There comes a time in every young sellout's life when he has to keep his dress pants on (in this case it happened to be my nicest pair of Carhartt's) and remain on his best behaviour long after the five o'clock whistle blows on a Friday afternoon. Dinner with the boss is an inevitable - if often enjoyable - rite of passage in office culture, and so it was with a calm degree of acceptance that I ventured to my director's home on Friday night to dine with some guests who were in town for a conference.
When I heard that Arctic char - a local favourite harvested right out of Great Slave Lake - was on the menu, I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands. I have been a vegetarian (eating dairy products and eggs but not fish) for the better part of seven years, and save for a couple of errant nibbles at the Thanksgiving table have adhered fairly strictly to the diet in that time. My rationale for going vegetarian was, and has remained, the strain that commercialized meat production puts on the environment (I won't get on the soap-box here, but many of my reasons can be found in this recent New York Times article), and therein lay my dilemma. Would it not be hypocritical of me to abstain from eating fish fresh out of a lake a few hundred metres away, when I eat produce on a daily basis that is flown in from across the continent? Under the auspices of my environmental beliefs, I found it hard to rationalize the latter while dismissing the former.
And so the char was tasty. Not "holy crap, I can't believe I haven't been eating meat for the past several years" tasty, but enjoyable nonetheless. I found the crunchy part on the bottom to be the most flavourful piece, but refrained from finishing it after looking at the other plates on the table and figuring out that the "crunchy part on the bottom" was actually the skin, which one isn't meant to eat. A bit of a faux pas, but it was still pretty enjoyable thanks to my boss's husband's barbequing skills.
I've reflected on the meal over the past few days, and have come to accept that my lifestyle choice may make good ecological sense in Victoria, but is largely unsustainable and completely counter-productive in Yellowknife, where a localized vegetarian diet simply isn't possible in the Winter. To that end, I think that my rationale in taking the carnivorous plunge is a telling illustration of the importance of not uniformly superimposing Southern conventions and ideals onto a Northern setting. The climate and the culture up here interact to create a physical and human landscape that is drastically different than anything commonly seen in the provinces, and contradictions like my fish debate don't stop with what one naive idealist chooses to have for dinner. Looking at any issue that affects the North - be it climate change, loss of traditional land, alcohol abuse, whatever - through a globalized or even nationalized lens is dangerous and incredibly short-sighted. In fact, it makes about as much sense as thinking that jet-lagged Florida oranges are a better environmental choice than fresh-from-the-lake Yellowknife char.
And next time, I'll know not to eat the crunchy part.
Edit (March 4/08) to add: It has since been brought to my attention that the char I ate probably came from the ocean. My bad. Still, though, that makes it a whole lot more local than most everything else that is available to eat up here at this time of year. It has also been pointed out (thanks, Lou) that one can, in fact eat the skin, and it's strictly a matter of personal choice, rather than social convention. Now I wish I'd finished it.