Young and Hungry

What the Heck Are “Seal Safe” Mussels?

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Menu items are full of feel-good modifiers these days: sustainably raised, locally foraged, line-caught. But at Frederik de Pue's new Penn Quarter restaurant Menu MBK, I encountered a descriptor I've never seen at a restaurant before: "seal safe." The term is used to describe the $18 mussels, served with saffron rice and piquillo peppers in Menu's third floor BistroBar.

"Seal safe" refers to the fact that the mussels don't come from seal-hunting provinces in Canada, which includes Prince Edward Island. Instead, the mussels at Menu MBK come from the eastern United States. Kathryn Kullberg, who helps lead the Humane Society of the United State's Protect Seals campaign, says that every year the Canadian government authorizes the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups for their fur. She says seal hunting is an off-season activity for Canadian commercial fisherman. "The sealing industry is so intertwined with the seafood industry there that it's pretty much impossible to extricate the two," she says.

In 2005, the Humane Society launched a campaign to end the practice, in part by recruiting U.S. purveyors to boycott Canadian seafood. More than 6,500 grocery stores, restaurants, and seafood suppliers across the country have signed a pledge to stop using Canadian seafood as a whole or from seal-hunting provinces or just snow crabs, Canada's top seafood export. Some big name celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Cat Cora have signed the pledge, along with a long list of local restaurants, including Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Kaz Sushi Bistro, Graffiato, and of course, Menu MBK. You can download the Protect Seals app to figure out which establishments near you are "seal safe."

Photo by Jessica Sidman

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