The transition from one year t the next is always a good time to reflect since it is a natural (even if invented) break. It would probably make more sense to have the new year start on the solstice since that is a clear transition point, but then it is rather pagan and I guess that would create some consternation in certain circles. So we have drawn a line a week and a half into the new season and said, “this is the beginning” and so here we are at the start of a new year. Personally I double down on the new years because I participate in a faith practice that celebrates the new year somewhere between late summer and early fall, also arbitrary because it is ‘lunar with a correction’ but whatever. During that holiday you spend a lot of time reflecting on where you have been and where you want to be, what you have done well and what you need to work on. Not unlike the reflection that comes with creating resolutions, but because I do the earlier holiday I tend to get to this winter transition and the whole thing becomes a little anti-climatic. Theoretically at any rate I am already well into the work of where I want to be, or at least I have been thinking about it and now, now, now, maybe is the moment I can use to switch from thought to action.
This fall I started thinking about my relationship to food. More specifically I have been thinking about my relationship to food that itself thinks at some point during its life cycle. I have spent periods of my life not eating meat, but never completely because it’s something that I like, and that I crave and I do trust my body to tell me what it needs. In general I don’t think it is morally or ethically wrong to eat other creatures. I do think that effectively torturing animals for our convenience is wrong, also failing to properly steward populations so that we cause massive die-offs is bad. The thing is really we eat too much from the creature category and that creates problems. So I have been thinking about this and how I fit into the bigger picture of creature consumption even if I try to buy only the well-treated, happy creatures, and only in moderation.
Last weekend my family and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium (if you have never been, go, immediately and often). It is a magical blend of learning, advocacy and beauty. We spent the whole day so had plenty time to linger in front of exhibits, read signs and wander back and forth to get the changing perspective throughout the day. During the feeding in the kelp forest the docent mentioned that rock fish (delicious) are seriously threatened. They have unusually long life spans (upwards of sixty years) and they they don’t breed until they reach maturity in their twenties. If we pluck them from the sea too soon they can not re-stock themselves and we will run out: bad for people who like to eat them, worse for the fish themselves and the ecosystem that surely they are an important part of. Later as I was standing at the window of one of the aquariums a lovely, coral colored rockfish broke from the pack an swam right at me; the sign to my left informed me that this fellow was also known on menus as red snapper and ‘oh’ I thought, ‘this is terrible because you are my favorite with a little butter and lemon.’ The sign also mentioned how their population has dropped by 98% since the 1970’s. The fish looked at me and I looked at the fish. “I won’t eat you anymore,” I said, and the fish nodded. “I should eat less meat in general, I know,” I said, and the fish nodded. “Maybe it’s okay as long as it’s sustainable,” I said, and the fish shook its head. “Very occasionally,” I said, and the fish shook its head. “I’ll try,” I said and the fish nodded.
Early on in the conversation with the fish my daughter walked away. When I caught up with her I told her that the fish had a message for us. “You are insane,” she said, “possible,” I replied. Anyway and regardless of my relative level of sanity there just aren’t enough rock fish out there for us to eat them. Our choices do make a difference, every change starts somewhere, maybe first with just an idea and then with an act and then an expansion and all of a sudden something is different and maybe better. This year in California a new law says that if you are an egg laying chicken you have to have enough room in your cage to turn around, that’s a good thing for the chicken for sure and a little forced reminder that we need to think about how things feel. Empathy is important, it keeps us in touch with the best part of being a human, or a creature that thinks, and I think that when the fish talks, we should listen.