My heart hurts hearing of the BP oil spill that is even now devastating the Gulf Coast and entire communities, human and non-human, who depend on that place for sustenance, shelter, survival. Solace. The question rattles in my mind - how many more manmade tragedies before our government acknowledges that a fossil fuel based economy just does not work?
It took me a while to realize one small but particularly visceral connection to the Gulf. Recently, while writing out a shopping list for a Filipino foods workshop, I got an email telling me to cross off shrimp from the list. Shrimp may be too expensive or limited due to the spill, it said. We would substitute with a doubled amount of fresh oysters from Tomales Bay. No shrimp. It would be a very small thing to substitute an ingredient, whether by choice
or necessity. And I knew there wouldn't be any complaints about fine local sweetwaters.
But with an oil spill in the equation, the scratch of
gray carbon over "shrimps" suddenly became a slender reminder of
something much bigger. Spoiled by a seemingly ever abundant California, I never stopped to think how those succulent creatures were from Gulf waters. Now, I couldn't stop thinking of how this one recipe's changes were the tiniest outward
ripple of a food chain - and entire ways of life - destroyed at its very core.
I have never swum in Gulf waters, so I can only imagine the feelings of those in the Gulf. Maybe the closest I can relate is from living in Hawai'i. It seemed to me the ocean shivered with fish, but to the older ones it was a watery reflection of the past. And in the Philippines, when we swam over eerie, bleached coral reefs punctuated by oases of life. A local guide harvested a handful of delectable seagrapes I nearly refused - the bits of living jade seemed too rare - but I ate it as a gift. In both cases, I had never seen the abundance that was before. I received it remembered by those who knew the sea, as something people hoped to restore.
The substitute oysters used in the recipe were delicious. Pulled from Tomales Bay that morning, they tasted of that indescribable salt kiss of the sea. But still...It wasn't too long ago that the Cosco Busan oil spill coated SF Bay Area waters, lapping over beaches, sanctuaries and fisheries.
From foodies to people who just eat to survive, its impossible to ignore the impact of environmental toxins on what's for dinner (ours or anyone else's). Our memories must be long, wider than any oil spill. And if one thing is clear, it is that oil could never satisfy a hunger for the abundance of the sea.