This is the first in a multi-part series. A lifetime project.
Tonight I started making a delectable dinner. It was one of those evenings where you can picture exactly the meal you are making and it is just what you want and you are stoked. The early evening sun is making the kitchen bright, the kids have had a snack and are playing happily, the work day is done and you are going to eat fish tacos. You even have cabbage and sour cream and they are going to be perfect! Life is good.
So, there I am in my blissed out pre-taco state, cutting the fish into perfect sized pieces, and I see this maggot-like thing in the fish. It is a small, light-brown, wormish creature. Maybe a larva, maybe a maggot - maybe they are the same thing. It wasn't gross, by appearance alone at least. The maggot was still and clean, but it was pretty clearly some sort of creature - parasite, even - embedded in the flesh. Not just sitting on top, but embedded. The fish otherwise looked and smelled wonderfully fresh and tasty.
I went through the five stages of grief. I swear.
Denial: Maybe it is not a maggot, I thought. I looked closer, hoping to discover that this was simply a discoloration in the flesh, like the dark red streaks near the spine. Or maybe the fish had a knot in its muscle right there. Maybe it is not a maggot. Maybe. Maybe?
Anger: Fuck! I realized it is so undeniably some sort of little larva or worm. My goddamn fish tacos! I was so pissed. I can't feed my family fish infected with a parasite or worm. Shit.
Bargaining: OK - I actually had two pieces of fish. I thought about just cooking the other one. I looked at both of the pieces - the other one was larger and darker. The maggot piece was smaller and whiter. I was certain that they were not from the same fish (Denial, again). I could cook the maggot-free piece and just bring the other one back to the market. I cut up the larger piece of fish, getting ready to bread it and fry it in oil, so that it was crispy and juicy and salty and perfect. I took the other piece, the one with the maggot, and put it (now in pieces itself), along with the maggot, in a bag and I put the bag in the fridge.
Depression: I kept going back and forth between the fish and everything else. I was immobilized. I had a plan. I was cooking the other piece of fish. It was not contaminated. Why couldn't I just move forward?
Acceptance: We were not having fish tacos. It was so clear. I can't cook my family fish in which I've SEEN a maggot. I have some leftover brisket from passover. I can chop it up, we'll have beef tacos. Too bad. I put all of the fish in a bag, and planned to take it back to the market.
The acceptance ultimately came from what I call the dumbass approach to making decisions. If I fed the fish to my family and we all got sick? I would feel like such a dumbass. I saw the maggot in the fish and still decided to cook it and eat it? Dumbass.
Without a doubt, I have eaten fish contaminated by way worse than a sweet little light-brown maggot. I could easily have not seen it, or it could have been cut out by the butcher, and probably we all would have been fine. Not all maggots are infectious parasites - in fact most are not - and we eat rat shit and cockroach legs, in small amounts, all the time. I could have eaten this in a restaurant and I never would have known the difference. Chances are this fish would not make us sick. And this is what I told myself as I worked through the five stages (see Denial, Bargaining, above). BUT to see it and then decide to eat it anyway? Different matter altogther.
Now I don't always need to resort to the dumbass approach to get through life, but it is an important floor to set for risk-assessment.
A similar, related way of viewing risks and dangers, especially with respect to the relative benefits and virtues of dangerous activities, looks to my mother's reaction to any death or injury that might result. I won't bungee jump or sky-dive for this reason. It is one thing to die climbing Denali or even jumping a freight train, which, itself, has literary and historic value, but bungee jumping? Sky-diving? What a cruel thing to do to your mother. Oh, I'm so sorry you lost your daughter, Ma'am, how did she die? Oh, she jumped out of an airplane? Voluntarily? Duh. Jumping out of an airplane is not a reasonably prudent thing to do. In my opinion at least.
Not that my mother has ever given me grief for what I might do. We all make this call differently, each of us with our individual values and standards determining where the line will be drawn. For some, there is intrinsic value in jumping off of a bridge with a bungee cord attached to your ankle. It builds character, the thrill of the experience is a valuable component to life. For others, the mere act of getting in an airplane borders on foolish. You voluntarily enter a steel tube that then goes hurtling through the goddamn sky? What do you think will happen?
I still think I probably could and should have cooked the fish. But it is easier to forgive yourself for spending eight dollars on fish that you didn't eat than it is to forgive yourself for being a dumbass.