There he was, a flash. We all gasped and pointed, delighted shrieks peppering the deck of the old boat. One thousand pounds of iridescent silver, a beast that slipped through the water like silk despite itself.
Look! I yelled, squinting to penetrate the glare to the depths. Look at his fins - they're YELLOW!
Duh, said my brother-in-law. YELLOW-FIN-TUNA.
Right. Well, yes. Fair enough. But still so unexpected, his back neatly trimmed with a row of dragon spikes of highlighter neon. Cresting and diving, ravaging a school of trapped mackerel. They darted in panicked unison, imminent consumption rippling through them from one to the next. The graceful predator unknowingly stalked in turn by a team of hundred year-old dories anchoring and tightening the encircling net, hand over hand.
I stand there in the grocery aisle with a can in my hand, $2.29, suddenly uncomfortable.
Finally one fisherman hollered to the others Hup! and from one dory to another a loaded rifle was hastily passed. It's quickest, they'd told us in preparation for the harvesting. To harvest, a gentler verb.
The great fish breathed, his shining heft now pressed up against wooden ribs. One shot, my throat constricted in some instinct and into the water drained electric red, life. And he was then one thousand pounds and $40,000 of Tokyo-bound food. In years past they plucked tuna from this bay like apples from a basket, dozens at a time. Life Magazine came here in the 1960s to document the bounty from the public wharf in front of what is now my parents' house and in grainy black and white, men posed stiff-backed, solemnly proud atop mountains of silver flesh.
Now, inexplicably, the tuna have retreated offshore. The lone fish we witnessed a few years ago marked the first in a long time - a celebrated local event. I remember being exhilarated, honoured to see such a glorious creature. The fact that it got shot was forcibly diminished.
I've always eaten meat. Heck, I wake up by dunking my face into a vat of chilled bacon grease. The slab of protein on my plate is beef, not cow. Tenderloin, not pig. Necessary semantics. I've always admired vegetarians in the same distant, mystified way I've admired mountaineers or extreme spelunkers or Dick Proenneke. You are admirable, and interesting, and likeable, but kinda KOOKY. Thinking kooky in fascinated and affectionate defense, thinking you are most certainly from a different planet. Thinking I could never do that.
Confronted by the history of what's on my plate, that someone had to do my dirty work. Birthed and penned and processed and canned in factory and laboratory-style. Confronted by a desire to have more respect for life and death, ours and theirs and his. Confronted by the simple facts of what's healthy, imagining what it would feel like to be free of meat's bodily slug trail. Then locked-in cultural hardwiring. Not going to happen.
Like coming out or finding God I'm feeling open to something new, unsure of what it all means. Prepared for the family to take the piss out of me at first opportunity. Don't know that I'm particularly capable of living sans-sausage. Don't know that I'm wealthy or knowledgeable or driven enough to do it properly. Don't know that I can make something called tempeh edible. At least not without a whole lotta ketchup.
But I'm inspired. Not to be righteous, nor smug, nor to McDemonize. Just for health, for starters. It may not be for me. It may be vegetarian-lite. It may be vegetarian Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays minus Christmas and Thanksgiving. Perhaps a transitional label... wait, I've got it. Fairweatherish, newleafitarian cheesyeggism. 'Cause until I'm savvy enough to turn tofu, we're going to be up to our elbows in quiche.