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March 24, 2008

Coronation Street Meets David Suzuki

-Herald's Park, Salmon Arm, 1992
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I'm sure you've heard that adage. I'm going to tell you a little story that illustrates why that can be.

Today, after a long walk with my friend Colleen through the trails in Pacific Spirit Park we decided to have lunch. We were aiming for the Chinese restaurant Ginger and Chilli. It was closed. So, then, we came across a fish and chip place. It's been there forever. I've never eaten there. We know nothing about it. We go in. We sit down. It's like being on the set of Coronation Street. Even the server, a 60-70 year old woman dressed in too much polyester, looking harried and definitely having a bad hair day seems like an extra on the Coronation Street set.

Now I've been educating myself about seafood and how I should be concerned about the types of fish I consume and where it comes from, and whether it is being harvested in a way that's sustainable or not. But, did I follow my advice to you to carry around the little seafood chart that you can print out from Seachoice.org. I got as far as printing it out. But, it wasn't in the wallet.

Why do this? Because it will prevent moments of hostility from people who think fish grow on trees or in a lab at the back of Safeway or those happy souls who subscribe to the belief that every living thing on the planet is doomed and there ain't nothing we can do about it anyway.

Meanwhile, back on the set of Coronation Street, we're looking at the menu and there's a couple of different types of fish to choose from. Cod. Halibut. Haddock. Sole. Had I had the little chart, I would not have even had to enter into the following conversation because I would have known which fish to choose. Voila! I guess I like to live dangerously. As Colleen joked, you had to swim into the murky waters and disturb the old Rock Cod.

So, I say, very politely, "Do you know where your fish comes from?" The waitress looks at me. I can see her eyes begin to narrow. "From the sea," she says, curtly. "Ya, I know it comes from the ocean but I'm just wondering if you know where the different types of fish were caught?" Silence. "We don't ask our wholesaler where he gets his fish," she spits out like a fishwife.

Not prepared for such hostility, I'm a bit speechless at this point wondering what my next very wrong question might be. I'm thinking, maybe I should just get the soup when Colleen pipes up, "Do you know what the difference is between Haddock and Sole? As soon as she opened her mouth I wondered how it was that she hadn't picked up on the woman's energy and therefore would know better than to ask anything at all let alone THAT type of question.

Clearly, it's dangerous to eat fish without being accompanied by a PhD biologist and then it's also helpful to have the captain of the debating team along when you run into the reaction you're sure to get.

Apparently Colleen's question posed right after mine is just too much for Ms. UK Congeniality 1921. "You can ask the chef," she spit out, turning abruptly, her apron strings practically flicking like the tail of an angry pony. That word - chef -brings a slight smile to my face. It's like when your mom used to say, Just wait 'til your father gets home. "We've been serving fish for 49 years," she adds as she walks away, muttering under her breath.

A few minutes pass and a man in a greasy white apron comes out from behind a swinging door. You just know what he's thinking because he meanders over our way, John Wayne-like, with a smirk on his face. He's thinking Jeezus, here we go, we got the god damned treehuggers wantin' to dissect my fish before they eat it.

"Why do you wanna know where the fish come from?" he asks. Well, I just want to know because I want to make sure that I'm not eating fish that's in danger of becoming extinct. He just stares at me. All fish are in danger of becoming extinct he says and then without taking a breath he says, Do you eat beef?

I didn't mean to offend your wife I say but I think it's a legitimate question. More and more people are going to be asking it. "She's not my wife," he says. "If you don't eat the fish someone else is going to eat it," he says.

I just care about not eating something that isn't being harvested sustainably I say. "The Japanese are killing whales," he says. "Well, I can't control what somebody else does" I say. "But, don't you think that if we all just paid a little more attention to what we were consuming that it could make a difference?"

Now, I can't tell you why we continued to even stay there and order the Haddock after being treated in this manner except it has something to do with a mutant gene in Canadians eh?

Anyway, as Colleen pointed out to me after we'd eaten maybe you didn't pose the question right, Gayle. Maybe, Colleen tells me, you should have asked, "Are you Ocean-wise compliant?" Maybe that would have gone over better she says, sarcastically. Maybe you should have asked, Are you Marine-environment friendly?

Now the backdrop to all this is that I've also been reading this excellent book called Radical Simplicity. Among many things, it refers to the various levels of consciousness around changing your lifestyle to reduce your footprint. He refers to four states.

There's unconsciously unsustainable. You're driving around in a Hummer, you're eating copious quantities of red meat, your computer and TV are on 24/7 and you aren't even aware that there's anything wrong with any of that. Whatever!

Then there's consciously unsustainable. You're beginning to be aware of what you should be doing to lower your ecological footprint, to lower your greenhouse gas emissions but you're just beginning to make change so you're still unsustainable but at least you know it, dammit.

Then there's consciously sustainable in which you've made some real changes to your lifestyle and your footprint has been significantly reduced but every change is a measured one.

And, finally there's unconscious sustainability in which you have changed your habits so significantly that you don't even have to think about living in a way that's sustainable because every habit you have reinforces your sustainable lifestyle.

Now, imagine what it's like when those who live in a way that's unconsciously unsustainable meet unconsciously sustainable. Let the games begin.

It's truly something like Coronation Street meets David Suzuki. And, as we learned today, it's not pretty.

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