Uiloq: blue mussel
Over the past months, I’ve learned so much about Greenlandic food – from the land and sea. Arctic hunting, fishing and gathering are testaments to the interwoven tied between humans and the environment.The word for local food is Kalaalimerniut, which embodies a part of the Greenlandic identity and culture, as in other cultures where food is integral to the identity of cultures.
I have been grateful to try many Greenlandic foods including musk ox, reindeer, shrimp, shellfish, fish (cod, Arctic charr…many more), whale and seal. While I know that whale and seal (and other meats) are controversial or uncomfortable for others, if it was offered to me, out of respect, I enjoyed it. I would not demand it, or look for it – nor do I think that tourists should demand it, personally, I believe that Greenlandic have the right to continue hunting whales for cultural or community needs. The grey blurs when whaling is for commercial purposes (whether for exports or by the demands of tourists.
This week is a special week for all the kindergarten children of the community. A project initiated several years ago with WWF, SPS (the local college) and the Ilulissat Kangia (Ilulissat Icefjord Office) where the children gather for one week for specially organized events and activities.
This year the children are celebrating local foods with Kalaalimerniut, the celebration of local foods, as a theme. At the end of the week, there will be a big feast that brings together donated and collected items. It’s been incredible to see the donation pour in, with business, shops, families and individuals willing to give food.
We decided to collect and contribute our own gathered food. I went with the Park Ranger from our office to collect mussels during low tide. We shuffled into a small speed boat, with nothing more than a long rope, an empty bucket pale and rubber gloves. There was one seat behind the wheel in the boat, and I was squatting near the front window to avoid being pelleted by splashing waters.
We were going fast! In about 30 minutes of whizzing across the bergy waters, we arrived at a shore. Immediately I saw the coast line with bounties of mussels. They were scattered and hugging the rocky coast, nestled on a bed of yellow and brown seaweed.
Although my mussel-gathering pace was much slower than Aron, we still managed to gather about 5 kg of mussels in less than an hour. This will be part of the meal that will feed over 70 kindergarten children.
“A fundamental difference between our culture and [Inuit] culture, which can be felt even today in certain situations, is that we have irrevocably separated ourselves from the world that animals occupy. We have turned all animals and elements of the natural world into objects. We manipulate them to serve the complicated ends of our destiny.
[Inuit] do not grasp this separation easily, and have difficulty imagining themselves entirely removed from the world of animals. For many of them, to make this separation is analogous to cutting oneself off from light or water. It is hard to imagine how to do it.”
― Barry López,
I think it’s an incredible learning experience for the children who will understand the importance of local ‘Kalaalimerniut’ food. Over the past two months, I have also come to better understand the representation and importance of food within their shared cultural identity.