By Jack Sypher
Growing up, I remember my dad taking me out on the boat crabbing during the late summer and early fall months on the Elk River. I remember his passion for fishing leading us wherever there was water. I recall hooking myself in the back of the head trying to cast on the banks of the Brandywine, “actively fishing” in the surf at Cape Henlopen State Park, learning to fly fish up in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania, mackerel fishing in Eastport, Maine, and canoeing up and down the Brandywine, casting all along the way.
As I grew up, I remember learning many skills. My father taught me to do for myself, wherever possible. Where fishing once meant anytime the line broke my dad would tie on and I would inevitably lose another lure a few casts later, it came to mean that if I broke the line, I tied on a new swivel and attached a lure myself. Where crabbing once meant a cold and early morning of pulling traps and then relaxing while dad picked clean the crabs for me, it came to mean that once the crabs were cooked – it was time for me to pick clean and eat my share. Hooking my own mealworms, threading turkey necks through the gullet in the crab traps so they stayed there, gutting and cleaning fish, I learned all of this and more.
I never gave much thought to the fact that animals were animals and animals were food. Fast forward a few years, and I’m now studying environmental science at UD. I have friends who are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and every other dietary preference one could list. I have tried these different dietary choices, mostly out of a sense of stubbornness when my friends thought I couldn't do it. Eventually, I would prove them wrong but then go back to eating anything and everything in front of me, still while not thinking too much about the food in front of me.
I heard my vegan friends share arguments like, “The economics of being vegan are two-fold. By choosing to eat vegan, not only are you not spending money on meat [i.e., decreasing demand, you are creating demand for plants and plant-based alternatives. Over time this will shift the supply, resulting in diminished production of animal products and fewer animals killed. That’s why I eat vegan.”
Ultimately, I settled on being a pescatarian. While those arguments worked in changing my behavior, I don’t think all people can be convinced by those same arguments. Furthermore, what spoke to me in those arguments was not necessarily the pure economics, or the environmental impacts, or even the ethical aspect. What struck me was how today we live in a place that actively obscures food production to the point that we’re no longer connected to our food.
With 9 to 5 jobs, it’s impossible for folks to grow and raise their own food, especially in urban and suburban settings. But even beyond that, industrialized agriculture means producing things quickly, quietly, and by the most inexpensive method possible. That’s the economics of feeding a country. Meat processing plants, while not only dangerous for their employees, also sanitize the process of killing and cleaning our food for us so we don’t have to face it ourselves. That’s scary.
We’ve all seen the numbers about the greenhouse gas emissions created by livestock. The message of this article isn’t one of the optimal choices and following science without hesitation, rather it is a moral question of what we’re comfortable eating and why. While being conscientious about what food we eat is important, what’s also important is understanding where our food comes from.
Where I’ve settled is that I don’t feel comfortable eating things I don’t feel comfortable catching, killing, and cleaning to eat. What that means to me is that I should know where my food comes from, be it plants or seafood, whenever possible. I’m not faultless in this regard, but what matters to me is that I’m asking what I believe are the right questions. Others may feel comfortable with killing chickens, or pigs, or cows, and that’s their choice to make. What I struggle with, is letting someone else do all the raising, killing, and cleaning for me and never once seeing that animal as an animal.
For folks who appreciate nature because of the bounty it provides, the bounty that is still there for those willing to work for it, I make an appeal–ask yourself where your line is, what dietary choices you’re willing to change to ensure that the bounty is there for the next generation to enjoy–because I think all kids should appreciate having freshly caught crab meat picked and shared by a loving parent.
Acknowledgment: I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these choices are easier for me due to my relative privilege. As the child of two white-collar workers living in the suburbs of North Wilmington, my parents were afforded vacation time, and had the disposable income to allow for a boat,fishing rods, and crab traps. Not everyone has grown up having parental figures with time, money, and the experience to enjoy these pastimes. While my experiences are not universal, I do believe there is value in everyone, regardless of circumstance, reflecting on how they relate to their food, especially as we stare down the effects of climate change. Though the ability to make choices may differ due to economic circumstance, the intentionality with which we approach our food is a choice only we can make.