From the Alternate History Series
Why is it so bad these days to be a commercial fisherman? What is so terribly wrong about harvesting fish to feed the general public?
Some of you might know the story of Don Quixote. For those that don’t, he was a fictional Spaniard who lived many centuries ago, toward the end of the Age of Chivalry. It was his contention that bad things were abroad in the land, and it was his God ordained duty to Right the Wrong. So accompanied by his faithful friend, Sancho Panza, he set off on horse back to do battle with the Forces of Darkness; in these days cars hadn’t been invented and it was either walk or ride a horse. Quixote chose the later.
He seemed to have a certain problem with his eyesight; things looked one way to him and looked completely different to everybody else. He traveled the far corners of the Earth, which was not only smaller then, but believed to be flat.
It was near Holland when he saw the Enemy. Fearsome, He was, too! He stood huge above the plain, with giant arms constantly in motion. Don Quixote knew at once this was the Dragon he had been born to slay. So he lowered the visor on his armored helmet, readied his sword, hoisted his lance, and, with a great yell, urging his trusty steed forward, charged the Enemy.
Sancho yelled, "Wait, it’s just a windmill". But Don Quixote knew different. His eyes told him the Truth. He urged his mount to redouble its speed.
The Battle lasted long and was hard fought. By Don Quixote, at least. The Enemy was remorseless, arms waving, spinning ceaselessly. Finally, the Don closed with it, but sadly the huge Monster struck his helmet a great blow and the Don expired. Or so some say. Others claim the Don was only stunned and continues to this day the Battle with the Great Adversary.
I can’t testify one way or the other for either account. I’m just a commercial fisherman, and what would I know of such worldly and sophisticated matters? But he was right about the Monster or dragon abroad in the land; it’s just seems as though he took on the wrong foe. Or maybe he just didn’t want to face a real Monster or a real Dragon. Windmills should be a reasonably helpless opponent. Besides he had an endless patter, and boring recitation on all the facts why the Windmill was really a Dragon.
My family has been in the fishing business since 1647. That’s a long time. Yet, that fact affords me no special insights. It’s mere history. It happened Yesterday, and so what.
Today there are Those Who Know and everyone else. Who are they? Some of them claim Special Rights because of their race, other claim Special Privileges simply because they can make the claim in the first place, others claim to have the Inside Track which gives them the right to tell everyone else What is What.
However, many commercial fishermen like myself, belong to neither of these three groups. We just harvest the fish to feed the public. Sure, some times we have a windfall, which, to one group, seems like we are getting rich. But we are not. The windfall just makes up for the lean years that proceeded it, and hopefully will carry us through the lean years to follow.
But, Some, seeing us make many thousands of dollars in a single day or even a single hour, are outraged. The Alarum is raised. "Stop these rapers and pillagers of the sea!" Any tactic, any lie that gets them off the water is necessary, and justified, neatly, for the Press. The Press tells the Public and the Battle is on. Forces are Massed. Hard pressed to make a living, the commercial fisherman, is required to use his slim financial resources to join the Battle against the wealthy Retired, the Media, and all the sycophants that gather around this group.
‘Facts’ and ‘figures’ fly. I scratch my head. Those numbers just aren’t so.
But wait! I’ll get them from the True Stewards Of The Resource, the Fisheries Managers themselves. But no, I can’t have them because ‘those numbers are released only on a need to know basis’. Today. Yesterday those numbers were in the public domain, and Managers were only too happy to give whatever numbers requested. No longer. One hundred dollars is the starting fee for any of it now. If you can get it at all.
So I, as a commercial fisherman, can’t even get the numbers to back up my case. It’s my word against Those Who Know. And who am I to them? Just some greedy nobody, who lives on some boat somewhere, surrounded by empty beer bottles and such like squalor.
We cower, cringing under insults hurled left and right. Blows are stuck upon us. We are hospitalized, injured. The Courts, if they see the case at all, slap the aggressors on the wrist, saying, "they probably were pushed too far". All is forgotten and forgiven. We lie in a hospital, wondering what did we do? Is this the reward we get for harvesting fish to feed the public? A beating?
Like a cornered mouse, we look up at the Forces looming above us, huge, arms swing down, shovels, clubs, fists, guns, knives, boots descend. We bear our teeth, squeak, and go to meet our Maker.
When last we left our poor mouse, he had just expired. Slain, crushed flat, by the Monster force of the Groups Who Are Mad.
We morn the passing of the mouse. Well, some of us, anyway. Remember that mice have a way of popping up again, unexpectedly. So maybe the mouse isn’t dead. Maybe?
But what has this to do with you, gentle reader?
You are the Public. And where were you while all this was taking place? Safe in front of the TV watching the Nightly News, as they flashed barely comprehensible sound-bites past your ears, sipping your after dinner appetif, wondering what the fuss was all about. After all, it was just a mouse. Why didn’t it get a real job like a real mouse at some big corporation, like everybody else you know?
Well, the short answer is: you have to eat to stay alive.
Some One has to harvest the food you eventually buy in the grocery store, all neatly packaged, sanitized of any human involvement. Some One always does. Some One always has. Until now. Things are changing. Maybe it’s blowing in the wind, like some malignant spore.
Does it really matter who that faceless Some One is? No, of course not, it’s no concern of yours.
You merely open the package, box, can, carton, shake, bake, stir, fry, mix, add condiment to taste, and viola… dinner is served. Once consumed there’s the dishes, of course, and then it’s on to the important stuff, the kids, the stock portfolio, paying bills and the such like.
The memory of the meal just eaten fades into a recipe book, at best, else blends into memories of other scarcely important meals once eaten.
A week, nay a day later, if asked, could you say what you had eaten on that prior day? Maybe. Some of you. Perhaps.
What other connection to your food do you have, anyway?
Well, you go to the grocery store and fill your cart, basket, what-not, until either your list is finished or your money for the week is spent. You pick your goods according to the price, packaging, and hopefully, the taste. But there is plenty of spices available to mask flat or slightly rancid flavors and odors. And sugar, yes; that will fix most anything.
What else? Well, there the time you got sick to your stomach, and the daily absolutions in the bathroom. But that’s it.
Do you suppose there’s anything more to it than that? You bet there is. It’s just that you’ve forgotten. Or so I hope.
Do you remember when you were a kid and someone first showed you a Bible, Koran, Torah? Do you remember the part about God creating every living thing, even the Earth itself? Do you remember the part about God giving Dominion to Mankind over all the plants, trees, animals, fishes and birds?
Did you ever wonder what that meant? Probably, but that was likely the end of it.
Do you think there is any connection between the food you eat and the cultural state of America as we see it reflected in the News?
"That’s just too big a leap," you say.
"Is it?", I reply.
You are what you eat, you know. And just what is it you eat?
How many products would you buy at the grocery store, if the main ingredients were listed prominently in bold, flashy type, and the hype listed obscurely, in small hard-to-read print? Just how many items, whose main ingredients were advertised as: Water! Sugar! Poly-! -id! -ic! -tide! -in! would you pay hard earned cash for? Not many. What if the box picture were of that main ingredient, and not the product? Fewer still. But that’s what you eat, that stuff, made in huge vats in some ‘food’ processing plant, somewhere in the world.
You buy it because of the nice appetizing picture on the box, and it sounds delicious. It’s just the thing for dinner!
As for meat products, how much chicken/beef/pig/farmed salmon would you buy, if prominently listed was: contains deadly bacteria, major antibiotics, rat manure, worms, red food dye?
I don’t mean to tell you not to buy these items; I do as well, but to point out just how far you are removed from the stuff you eat. How little it seems to matter, these days which stuff we eat. This is just one more step in de-humanizing food.
The main point here is not only are you totally removed from the food you eat, but also, that there is no Spiritual Quality to it as well.
"Spiritual Quality! Has he lost his head? What does that have to do with food? This guy’s really out there. Too many episodes of the ‘X-Files’, no doubt."
"Oh, have I?"
Are you a practicing Christian/Jew/Muslim? If you are, you might recall the short, and these days, perfunctory, blessing you say before you begin the meal. So there is a Spiritual Quality after all, isn’t there! (You non-religious/non-spiritual readers will just have to hang-in).
In the Christian invocation, you ask God to bless the food, and bless yourselves. Then it’s on to the repast.
I ask, what about the animal that gave it’s life that you could eat and go on living? What about the Some One who killed the animal that you could serve it on your table? Who asks God to bless them? No one, not in this day, at any rate, sadly.
It wasn’t always like that, you know. Once there was something else going on that has been forgotten, at least in America, and this is driving the country Mad.
Part III: There was supposed to be a Part III, but I got side-tracked by Some Battle with Some Monster; I’m just a fisherman, after all… Oh well.
–PIF – 10/9/1997
Addendum: April 11 2007
Just recently America became a net importer of food – sic transit gloria.