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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Arctic life - your questions answered
Food writer Stefan Gates, in the Arctic Circle making a TV programme about food and survival, answers a selection of your questions about his Inuit hosts and their food and lifestyle.

Stefan writing his piece for the BBC News website

Hello from the Arctic. For anyone who's been following our progress, you may be interested to know that we hacked apart the several tonnes of icebergs that were blocking our boats in, and escaped from the remote survival hut.

We are back in the small town of Iglulik for a well-needed shower and to continue filming, and are now discovering the dramatic changes in domestic Inuit lifestyle caused by a move away from subsistence hunting.

Last night I ate raw, rotten walrus: a local delicacy called Igunak. I won't forget that in a hurry.

A couple of days ago, I asked if you had any questions for me or our Inuit hosts, and we received hundreds from all over the world. They were brilliant questions, and if we have not answered yours here, I'm truly sorry - it is either because it's covered comprehensively in the film that we're making, or because we simply ran out of time and Marc, the director, is demanding that I get back out into the bitter cold to do some more filming.

At no stage have I nicked your question to ask on camera later this week to make myself seem more intelligent and perspicacious than I really am.

Q... Why do people live where they live? If the place is dangerous and food is dwindling? Furthermore, what will the Inuit finally do when global warming gets worse - stay (and enjoy the sunshine) or move to the bigger towns in the South?
From: Temitayo Omole, Abuja, Nigeria

A... This question crops up quite often - if life is so bad, why not just move? There are two angles to this - firstly, and most obviously, the connection of people to their homelands is immensely strong, and often defines who they are socially, culturally and religiously, and to move elsewhere would destroy them.

I have found this in the worst refugee camps in northern Uganda, and in the poorest places in Afghanistan. In any case, although there are social problems and life is difficult here in Iglulik, I have met no-one who wants to leave.

These people have endured harsh conditions for thousands of years, and rather than leaving, they are actively trying to adapt their lives to the modern world.

But also, there are practical issues that are rarely discussed - it may be tremendously difficult, if not impossible for an entire society to move, even if the people wanted to. Few people welcome refugees (look at the resistance to immigrants in the UK itself), administrations tend to see them as a burden and the people themselves often do not have the money or resources to move house, buy land (if you are moving from a desolate place, you are unlikely to be able to sell your house in order to buy another somewhere better).

I have also met people who just do not have the money or resources to travel at all.

Stefan eating seal meat

Q... I can't imagine eating raw meat. How did you do it? How much did you eat? Did you feel like throwing up at all?
From: Shelly Muchayi, Halifax, Canada

A...I am actually very fond of raw meat so it was not a problem for me, although I know that some people are a bit squeamish about it. It is the only way to eat beef fillet, in my opinion, and sashimi is one of my favourite meals.

For the Inuit, storage of food used to be a major issue - with no refrigeration in the summer, they developed Igunak (rotted, then frozen walrus meat) as a preservation method.

But by eating raw meat, as we did with the seal that we caught, at least you know that it is superbly fresh - it won't have had the time to develop botulism, for instance.

There is, however, an issue with something called trichinellosis, caused by eating animals infected with the larvae of a particular species of worm. It can be found in some bear, fox, horse, seal or walrus meat. I am rather hoping that I have not caught it as symptoms range from nausea, fever and itchy skin to death.

Q... Did seal, walrus and caribou all taste like chicken?
From: Carl, Liverpool

A... This one crops up all the time - I am not sure who started the rumour that every unusual food tastes like chicken - some feckless journalist wanting to create a soundbite, I guess.

The truth is, it is nonsense, but flavour references can be difficult when you are describing something unusual. I usually say that food tastes of what it is. The taste of rotten walrus (Igunak) is basically what your imagination supplies: picture a walrus, imagine what that smells like, then think about it rotting for 18 months and imagine what that smells like. Yup, you're spot on.

Seal, however, tastes just like beef fillet. Beluga whale tastes like raw large squid (ie it does not taste of that much), slightly seawater-ish, and it is very very chewy, and has a lot of fat.

Incidentally, lamb's testicles taste quite testicular (slightly musky and sweaty - but in a good way), camel's hump tastes of Spam, and crocodile tastes of slightly fishy pork, but it is very fatty.

Q... Please describe how cold - minus 65 degrees C really is?
From Michael Irwin, Dublin, Ireland

A... Bloody freezing.

Read Stefan's account earlier this week of life in the far north of Canada.

The new series of Cooking in the Danger Zone will be shown on BBC Four in February 2007 and repeated on BBC Two.

Hunting in the Arctic wilderness
17 Oct 06 |  Programmes
Company sells kayaks to the Inuit
09 May 06 |  North West Wales
Time to return the Arctic favour
20 Jan 06 |  Science/Nature
Inuit sue US over climate policy
08 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
Arctic ice 'disappearing quickly'
28 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Inuit threat over global warming
11 Dec 03 |  Americas
Toxin threat to Inuit food
01 Apr 03 |  Science/Nature


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