It’s a quiet, green summer morning. The watery humidity makes birds’ calls sound liquid and amplified. The smell of the fresh-mown grass in the field around the house is mixing with the smell of coffee at my elbow. The air is clean and cool, the sunlight diffused by high, puffy white clouds whose underbellies show that hint of charcoal that predicts rain. The old, shaggy trees are rustling in the slight wind so loudly at the bottom of the field, their leaves sound almost like rainfall. The green crabapples on the tree just outside the window are swelling; a sleek and healthy coyote just trotted up past the house. A heron is scouting out the meadows from the top of the tallest hemlock for plump baby frogs and juicy little snakes.
It hard to believe the things I well know are happening all over the world, sitting here. It’s a powerful cognitive dissonance, reconciling this pristine, preserved, as-yet unchanged place with the shit that’s going on “out there” – the massive-scale insanity of hydraulic fracturing, the plastic and trash deposit in the Pacific Ocean the size of Alaska, Manhattan-sized chunks of ice falling and melting into oceans at the poles, the terrible wreckage caused by fire, drought, flood, and storms all across this country, right now: crops dead and lost, people and animals displaced, trees dying.
Just now, as I was writing about fracking and ocean trash, the sunlight slipped through the clouds and lit the grass and gilded the trees. The crickets are humming. The clouds are casting shadows on the mountains’ furry green blanket of trees.
This cognitive dissonance also intrudes naturally into every decision I make about food. Food is not a simple thing. Deciding what to eat carries implications that go far beyond our own mouths and stomachs. Grocery shopping has become possibly more powerful than voting.
And I am resolutely, unquestioningly nonjudgmental in almost all things except other people’s shopping carts. I can’t help it. When I see a conveyer belt heading for the cashier loaded with individual plastic-wrapped high-fructose corn-syrup-laden GMO-heavy processed corporate-stamped dreck, I blanch like a Victorian maiden aunt whose niece is running out of the house in rouge and plunging neckline. “There goes the world,” I gasp to myself with the hand-fluttering futility of the privileged, overly well-informed first-world consumer.
My mother, who is recovering from her recent surgery with her usual zest and amazing capacity to heal, has once again been questioning her own eating habits and practices in its aftermath. I am always available to discuss the topic, so our emails lately have centered anew, for the thousandth time, on What and How To Eat.
She and I have been talking about fish. Buying fresh fish is fraught. Wild salmon? Endangered. Farmed salmon? Full of PCBs. Tuna, swordfish? Loaded with mercury and endangered. Sea bass? Endangered. Haddock, hake, cod? Overfished.
So I generally buy tins of so-called “sustainable” little ocean fish that are, luckily, both delicious and healthy: herring, mackerel, sardines. We eat them on hot toast with a smear of mayonnaise and another of horseradish, or over a big plate of salad greens with avocado, red pepper, and cucumber. Who knows if they’re really okay? Who knows if anything is, anymore?
My mother, who, at the suggestion of a doctor, experimentally went vegan a number of months ago, thrived on an animal-free diet and embraced it completely. But now she’s started eating those oily little canned fish again, because she can’t stand eating soy anymore, the mainstay of vegans, since most of it is genetically modified. She buys the same brand of tinned fish I do, I learned yesterday: Bar Harbor. She also reminded me yesterday that we visited their factory when we spent a summer with my grandparents in a Maine farmhouse, the summer I turned 8. I have no memory of this, but it’s kind of nice to know that I’ve been to the source of my go-to seafood.
However, last night, we splurged and compromised and wickedly ate wild-caught salmon. A pound and a third of Alaskan sockeye cost $17.45 at the local Hannaford, a price that reflects how rare it is and how far it had to come.
I put a can of chipotles in adobo sauce in the blender with a dollop of safflower mayonnaise and whizzed it. I poured this spicy, creamy sauce over the fish and baked it in a hot oven until it was sizzling and cooked through. I served it with chard steamed with garlic, and wild rice cooked with vegetable broth and a minced onion.
My pleasure in eating that rich, flaky, sweet-tasting fish was unspoiled by my knowledge of the implications of eating it, but I was in no way unaware of them. It almost made me appreciate and love the salmon more than I would have if it had been abundant, caught nearby, cheap and plentiful and perfectly safe in the food chain. My pleasure in this landscape follows the same trajectory. I love it more, find it even more beautiful, because it’s so threatened and rare.