This is a picture of 3 lovely pairs of sealskin mittens. They are very warm and were more than a great temptation in the very cold St. John's summer in Newfoundland.
However, the sealskin mittens are as illegal in the United States as absinthe used to be and Cuban cigars currently are.
The 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the import and sale of seal fur as part of a ban on "imports or sales of all marine mammal products."
When you travel to Newfoundland, you hear a perspective about the seal hunt that you don't get anywhere else since seal hunting is part of the landscape in the province. Seal hunting is part of the Newfoundland and Labrador culture. Sealer, someone who hunts seals, is a legitimate job in the province.
Without provocation, I heard from several people about the positive nature of the seal hunt. And most of them told the story of the Sarah McLachlan concert at the Mile One Centre last fall in St. John's.
The story was essentially the same. Pro seal hunt protesters handed out leaflets outside the arena to make people aware. If people tried to enter the arena with their ticket but also with the leaflet, they were denied entry into the arena.
In 2012, McLachlan wrote Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask him to end the seal hunt.
The people I ran into explained in a calm fashion about how the seal hunt is about harvesting adults and using all parts of the animal. The idea of clubbing baby seals is the perception people have away from this area, but the people who spoke to me said that wasn't happening in the traditional seal hunt.
Logically, this made sense. Harvesting adult animals makes more sense because you get more per seal if they are bigger. Plus you want them to reproduce to make more babies.
The key is using all the parts of the animal. A seal burger would have been very tempting but wasn't on the menu at Mallard Cottage or anywhere else. Seal oil is crucial in a land with long winters and the power going out at times.
Perhaps it was their Newfoundland charm, but their argument made sense. (Sorry Sarah McLachlan, I still love you!) As long as seals aren't endangered, and the seal population isn't overharvested, then products from the seals should be OK. If you are going to wear leather shoes, why not wear sealskin mittens?
Your liberal stance might be alarmed by this take. After all, if you endorse sealskin mittens, why not furs from foxes or beavers?
Foxes and beavers are killed just for their pelts. Cecil the lion was killed for sport, not for any useful purpose beyond a trophy.
Seals aren't killed just to make mittens, no matter how warm they are.
From our stance at our sister site BalanceofFood.com, animals should be treated well during their lives, regardless of where their fate lies. For those animals that are harvested, they should be treated with as much dignity in that process. And we should honor the byproducts of the harvest: this includes not overcooking beef burgers (yes, Canada we're looking at you).
Bringing the sealskin mittens would have been illegal so I had no intention of violating any law. Wearing the sealskin mittens at home would have proved to be quite awkward, so even if they were legal to bring back, wearing them would have forced me to lie and say they were fakes. And I'm not a dishonest person at heart.
If I lived in Canada, I could justify the mittens more and not just because they are legal in Canada. Using all the parts of the animal and respecting the animal makes a difference as a consumer and human being.
But I also love my hands and they end up being the coldest part of me in brutal winter conditions. The saleswoman at the shop in St. John's told me the wind can't penetrate the pelt. The mittens cost $109, a high price to pay for warmth. But that was still very tempting when the wind chill is below 0ºF (-18ºC). For now, I will settle for a picture of warmth even if I can't have the actual mittens.
photos credit: me