Reub's journey

28 February 2011

I am the Walrus

' I weep for you,' the Walrus said;
'I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket handkerchief before his streaming eyes.

'O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
'You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

 A couple of years ago I was at the seafood counter of a local grocery store, waiting to buy some fish. I watched the young woman who was quickly spritzing the clams between customers. When it was my turn I commented that the clams looked fresh, and she looked at me with sad blue eyes. "I feel sorry for them," she said, "they are alive." Clad in an apron, with a hair net and gloved hands, her empathy for these shellfish about to be wrapped in cellophane and butcher paper; well, it nearly made my legs buckle. I never saw her again, but always remembered her words.

On the way home from work this evening, I stopped at the same store, the same seafood counter, to get a little fish, and was surprised to see that they had fresh mussels. Impulsively, I bought a few handfuls. The woman wrapped them neatly and as she handed them to me, she said, "You should unwrap these when you get home. If you aren't going to eat them right away, at least give them some air." I promised to fix them promptly. But I think she was still worried about them being able to breathe. Women who work behind seafood they become, all of them, sad and anxious?

As soon as I got home I unwrapped them and put them in a bowl of  icy salted water. They should be happy for a little while I thought. Can mussels be happy? I think so. I wanted to call up the store, ask to be connected to seafood, tell them I was doing the right thing.

After the mussels had a chance to relax in their cold salt water bath, I heated up some garlic, green onion, and white wine. I tossed in the mussels and they cooked in under 5 minutes. John had a few, but I was the one who finished them off, thoughtfully.

"I like the Walrus best," said Alice, "because you see, he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."


  1. Cut and touching. I do love shellfish, but we should be more like the native American and honor the animals with thankfulness before we eat them. I still have problems cooking crabs! You asked about the birds and they were in an aviary...but it had a number of holes and we were told that if the birds left, they returned for the food!

  2. That is supposed to be you have guessed.

  3. I LOVE this post. Beautiful. The food chain is reality, but we CAN be respectful.

    When I cook bivalves, I always thank them for being such great nutrition (before I toss them in the pot to cook).

    Raw oysters (as they euphemistically refer to them)? I will NOT eat them. Everyone has a boundary; that is mine.

  4. No pun intended, but you have provided food for thought. I doubt I will ever thing about shellfish in the same light.

  5. Beautifully worded story! Love the sensitivity of the ideas! And great photos!

  6. Your second pic is great, but after your post I don't know if I can disengage seeing them on my plate from the fact that they once were alive.

  7. I always think about those poor lobsters. Your story is nicely told.

  8. what a beautiful story
    you write so eloquently

  9. This is a wonderful story, Kerry. I like mussels a lot and no, I didn't know they were alive when the cooking process began.
    Crawfish, or crayfish, are also living when they are thrown into the boiling pot.
    "If the mussel doesn't open, don't eat it," I was told. They were not alive when the cooking process started.

    Thank you for your visit and nice comment. Happy MidWeek Blues.
    We enjoy visiting London a lot. Our daughter moved here with her family in July. Seems we come about every other month or that they come back to Texas for a visit.

  10. Beautifully written:-)
    I wonder how many of us would continue to eat the things we do if we had to kill and prepare them first. I've never liked the idea of cooking live lobsters though I must admit I'd never thought about mussels.

  11. Murderer!

    My heart breaks when I see the lambs in the fields and the mother cows bellowing for their calves; living in a rural landscape life and death are permanently on display.

    I weep and eat.

  12. It's funny, isn't it, Kerry? I get what you and the seafood people are talking about. There's no need to be cruel, even as we participate in the food chain...and yet...

    It's a different kind of dismissive to assume that all things feel, and think as we do. To assign our desires, or emotions to a mussel. Is that empathy? Or is it somewhat arrogant to have to drag every form of life, no matter how unlike us, into our sphere in order to feel for it?

    I honestly don't know but when I think about the life of a mussel...I almost hope it can't be happy, because that would mean the reverse was true also, the ability to be unhappy.

    I'm a big fan of treating food sources ethically, but as I thought about the sad-eyed seafood clerk, what I really thought was that ...she's assigning her feelings to the mussel...wouldn't it be interesting if the reverse could be true, for just a moment so that we could find out what, if anything the mussels feelings are on the matter?

    I don't think mussels have complex thoughts or emotions...and I don't think I believe that because I'm trying to make peace with "Oh well, they don't suffer!" but rather that they have entirely different sort of nervous system.

    Hmmm. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

    What a good post, Kerry. It certainly inspired much thought. I guess I feel equally sorry for us, the only way for us to understand something beyond, or different from ourselves? Is to try and make it like ourselves in our own minds. I do it too, by the way. It's just the thought that caught me.

    It's compassionate...and yet...oddly marginalizing, too.

  13. It's stories like these that make me glad I am a vegetarian. :))

  14. This is a beautiful post written with such an unexpected subject.

    But, yes, I think of these things too - the creatures. The ones boiled alive - erk - or chopped up while still alive *swoon* ...

    Yes, respect for what we consume . . . *smiling*

  15. I forgot - you asked what a Kings Cake is -

    It's a New Orleans/South Louisiana/Mardi Gras thing -- it's baked in a circle - has icing and the MG colors in sugar on top, and sometimes has a ... dang - let me just give you a link! :-D

  16. Hey everybody. I am amazed at the number of responses to this walrus episode of mine, the strange little shudder of guilt brought on by-of all things-shellfish. Like there aren't enough things to feel guilty about already.

    But still.

    Yeah, in spite of their relatively undeveloped nervous systems, lack of ability to think, emote, speak, or move, I think when a living creature has all of its needs met that there is a measure of "happiness" involved. And therefore there is also a measure of unhappiness when those needs aren't met and the creature is put under stress. Since I am arguing this (at the moment) it does not even help to be vegetarian, does it? Because plants can be put under stress too! So I don't intend to starve myself, but what I can do is be respectful, remember where my food is coming from, try to know the sources of my food, and to treat everything "humanely." The term "humane" implies human qualities, though, and that is what made me add salt to the cold water in the minutes before cooking the mussels. I wanted them to be happy. I think this was pretty much a delusional act, but it didn't cost me anything,and there is a very small (but annoyingly loud) part of me that is pleased to have done it.

  17. Hey Kathryn,
    Kings cake has to be made between Jan 6 and Mardi Gras according to your link! Guess I better put it in the file for next year!


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