Feeling for the fish


Having lived in Japan for so long, I have become acclimatized to some foods that might have had me cringing a decade ago back in the safely familiar surroundings of Essex. I remember my first work party here, a few weeks off the boat and invited to a night of drunken debauchery where even the most somber of teachers had not only drowned their worries in booze, but given them a burial at an alcoholic sea.

At the party I was treated to a very traditional Japanese meal, dish followed dish in an endless stream of grub that both confused and intrigued me. Everything was new, including a huge abalone, grilled on a miniature hearth like contraption, the shellfish has an almost obscene quality to it, and is far from my favorite food in Japan, but I devoured it with a reserved air of gusto. I was informed later that the poor little critter was still alive when it was put to the flames, I felt sorry for a creature that is little more than a blob in a shell.

Fast forward 9 years and I’m sitting in the beautiful riverside retreat that we visit every year, being treated to ayu or sweet fish for Father’s Day. The particular restaurant we visited pride themselves on the freshness of their wares, and 6 skewed fish were brought to our table, still twitching and grasping to the last shred of life that lay before them. I didn’t really have the opportunity to voice my discomfort, as they were sprinkled with salt and thrown into a piping hot grill right before our eyes. Of course this is how us non-vegetarians get our food, by killing a fellow sentient being, but their death is normally shrouded from our view, with succulent steaks and juicy chops conveniently wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic, creating a complete disconnect between the meal we will soon enjoy and the once living creature that provided it.

So why should I feel more guilty actually witnessing the animals death then when I pick up a slab of meat from the supermarket? Surely that concept is far more barbaric, an animal killed, chopped up into little pieces and sent to locations nation (and possibly world) wide. So why did seeing a fish die before me make me feel so uncomfortable? Am I living in so much denial I don’t even realize where my food comes from? Possibly…but I still ate the fish, I still had a great time with my little family and will no doubt be treated to something similar next Father’s Day, I just need to either become vegetarian or learn some coping techniques before then.