Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sea Pigs

I promised myself when I started this that I would try my best to avoid anything outright offensive. Cheeky, yes. Outrageous, maybe. But just not outright offensive. I am actually a little bit proud of myself that I have made it all the way to the second post before hitting this low water mark (pun intended). But seriously, I am not actually really trying to offend here. But offend I will, I am sure. Again, for those of you who know me, this probably doesn't come as a huge shock. For those that don't, all I ask is that you bear with me. I'll try to make it all better in the end.

So, I found myself wondering why we don't eat dolphins. We seem to eat just about everything else in the sea, whether it tastes good or not. We eat it cooked, steamed, and raw. It has been posited that most Scottish food is based on a dare, but whoever came up with that theory missed the even larger dare that Icelandic folk have been involved in with their seafood. And, it's not like there is just one crazy dish, there are dozens. I won't go into huge detail, but one obvious example is Rotted Shark. Bury a shark in sand for six months and then serve cold. And don’t eat too much. It is easy to point overseas to consumption of strange foods, but right here in the U.S. people willingly eat eel and octopus. Many have assured me that it is delicious, but, having tried it, I am not so sure. But everyone in the U.S. seems to draw the lines at dolphins. It didn't seem logical.

Of course, it is hard to read anything about the movie The Cove, a film about dolphin slaughtering in Japan without being horrified. The methods used to catch the dolphins and then slaughtering resulting in the bay running red with blood are obviously horrifying. But it is not just the concept of slaughtering that seems to disturb most people – merely the concept of eating dolphins is enough to be offensive to me. But why? And the answer is not so obvious.

Here are some of the arguments I came up with.

It is inhumane to eat dolphins. This argument is really a non-starter. We, as dwellers in the 21st century have been made to feel bad about eating pretty much any meat. We’d like to believe that our food dies of old age after a nice life on an organic, free-range, eco-friendly commune with all sorts of enrichment activities to keep the animals happy until they give their lives willingly for our sustenance. Let’s be honest here- if the range were really that free, the chickens wouldn't come back. I wouldn't. Well, unless there was a really good buffet before the neck-wringing. But the reality is that we are made to feel guilty about pretty much everything we eat. But we still eat all the things we know we shouldn’t. There is a huge difference between what we like to think we do and what we actually do.

Dolphins are endangered. This argument fails on two points. First, it is not true – most common dolphin species aren’t endangered . Second, Americans don't really seem to care about endangered seafood. We eat it all the time. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great resource to use to help know what to avoid and what to eat. But, in all honesty, no matter how endangered the Chilean sea bass is, there is a small part of me that can't help but want to order it and damn the consequences. Fortunately for the Chilean sea bass, in almost all instances, the larger part of me that is incredibly cheap starts to look elsewhere on the menu for lower cost fare. So, just a fair warning - if you are picking up the tab, I will probably offend you on two counts. First, you will be a party to the further destruction of an overfished species. Second, I'm pretty much ordering the priciest thing on the menu.

Dolphins are mammals. Well, this one fails pretty easily. We eat plenty of mammals. I am sure cows would love for the mammal rule to be put into place.

Dolphins are higher mammals. Obviously, eating humans is something pretty much all of us avoid. Pretty much. But not all. It turns out that not eating humans is a pretty good practice, due to some nasty side effects . I would have to say next on the "do not eat" list would have to be chimpanzees. I'd throw gorillas on the list next, and then orang utans, and then a bunch of other higher primates. But it is not entirely obvious where to go next. Which mammal gets the next "get out of jail card”? It seems somewhat arbitrary.

Dolphins are crazy smart. Well, dolphins are crazy smart. They can do tricks. They can rescue stranded boaters. They can problem solve. But, as smart as they are, they rank below ferrets and minks. Which, although rarely served as a dish, sometimes end up as part of a stole. But, probably most damning, pigs often end up on the Animal Mensa list, and the distinction doesn’t really seem to be helping them.

And, to round out the last three: Dolphins are cute; dolphins communicate; dolphins frequently have names. Again, we fall back on the humble pig here. Pigs are cute, at least until they get too large. Dolphins whistle and click, pigs squeal. Flipper, meet Wilbur.

In the end, what it domes down to is that dolphins are called "dolphins". If dolphins were called something else, their consumption would be more palatable. It all comes down to marketing - rename the dolphin the "sea pig", and suddenly people would be rushing out to eat them. Most Americans love pork, or more precisely, bacon. We'll put bacon on anything. And when it's not handy to carry around a rasher of bacon to layer on top of all of our meals, we can carry around Bacon Salt. There are nine flavors available to date and it is also vegetarian and kosher. Think about that for a second. We love bacon so much that we want to make sure that the people who have vowed not to eat pork or even _any_ meat are not deprived of it's flavor.

The English have a long history of rebranding their meats. When was the last time you sat down for a nice big helping of cow. You didn't. We have a name for the animal, a name for the meat, and then all sorts of names for different cuts and servings of the meat. And cows are not the only example. We call the animal pigs or swine, but the meat pork. Bambi was a deer, but after the hunter is done with him, it's venison. We use all sorts of these methods to distance ourselves from our carnivorous natures. This naming tradition came to us during the hundreds of years when control of England passed back and forth with the French. Peasants raised the but the nobles ate the buef. We now have the English names for the animals (cow, pig, deer), but the French names for the meat (beef, pork, venison).

So, I am not asking you to rush out and catch yourself a dolphin, rebrand it a sea pig, and consume it in one sitting. I'm just asking you to let the concept of a sea pig to rattle around in your brain for a bit and to realize that a lot of the way that the world works is really based in large part on how we as individuals, as a community, and as a nation think that the world works. If you can change the way that you think and pass that change on to those around you, you can change the world. Plus, "sea pig" sounds funny.

Monday, September 14, 2009


First, I am fully aware that abandoned blogs outnumber active blogs by a factor of 106:1. If you think that figure is overly and unbelievably precise, then you don't really know me that well. That's OK. The hope is that after a couple months, all will become apparent. But as far as the precision goes, it does not really matter. This is the Internet. It just has to sound precise. And it does. And it has to be roughly believable. And it is. So, following those rough principles, I can say pretty much whatever I want. And those of you who do know me, know that I do just that. But miraculously (and I honestly have very little insight into this particular miracle) I end up being right an impressive portion of the time. And besides, in this Stephen Colbert-inspired world of "truthiness", once something is sufficiently believable, you can always back fill the truth via edits on Wikipedia or a dozen other sites.

So, in an effort to avoid becoming one of those abandoned blogs, I am going to pace myself. I am setting myself the goal of one post a month to start out with. I have a whole backlog of crazy to try to document, from the wonderful story of the origin of my name, to by obsession with eating Peeps, to ridiculously overblown Halloween costumes, and much more. I have just barely started to brainstorm and I'm already set into next year.

Regardless, I have found that many (but not all) people are both fascinated by the inane things that I get up to as well as openly stunned by the sheer lunacy of them. And I am not talking lunacy in the sense of strapping a rocket to a skateboard and setting a land speed record. I am not that brave. Nor lunacy in the sense of building a house of out plastic bottles or a life size scale model of a blue whale out of Lego's. I am not that committed. I am talking about the always percolating level of lunacy that is just below the boiling point but never actually comes to much. A great example might be my hatred of the penny. Sure, I might print a two-side tri-fold pamphlet and try to create a Penny Awareness Day to rally people over to my side, but it is not all consuming and, frankly, never amounts to much. But, if you are talking to me and fall short of something to say, you can always be sure that if you quote some recent news about the penny, I can be counted on to hold up my end of the conversation for the next 20-30 minutes.

So, if you have a favorite bit of lunacy that you never got the full story on, please let me know and I will add it to my list. Otherwise, stay tuned. I will try to bring the crazy into your lives.