On the Moveable Rocks

“First there was nothing”; the words which Annie Dillard chooses to open her essay “Life on the Rocks: The Galapagos” could not get very much more evocative. In the same sentence, Dillard suggests that nothing is relatable to something more tangible to us “the Pacific”. And so begins the essay that perhaps best illustrates Dillard’s project in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

Dillard spends much of the “Life on the Rocks” section of her book doing what she does best—weaving narratives about her explorations and experiences in nature together with the natural histories of the animals and geological characters in the those narratives and then relating them to bigger world. Even being familiar with Dillard and her propensity for doing this, “Life on the Rocks” is a particularly impressive bit of writing. Perhaps this is partly because, in addition to being excellent example of her characteristic writing techniques, it is also her book in miniature. What I propose is that in Teaching a Stone to Talk, Dillard is commenting on the reflections—or perhaps, misreflections—of the natural world in what she observes in society.

From a deep discussion of the science of evolution and natural uniqueness of the Galapagos, Dillard turns to a discussion on how human society has corrupted the science of evolution. From the fundamentalist Christians who “of course, still reject Darwinism” to the “even less appealing… social Dawinists”, Dillard devotes a fair amount of time to discussing how society has misread the science of Darwin and an understanding on the fundamentals of natural history as well.

In this book, I think Dillard’s greatest goal is to show the similarities between nature and humanity and also highlight where she sees we seem to have lost sight of our own natural history. In this, “Life on the Rocks” is the epitome of the argument. “The mountains are no more fixed than the stars”, she writes, explaining how everything, from the geology of the earth, to the existence of the species we see around us everyday, to our own thoughts and ideas and societies, are subject to changeability. In placing the discussion of the social Darwinists and their ilk among the narratives of the moveability of life on earth, I think she also stressed the futility of humanity’s own thoughts on the matter. However much we may rail against the turning of the tides, “the very landscapes heave; change burgeons into change”.

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Essaying with Shields

I think there is something fundamentally essayistic happening in the writing of David Shields. Perhaps this is self-explanatory and redundant given that he is writing essays. Nevertheless, the fact that the entirety of his book is a long experiment, an artistic and philosophical exercise, there is something fundamentally essayistic happening. What I mean to say is, he isn’t just writing an essay and the pieces within the book are not simply essays in and of themselves.

If the point of an essay is to attempt or to (verb) essay, then David Shield’s writing might as well be the Montaigne and the Emerson of our time. His philosophical argument is essentially that nonfiction writing should break with the conventions set out for it in the past centuries. There are most specific ways of looking at this—one can view it through the lens of property laws, originality and the use of quotations, and many more. But it really boils down to discarding with old conventions. How is this more or less radical than what Montaigne did in coining the essay? Or what Emerson did in suggesting that to be great is to be misunderstood?

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”, King Lear asks in the eponymous play, written by Shakespeare. “Who is it than can tell me who I am?”, Shields asks in his book, his essaying essay. The question is fundamental to humankind. Not a one of us exists who has probably not wondered this question. And while we might all try to propose an answer, I doubt there’s a one of us that can really answer the question satisfactorily.

Originality is a funny thing that way. We all want to claim it and yet none of truly can. I think that this is a fundamental idea behind the essay, and one that Emerson in particular understood well. As much as we are essaying and hoping for answers, its for our own gratification alone. We’re not going to answer even the basest of questions for those that come after us. We all have to answer these questions however we may, and Shields is proposing one such way. It is up for us to decide how far we’re willing to follow him.

The Horizon is a Circle, After All

In reading the works of Emerson, what is most readily apparent to me is that these single essays are continuations of each other. Take for example, “Circles”, “Self-reliance”, and “Experience”. From the first through to the lattermost, the same themes repeatedly surface, often with mirrored poetics and philosophical thrusts.
“The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.” –Emerson, “Circles”

This passage comes from the essay “Circles”, and meditates on selfness of our thoughts and actions. The imagery and philosophy is wholly loyal to the essay’s title and the rest of the content. The images of circles expanding, as ripples from a water droplet, are echoed throughout the essay and as Emerson tackles the “degrees of idealism” and “conversation” which he states is a “game of circles”, we repeatedly see that he is making an argument about the many interlocking and continuous—if discordant—aspects of our lives.

That being said, if you had not read the essay “Circles”, you could be entirely forgiven for feeling like the above passage came from the essay “Self-reliance”. This essay is famous for proclamations such as “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.” And “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” The passage from “Circles” is, if slightly poetically distinct by virtue of it’s circular imagery, philosophically consistent with the content from “Self-reliance”. In both of these, an argument is made about the originality of our thoughts and actions and the worth these things have.

Further in “Self-reliance”, Emerson introduces a new metaphor: that of travel. This is both a literal lesson and a highly symbolic one.

“Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.” –Emerson, “Self-reliance”

It is clear that it fits the slant of the rest of the essay, being a commentary on the way we pursue that which we think will expand our horizons. And in this way, while the poetics and symbols being used have evolved significantly from “Circles”, the connection to that essay still exists. As does a connection to the essay “experience”. From that essay we get the passage:

“Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in. Embark, and the romance quits our vessel, and hangs on every other sail in the horizon. Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it. Men seem to have learned of the horizon the art of perpetual retreating and reference.” –Emerson, “Experience”

In this essay, Emerson has moved onto a more specific discussion of the self—the way that grief is experienced and mentalized. However, in this passage, we can see how his thoughts are still being influenced by the thinking we saw in the prior essays. The poetics of ships and travel are retained from “Self-reliance” and the themes, while now being addressed in the context of grief, are retained all the way from “Circles”.

This is not a radical insight. Nor, do I think that to say that I feel that Emerson’s essay probably make the best sense only in light of each other, is a very radical proposal. That being said, this fact provided me some of the greatest joy when reading these essays.

Moths to a Flame

There is something interested about all of the essays that we have read thus far. From Montaigne to Dillard to White, all the pieces use a poetic and lofty-feeling language—to someone who studies essays in a historical or post-academic context, this may not be unusual at all. However, for students of the “academic essay”, this is a remarkable subversion of the familiar. The very fact that these essays do not conform to the image many of us have, is reminiscent of the discussion of the uncanny from class, earlier this week.

Despite this uncanniness, the poetics of the essay may be my favorite thing about the form of writing. I was already familiar with Dillard, but in the essay “The Death of the Moth, I was struck again by how powerful the prose she uses is, and how intertwined it is with the “thesis” of her writing. I remember from reading her book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, that the individual stories and the way they were woven together, narratively, were essentially an elaborate set-up of proofs for her bigger point. I was not surprised, therefore to find the same strategy at play in this, shorter bit of writing. The story is told using language we associate with poetry or even some classical fiction-writers. Take for instance:

“They hissed and recoiled, lost upside down in the shadows among my cooking pans. Or they singed their wings and fell, and their hot wings, as if melted, stuck to the first thing they touched—a pan, a lid, a spoon—so that the snagged moths could flutter only in tiny arcs, unable to struggle free.” – Dillard

The drama is heightened with words like “hissed” and “recoiled” and “struggle”—the moths in their death throes are described as one might describe a much larger and more advanced creature, painting us a very visceral picture. And these words are, of course very much relevant to her thesis—as we might consider it—which is not revealed until the very end of the piece. She ultimately wants to have her students think about what it might mean to give yourself up to be a writer, to abandon your life for your craft. The story of these moths flinging themselves in drama and furor through flames are so described because the moths are not so much moths in her minds as they are herself (or other writers) flirting with the idea of “[giving] your lives and be writers”.

I think that this particular piece, and Dillard’s writing in general, is exemplary of an idea Montaigne first put forth, and for which the essay is named; namely, that in an essay you are “essaying”. The essay is an action. It is an experiment of thought put forth in writing. It must, necessarily, be contradictory to itself at times, but “never contradict the truth”. In “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, Dillard contradicts herself in huge ways when she expresses simultaneous disgust and wonder at the continual march of nature, seemingly at the ignorance of the individual lives extinguished in the procession of time. In this essay, there is not so dramatic a contraction, but elements of it are still there. Perhaps elements of this idea are found in the irony that she can recognize the life that once existed as a moth, because she has studied so many dead and dying moths. Or perhaps it is that she says, it is “just as well”, that her students dismiss her deep ponderings as ravings.

In the Forest with a Living Ghost

Our headlamps and flashlights cut through the deep midnight blackness and illuminate stretches of woods in front of us. There was no moon that night, and underneath the cathedral-high canopy of loblolly pines the multitude of starry pinpricks offer no background light for us to work by, so our artificial lights were all we had to illuminate our surroundings. Ahead of us stretched a line of ultra-fine nets designed to catch birds—mist-nets, named for the way the thin mesh seems to shimmer and disappear as you walk up to it at an angle. Hanging low in one of the nets ahead of us was an animated bundle of brown and white; the bundle jerked and twisted as our lights approached, and when I reached for the bundle, a pair of wide, breathtakingly yellow eyes turned and fixed me with an unblinking stare.

It was the season for catching Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadius), and that’s precisely what hung in the net. At just after midnight, it was bitter cold—the following morning would be the first of the season with frost. I worked fast, finding the loops of netting caught on the owl’s wings and around its head mostly by touch, and working them off with precise tugs. The feet came last, and I was glad that my fingers were going numb from the cold when the bird flexed its feet rapidly, driving two wickedly thin and curved lead-gray talons into the pad on my middle finger. After the owl was free and my finger, now with small beads of blood welling up from the tiny holes in it, had been extricated from the owl’s grip, I quickly grabbed a soft mesh bag, and placed the bird in it—feet last.

A few hundred feet along the net, a second bird was hanging. Using the same movements as before, I extracted this owl as well, and by the time I had finished that Dan Small, my colleague on this cold night, had finished checking the rest of the nets and was holding a mesh bag of his own, complete with a wriggling, bill-snapping owl. We pile into the truck and take the long, bouncy, dirt trail back to the heated shack we use as our base of operations. From this shack Dan’s wife, Maren Gimpel oversees the Chester River Field Research Station’s Saw-whet Owl banding project. Tonight, she’s already headed out to sleep, but Dan and settle down and shed a few of our outermost layers, before quickly placing small metal bands on the legs of our owls. We take measurements, age the birds, determine their sex, and then send them back out into the night. Banding an owl can take as little as thirty or forty seconds, and yields important information about the health of the bird. After a month or so of banding, we may have data from as many as 200 owls, giving as an accurate picture of the demographic of birds involved in the season’s migration. Banding projects like this one have resulted in incredible information on the ecology of these birds, and the unlikely connections they have to other species across their range. Despite this, the banding of birds, particularly of owls, can be a highly controversial subject. The controversy is largely unnecessary and comes from basic misunderstandings about the treatment of the birds while they’re being handled, about the scientific process, and about conservation.

These misunderstandings don’t just apply to bird banding—they inform and explain many of the current ethical and moral trends in relationship with wild animals, and in our relationship with wilderness in general. In particular, there is a tendency to direct compassion and energy towards the protection and wellbeing of individual animals or individual charismatic locations; individuals that can be identified as vulnerable or mistreated, and which we can emotionally connect with due to their charisma or beauty. This identification comes at the expense of a bigger picture, one which is becoming more and more imperative to pay attention to.

The myriad of threats facing the wilderness we have come to revere and respect are probably known to most readers. Climate change is probably the greatest threat facing humanity today. Sea levels will rise, the most conservative estimates today suggest we have already committed to a five inch rise in most places, and some estimates suggest this could be as high as ten inches. The most recent IUCN checklist update suggests that the world’s most popular cage birds, including some that have been considered common up until recently, may be heading for extinction within the next fifty years. Deforestation and exploitation of the land for agriculture, mining, and oil drilling have been threats since the inception of the modern environmental movement, and they remain significant ones today. But while these pressures may be familiar, what may not be is that fact that our world has already started to crumble under them. A third of amphibians may be faced with imminent extinction, along with a fifth of mammals, as many as a third of known invertebrates, nearly three-quarters of studied plants. We are firmly in the grasp of what is being called the sixth mass extinction, or the modern extinction crisis.

To say that combatting this extinction will be difficult would be an understatement. Many conservation experts think that doing so is all but impossible. It may be that they are right, and that those still fighting do so in vain, without a realistic grasp of the situation. But if that is the case, then I fall among the latter. I think that a not-insignificant source of the problem lies in a very basic misconception about what the point of conservation and preservation is. Most professional conservationists agree that the point of conservation is to protect life on the species level. This may seem intuitive, but log on to the Facebook pages or websites of most zoos or bird banding station or news agencies reporting on stories about zoos and animal research and you are likely to see evidence to the contrary. A zoo will post a photo of their new, critically endangered, Spanish Lynx (Lynx pardinus) kittens and someone in the comments will sound off that it’s no big deal—it’s a tragedy in fact, for the babies have been born in captivity.

To borrow a phrase, today’s zoos are arks. They exist to weather the great flood of our time, which is the extinction crisis. It is true that this was not always the case. The first zoos were built purely for entertainment—usually the entertainment of the rich and powerful. But that hasn’t been true for much of the last half century, at least. Now, what species can be exhibited and bred is dictated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the decisions are not made on a whim. Captivity is taken seriously, for obvious reasons. If the animals aren’t being cared for properly they won’t breed. If they’re not being cared for properly, patrons won’t visit the zoos. It’s in the best interest of zoos and aquariums to be the model of proper treatment for the animals they exhibit, and they are. But there are factors of this treatment that can confound those and give the perception of mistreatment. The fact that Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) must be denned for the winter—effectively sealing them in a small, warm, dark room for three or four months straight—is easily taken for mistreatment. In reality though, this is necessary for breeding. A bear won’t allow its body to develop a pregnancy if it is not denned in such a way. What’s lost in translation is that the action, while it may confine the bear for a time, leading to mild discomfort (the bear will eventually simply hibernate), polar bears may not exist as a species without such measures. Threatened with climate change, their habitat in the wild will wholly cease to exist. Their only hope as a species is by the drastic measures being taken by zoos.

Perhaps zoos are an all-around dramatic example. I will say that I really do understand a lot of the concern they generate from animal-lovers, even if I do not agree with it. Let’s revisit our owls, for a moment. Northern Saw-whet Owls are poorly understood birds. Most expert suggest that they are relatively common, but admit that very little is known about their specific breeding requirements, particularly along the fragmented southern edge of their range. One of the things that we do know, is that in the heart of their breeding range in eastern and central Canada, they are closely tied to the population cycle of the Southern Red-backed Vole (Myodes gapperi). This vole has a population cycle believed to be tied to cone crops in conifer species—when the cone crops drop a bumper crop, the vole population soars, offering the owls an astounding amount of food. They take advantage of this overabundance by having as many as three times as many chicks as during other years. In the winter all of these young, inexperienced owls migrate south en masse, as they are unable to compete with more experienced adults on the breeding range.

It is suspected that these cycles are about to experience a major disruption though, potentially creating a cataclysmic situation for owls and voles alike. Currently this cycle runs very predictably. Every four years there is a vole boom and the owls boom the following year. This is followed by a slow decrease in the vole numbers, again accompanied by a slow decrease in owl breeding success. All of this is related to the cone crops, which are likely triggered by formerly regular fluctuations in moisture levels. All of that, however will be thrown to hell with climate change. The disruption of the cone cycles will disrupt the vole cycle, which will disrupt the owls. In order to monitor and look for the first signs of this cataclysm, owl banding is crucial. It’s incredibly easy to see breaks in the trends through such a direct monitoring strategy, as it’s easy to see sudden changes in the weights and overall fitness displayed by birds within a sampling population.

All this being said, there is a very vocal opposition to banding birds in general, and owls specifically. Owls are shy creatures and their disposition towards solitude and reclusivity leads them to be vulnerable to stress during the banding process. Furthermore, it is true that on very rare occasions, birds are eaten out of the nets by larger species of owls and that during the banding process they become slightly disoriented by the lights, sometimes becoming slightly dazed and requiring a short recuperation time prior to releasing them. Despite this, the rate of owls dying while in captivity or in a net is very low at any given banding station. And when these owls are passed on to rehabbers for examination, it is often found that these birds have underlying injuries.

From a certain perspective, the backlash towards banders working with owls is understandable. But the fact remains that banding is the only effective way to study owl populations. Traditional breeding bird surveys and vocal-based point counts simply don’t work—the birds are too unpredictable and patchily distributed. In order to understand, and thus save the species, birds have to be caught, banded, examined, and then released. There is simply no other way around it. The protection of the species has to take precedence over the concern for the discomfort of the individual bird.

I want to acknowledge that I am fully aware of how unpalatable this is. I want to acknowledge that those who work in the professions I have mentioned are fully aware of the risks involved. I have watched seasoned bird banders stand for hours, refusing to make their catch of shorebirds because they’re worried about rising tides. And I’ve watched the same bander, steaming in the heat, take water from her workers and distribute it in spray bottles to mist the birds still waiting to be banded. I’ve seen zoo vets agonize over decisions about the care of their animals. Whether to delivery lion (Panthera leo) cubs in an emergency procedure and risk the mother’s life, or wait and risk the cubs to save the beloved mother. None of these people go into their jobs expecting it to be easy, and all know their work will be scrutinized. But there is nothing else that can be done.

There is one major complication that deserves attention. It is this: de-extinction. De-extinction is all the rage in some circles. Many researchers think that the act of bringing a species back from extinction has great symbolic, as well as literal, power. We can return a species from the brink, as we have on occasion shown. To be able to bring them back from beyond the brink… Is the stuff of science fiction. Arguably, doing so would be the ultimate in mastering the mantra of doing everything for the species. There is no individual currently left, so the act of bringing back even one individual would be giving a species that had lost its chance a new one. However, this is arguable. The one and only time this has been successfully done, the species winked out of existence again mere minutes later. From the species perspective—and that of the individual animal—bringing about an event with such a likelihood is crueler than it is hopeful. Furthermore, introducing species to an environment from which they have been gone, potentially for thousands of years, could be more disruptive than it is helpful. The habitats have evolved in the absence of these species, and returning them could throw this new balance entirely out of proportion.

It would be nice to think that we could save all the species in the world without keeping a one in captivity. It would be nice to think that every species in the world could be saved. We are coming to the realization that this is not the case. Species cannot exist in the wild in perpetuity any more. Many of them may have no longer than a few decades left in their natural environs. By and large, this is the fault of humans. Our actions have pushed species to extinction already and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. By our actions alone can this mass extinction be mitigated. Among the measures that need to be taken, the moderation of climate change, protection of habitat, and yes, captive breeding and invasive research of imperiled species are all critical.

But just as critical is a reevaluation of our moral feelings towards wild animals. The prospects of their existence are rapidly changing. To ignore that and continue to tout our own equality with them is dangerous. We are not the same as animals. We should empathize with them and understand that they feel pain, but we should also acknowledge that we know things they never will. They don’t know they are not-so-slowly fading from existence, and we do. We need to trust that we are, in fact doing the right thing. That we are doing what’s best–what’s best for the species. For without the species, there will soon be no individuals for us to agonize over.

 

 

 

 

Captivity

Ethics is, by necessity a complex topic. To discuss ethics requires the juggling of perspectives, emotions, facts, actions, intentions—almost every facet of everyday and extraordinary life. Additionally, under changing circumstances and evidence, they must be able to bend and rearrange, or risk shattering, I imagine, that some, including Peter Singer, would argue with me on that last point, but I don’t intend to spend much time directly contesting that point. Instead, I intend to make a case for my own ethics; at least, my ethics as they pertain to what I eat and—for I believe the two are essentially linked, at least in my case—my ethical views towards human’s relationship with animals, both wild and domestic.

I first want to admit to having spent most of my life willfully ignoring any thoughts on where my food came from. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding the modern food supply system—I read Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and watched the documentary “Supersize Me” at a relatively young age. I had vegetarians as friends and family. I knew more than the average person probably did and it wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was that I didn’t really that I mattered what I thought or did, and to be entirely honest, part of me still believes it doesn’t much matter.

I did always have strong ethical feelings towards the treatment of animals (in a broad sense) and the way we share the world with them. And eventually, my feelings around these areas began to bleed over into my ethical considerations around eating. These feelings were strongly influenced by working at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for four years as an educator and assistant zookeeper and by starting to work as a bird bander with the New Jersey Shorebird Project. I take a big picture view that the species is the most important thing to conserve and protect. It is important to note that I do not believe that this means captivity is wrong or harmful. It isn’t and, if I’m being entirely honest, I have relatively little patience who contend that captivity is an inherently immoral thing. I think that this view is naive and requires intentional omission of important facts about the world we live in today. However, in order for captivity to be successful, the care of the animals must be humane, safe, and decent. This would, of course, disqualify me from supporting the food industry, who’s animal care is generally appalling.

In practice, this looks something like this: I eat a lot of salads, pastas, and seafood. Working in my favor is that I don’t particularly care about most GMOs. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time discussing that here, but briefly—they have no demonstrated side-effects to human health and basically every food we consume except wildlife is a GMO or derived from a GMO. I avoid the vast majority of red meats and poultry. And when I do eat them I do try to find food that was raised at free-range farms that are somewhat local.

I feel like this is relatively uncontroversial, except for maybe the fact that I do still eat seafood. I eat mostly wild caught seafood from fisheries that are sustainable, and so hope to avoid driving species to extinction with my actions, and hope to avoid environmental degradation due to fish farming. I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” to help me make my decisions—it is a highly respected and professionally compiled source of information of ethical and environmentally friendly seafood consumption, and so I generally trust the information it provides about all species.

In conclusion, I want to go back, for a moment and address my earlier thoughts on animal captivity. I think that it is important to explain this a little more thoroughly since it was my starting point for this discussion and for the development of my opinions, in general. A sixth mass extinction is currently underway. The world has already been irrevocably altered by human activity—current scientific evidence suggests that we have already passed a point of no-return in the progression of global warming, the old growth rainforests cleared for agriculture would take centuries to fully reforest, even if we would let them, the rate of coral bleaching may now be exceeding the ability of new polyps to form, dooming some reefs to permanent extinction, to name just a few examples. I bring this up to offer as proof of this—there is not enough room in the wild anymore for many species to exist at healthy self-sustainable levels, and the situation will only worsen from here on out. Panama Golden Frogs’ habitat may be permanently uninhabitable due to human-introduced pathologies. In all but the most heavily guarded reserves (yes, by concrete, barbed wire, and armed military guards) African Elephants are poached at rates approaching 99 individuals per day. The size of permafrost is shrinking so rapidly in the arctic, that polar bears may literally run out of dry land in the next fifty years.

These species will cease to exist without captivity. And I feel like I cannot accept and praise captivity in wild animals without also praising and accepting it when it is executed humanely in domestic food-producing species.

The (Almost) Cod War

I want to start by pointing out something that is a personal struggle of mine—I have issues with the kind of philosophy that is presented by Peter Singer in the book. His ethical proposals, in terms of his view of how animals should be treated are, to say the least, problematic for me. Even before I begin to recap sections of this book, I feel the need to put that out there in the world, to acknowledge the difficulty I have in coming to terms with the logic used in some of these passages.

In any case, the second section of this book, The Ethics of What We Eat, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, investigates a household comprised of people who are labelled as “conscientious omnivores”. This family is characterized as being more aware, perhaps, than the average family, and more willing to take the time spend the money to make morally conscious choices. This part of the book also looks at some topics that are characteristically involved in the decisions to eat in a morally conscious, and still omnivorous, way. The difficulties involved in sustainable seafood are tackled, along with fair trade and the ties ins with human rights, for example.

The sections from this book that resonated the most deeply with me was the chapter on seafood. When I have the chance, I prefer seafood to chicken, turkey, and certainly to red meat, so this chapter touched me more directly than some others thus far. Further, I try to only buy seafood that is environmentally non-harmful, and sustainable to the species in question’s population. I use the Monterey Aquarium pocket guide and app that are mentioned in the chapter to decide which kinds of fish I should buy and in what parts of the world I should try and buy them from. Aside from the direct connection to my own habits, this chapter also displayed some of the more dramatic storytelling, thus far. The authors recount how Britain and Iceland were brought close to war when Iceland attempted to shut down cod fishing by claiming some of the bets fishing grounds as its own international waters they write how “Icelandic gunboats threatened British trawlers” (pg 113) and how the country’s came surprisingly close to war over control of the fishery.

The story of fishery collapses all over the world is a familiar one—growing up among recreational and professional watermen, I was raised on stories of oyster beds so thick they could rip open the hull of a schooner if you weren’t careful, and schools of menhaden, gizzard shad, and rockfish that could fill the nets of a small trawler in minutes. The familiar tenor of the subject is given heightened drama and a bigger emotional punch by setting it against the international intrigue on the one hand, and everyday families that could be just like yours on the other. I think this is one reason why this chapter is so effective; the connections from local to regional to global are very tangible and increase the sense of scale and drama with each step back.