hunting or fishing anymore? Because that’s what ‘country food’ is – ptarmigan, goose, caribou, fish – all the things hunters and fishermen pursue. I find it hard to believe no one is hunting and fishing anymore, especially in such remote areas where there’s not a lot of regular employment and where hunting and fishing is and always has been a way of life.

If there isn’t much hunting and fishing going on, I suspect it’s largely because of a lack of fish and game.

For example, with respect to game (animals), on Baffin Island in the arctic, CBC recently reported that ‘an aerial survey in 2012 — the first ever of its scale — found only about 5,000 caribou , a decrease of up to 95 per cent of population estimates in the 1990s’.

Other, similar declines of caribou have recently occurred elsewhere, although caribou populations in many areas of the north remain robust. Caribou are a traditional, staple part of the diet in many northern communities that are populated mostly by Aboriginal people.

Why have a number of caribou populations collapsed? The reasons are many, but I believe a contributing factor is that modern principles of wildlife management are not being implemented in many areas. Instead of monitoring and managing wildlife, the focus almost everywhere in the north is on ‘rights’. Namely Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. In modern society, it takes more than the implementation of rights to manage wildlife sustainably.  Certainly, there is a need to use the knowledge of local peoples, also referred to as ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’, or TEK when managing wildlife, but modern science-based biological principles can’t be ignored.  Too often it is, though, and the end result is not pretty.

Better wildlife management – including use and distribution of wildlife – needs much more attention than it’s been getting. Like, what happens to the meat of a caribou or moose that’s been taken by a southern, licensed/tourist hunter? I know when I went caribou hunting in Alaska, we could only take home 60 lbs of meat. What happened to the rest? I know a lot was simply left behind for the wolves, grizzly bears and other scavengers. Surely there could be a better system to get more of this valuable protein to northern inhabitants.

Another example that comes to mind is, why aren’t  snow geese, that nest in the north, being harvested and distributed to folk in the north, who could make good use of them (or are they, but it’s something not being talked about?) It’s been documented that there are so many snow geese, they are eating themselves out of house and home. In many states and provinces, there’s now a spring and fall hunt, and in some areas the daily bag limit is 20, with no possession limit! One would think that a northern harvest of several thousand geese could be done on a sustainable basis so as to help fill the annual food needs for a lot of northern families.

In the remote north, there’s no doubt it’s expensive to fly or truck in food. But it’s always been assumed that a staple part of the northern diet is country food. If the supply of country food is drying up, that’s a serious problem that requires fixing.

 

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2 comments
  1. Sam Menard said:

    Perhaps the use of modern weapons and transportation methods are contributing to the decline. Modern conveniences can contribute to higher success rates. One of the drawbacks of being successful is that, little by little, we tend to value wildlife less. When food is easy to come by and if we don’t value wildlife as much, we tend to waste more. For example, when animals were hard to come by and we didn’t know when our next meal was, we would utilize more of the animal. When game is more plentiful and easier to harvest we can be more choosy about what parts we want to consume and what parts we discard because they are considered “beneath us” to eat. It’s pretty common for hunters to only take the breasts from grouse or ducks, and many hunters refuse to eat the heart and livers (cadmium aside) from big game. I can’t count how many bear carcasses that I’ve found over the years with only the backstraps removed.

    Sam

  2. I agree with your comments, although with respect to hearts and livers from big game, that’s linked to government health advisories, as opposed to simply personal choice. We also seem to be drifting away from sound, wildlife management principles as societies tell us to base our decisions on science – but then quickly balk when the science says to do something not well-liked.

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