“In the distant past, it was somewhat stronger than the horribly weak descendants that exist today.” – Pokémon Red/Blue
A student visits me with an essay on factory farming. She says that it is horrible, what they do to chickens. How they dunk them in an electrified pool. How this makes it easier for a farmhand to slit the chicken’s throat. How the process loosens the feathers and helps the meat, when cooked, to fall from the bone. Despite this, she can’t imagine some version of herself that doesn’t love Chick-fil-A—“it’s just too delicious!” she writes. I ask how the sandwiches are delicious and she looks at me like I’m an alien or a vegetarian or something. I tell her that I’m a vegetarian. She asks if this is hard for me and I tell her that it isn’t, not really, but that a more impressive trick than telling me a fast-food sandwich is delicious would be to explore the reasons why. The breading, the bun, the chicken, the butter, the pickle. The mouthfeel of the sandwich. The way she wants one on Sunday but has to wait. She says I know a lot about fast food for a vegetarian. She isn’t wrong.
Where I live, there is a Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen between me and every place I want to be that isn’t Captain D’s. This morning I walked to a coffee shop and there it was, reeking of grease and fish. The smell follows me into the coffee shop; I sit in a battered chair and luxuriate in it. I think of the Christmas I ate a ring of cocktail shrimp unsupervised. I think about the weekend two kids walked onto my father’s property in Wolverine, Michigan, fishing poles slung over their shoulders, and asked if we wanted to buy some rainbow trout they’d just caught. They had a whole cooler, and Dad looked at it skeptically, rubbing his chin. He asked where the trout had come from, since two children couldn’t possibly have done that well on the lake. The kids said their dad drove them to a place where there was stream after stream dug into the concrete, each one of them teeming with fish. They cast their lines and pulled them up effortlessly, one after another, until their daddy got tired and drove them home. They’d never seen anything like it before, a real miracle. Dad bought five trout and took them to the garage for fileting. “These fish are from a hatchery,” he said, separating the meat from bones and intestines. “If you keep fish in a trough with thousands of other fish, you can keep them small and manageable, domesticate the fish.” We ate them with fried potatoes and Coca-Cola. With each mouthful I wondered what would happen if we stopped domesticating the rainbow trout. Would its growth outpace our own? Would they escape their cement troughs? Once free, would they eat small boys with a side of fried potatoes?