When I was sixteen or so, I was fishing in the Laurentian mountains (Quebec, Canada) and hooked and landed, what was for me, a massive trout. I swiftly bonked it on the head and took it home for dinner. I could have released it. But I chose to keep it to eat instead.
That evening, as I ate the fish, I remember gazing through the kitchen window at the lake. It was a perfect evening. The sky transitioned from a fiery red to a dark blue, with every shade of orange and yellow in between. The lake was like glass. A few clouds spotted the horizon like sheep in a field. And I remember tearing up and having difficulty with each bite. This fish could have been in the lake, swimming with its friends (I assume trout have friends), basking in these calm waters. Not more than an hour ago it was. Now it’s on my plate.
Just this last weekend, I was fishing in Missisquoi Bay (Venise-en-Quebec). I hooked a giant pike which was unfortunately mortally wounded. It could not be released, so I bonked it on the head, cooked it, and ate it with the family. Video here. And yet even now, some 20 years later, there is a part of me that has difficulty eating the fish that I catch, kill, clean and cook myself.
As I sit here eating the leftovers in a salad, I recognize that there is a part of me that would (wrongly) prefer to eat flavorless tuna out of a can – even though I know the tuna is less healthy, and the industry around tuna fishing far worse for the environment. I appreciate how totally backwards my emotions are. And I appreciate that it is the product of being too detached from the process itself.
As I eat this pike, I have to visualize where it came from. Where I took it from. What it was like to take its life. Cut it open. See what was in its stomach – what it had been eating in the last minutes of its life. I can smell it in my mind’s eye.
I say that I “have to” visualize it, not out of a moral obligation or meditative habit, but simply because I am forced to – the experience of killing it is engrained in my psyche. I did it. It was not done by someone else, out of sight, out of smell, out of mind. It is the product of my own hands, and I can’t hide behind the executioner.
My emotions are utterly hypocritical, and I know it. The feeling of unease I have literally eating my own kill is the result of being too far removed from the cycle of life. When it’s sitting there on a shelf or behind glass, it’s just meat. When I take it from its natural habitat to put in my stomach, it’s something much more personal. It’s a transformative experience that people ought to go through.
I always joke that if I had to slaughter my own cow, I’d be a vegetarian. I know that’s not true, although I still don’t plan on slaughtering a cow myself just to prove a point. But this weekend’s experience with the pike has made me realize that I take too much comfort in hiding behind the executioner. It has brought me closer to, and made me more spiritually aware of the intimate relationship that is living off the land, just like it did 20 years ago.
Or maybe I’m just overthinking eating a fish. So here’s a fidget spinner rainbow 😉