Monday, July 9, 2007

Fishy Fish Tale

I love stories like this if for no other reason than for the story it suggests of it's origin and the intent of the writer. It seems that somebody in Taiwan is upset that "a chef" is serving fish that is not dead and not alive. I put the phrase "a chef" in quotes not to call the skill of the person who prepared the dish into question, but to emphasize the point that this type of dish has been commonplace in China and Japan for centuries and is being prepared by thousands of chefs as I write. So it's hard for me to believe that only one chef is being singled out for this practice. But who knows? Maybe he's a really famous chef and so makes a good target for animal rights activists.

Anyway, whoever put this story up at WGAL and the original author at The Associated Press must have decided to frame the incident in the narrowest way possible for no other reason than to create a tasty little blurb that would get people worked up without having to think very much about what it all means. In other words it is propaganda that serves no higher purpose other than to get attention.

If the intention had been otherwise the writer might have mentioned that the dish is referred to as ying-yang fish because it is designed to embody one of the principal concepts of the ancient practice of Taoism which calls the practitioner to pay attention to the proposition that things and ideas have either have a ying identity, a yang identity or both in complementary opposition.
(Ying may be thought of as cool or shady, while yang is suggests the heat of the sun and fire.
Ying is a passive, downward force that seeks the earth while yang is active and moves upward.)

The dish in contention is made by frying the live fish very quickly and leaving the head above the level of the oil so that when it is served the eyes and gills are animate. The Taoist rationale for this is to provoke the eater to recognize that the ying (cool, downward towards death) and yang (hot, active, alive) principles are on the plate for his contemplation. It also, I aver, compels the eater to think deeply about the inescapable fact life and death are coeval.

But this narrow little piece of mass market fish feed can only present the story as a tale of
the right of a fish to killed before it is eaten rather than the human right to think about the nature of the Taoist universe and his own role in the death of the animals he eats.

Personally, I'd kill the fish before I cooked it, but then I'm no Taoist.

Chef Under Fire For Serving Half-Dead Fish


CarolinaGirl said...

I read about this an a Bourdain book. I prefer my food to be dead already, but raw oysters are rather popular here and I have seen folks pull a Bourdain while harvesting. I think the ultimate consideration is that the fish was going to be comsumed regardless. His number was up. It could be simplified into a temperature issue. Oh crap! The PeTA van just rolled up to my house.. gotta hide!

Anonymous said...

I've seen this done with other marine life, too. They're brought to the table still slowly fluttering, as if they're still underwater.

While I have read The Tao I don't recall anything about it applying to fish.

While I love the Yin/Yang concept (and fall heavily inside the Yang line of things, always in need of a good Yin to keep me grounded) I likewise prefer my seafood fresh - but not THAT fresh! For god's sake - don't make the fish WATCH itself being had for dinner. That's just creepy.


Sorcha said...

Welcome back, Bob, and wow. I'm not sure if I could eat fish that was still alive or not, though I understand the principle at work. Plus, I would wonder about the pain the fish experiences.