and the proof of that is I’m constantly saying things I come to regret later.

Last night, after presenting to the librarians at the conference I met with the librarian who’s going to be hosting me, insha Allah, in Barrow.  A charming lady, she asked if there were any dietary restrictions.

I said an emphatic, “No pork or alcohol.”

And when she asked if I wanted to experience some of the local delicacies I answered an emphatic, “Yes!”

Then from the pause, and the doubtful look on her face, I felt compelled to add, “But nothing gross.”

She wasn’t the only one standing there, and they all kind of started at my ridiculous statement.

That’s about when I realized how insulting my words were. And I clarified a bit, “I mean eyeballs and stuff like that.”

Then she told me that there were some local delicacies like whale meat and blubber.

“I eat sushi. No problem. That’s not gross. I’d like to try that.”

And she mentioned seal meat. Again not a problem.

And she talked about this fermented meat dish that was mixed with blood and stuff.

“I can’t eat blood. It’s against my religion.”

Then she said there was this one kind of meat where the locals would kill a cariboo and then bury it, with its intestines still intact, for three days, and then eat it.


But one of the ladies who was standing there, and who had been really moved by my talk, so much so that she told me she’d had to leave to go to the bathroom and compose herself because she was crying so much, said, “We used to eat that as a child. I really liked it.”

And I felt bad for her. I should have said something, but somehow it didn’t occur to me at the time. But afterwards I wish I had. I’ve been in the position that she was in right then, where people think your customs are …hmm, there’s no other word for it…gross. And it’s not nice.

One thing I’ve learned from my travels is that people in all corners of the world do what works for them. Might not make much sense to us outsiders, but there’s always a reason they do things the way they do. Thing is in the Arctic, fuel is at a premium. You use it to heat yourself. To stay alive. Using it to cook as well is not always practical and so they learned to eat a lot of meat raw and invent other ways to tenderize it.

I asked, “Doesn’t the meat spoil? Doesn’t it make you sick?”

And she said, “No. I really liked it… as a child. Burying it made the meat really tender.”

And I felt bad that she had to add that last little bit: ‘as a child’.

And it occurs to me that what with the perma frost, burying the meat wouldn’t be much different from the way our butchers hang the carcass so the rigor mortis eases up.

From what I understand, and I could be wrong, but basically when the animal is slaughtered, rigor mortis begins to set in rather quickly. And it lasts about seventy-two hours (three days), where the body becomes stiff, the muscles which make up the meat, are contracted and hard like when you flex your muscles, and if you butcher the meat at this point, you get very tough meat. Stewing meat really. (And in fact the process of stewing, cooking it slowly at low heat–breaks down the muscle fibres and tenderizes the meat.)

Anyway, that’s why slaughter houses hang the carcasses so that the muscle meat will relax.

That might be more than you ever wanted to know, we  tend not to think about the stuff we put in our mouths so much.

So really, how is it so different to bury the carcass in the ground, which being close to permafrost is quite cold as well?

Better than hanging it in the air where the flies will get to it!

But that said, would I want to eat it. Nope. I think I’ll pass.

 And once again I learn the lesson that I’m constantly learning and that is to think, think, think before I say something!