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In the grocery store the other day—not having shopped for food in two weeks due to a bout of cholera—I was happy to once again be hunting and gathering. Freshly baked bread! Bananas and pears! Spinach and tomatoes. I had most of the food groups covered except one: protein.
Protein is always a bit of a problem for me because while I know I need it, I don’t really like to chew meat. I don’t have anything against meat, and I love a good steak every once in awhile, but still, I would make a good vegetarian.
I wandered up and down the aisles, pushing my cart full of fruits and vegetables and oatmeal crème sandwich cookies, and made my usual protein selections: peanut butter, cheese, lentil soup, eggs. I got some low-sodium turkey lunchmeat for me and the kitties, and threw a package of chicken breasts in for good measure. You can always make chicken taste like something other than chicken.
And then, I saw an overhead sign that said “canned meat”.
Visions from my youth popped into my head: Spam sandwiches, little flip-top cans of Vienna sausages in my lunchbox, more Spam in everything from cold pasta salads to hotdish. Normally I steer my cart away from the canned meat section, but occasionally—when perhaps I am missing my family, or feeling nostalgic…or naughty—I will steal into the canned meat aisle and pick up a few tins of smoked oysters.
Smoked oysters were always considered a luxury item in my family. When I was young, we only had them at Christmas, and you were only allowed to eat two because one tin had to serve seven people. We still only have them at Christmas, but these days my mother buys several tins because, of course, the family has grown. Even the great-grandkids love smoked oysters. In fact, anybody who does not love smoked oysters always gets looked at funny and promptly ridiculed. “What’s wrong with you!?”
For me, as an adult who can do exactly as I please, I consider smoked oysters to be just another form of protein and I buy them throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Feeling rich and healthy and cavalier, I threw a bunch of tins into my basket and headed to the check-out.
When dinner time rolled around last night, I thought, Hm, a plate of smoked oysters on some Wheat Thins would make a mighty fine meal. I reached into my pantry for the tin, set it on the counter, and peeled back the lid. Suddenly, I sensed that something was fishy.
Whatever was in that tin didn’t look like the little greasy brown oysters I was expecting. Whatever was in there looked more like real little fishies. I read the label again: sardines.
Hm, I thought. I’ve never eaten a sardine. I used to eat smelt as a child, and herring is always good, and venison liver is a treat, and I did like the Spam, so…I should like sardines. Plus I don’t want to waste this. Plus Sara and Lucy were at my feet, crying as if they hadn’t been fed in days. They were obviously pro-sardine.
I gave them both a few tiny bites on a plate, and put the rest of my sardines on a sea of Wheat Thins for myself. Then I ate them all, and decided they were alright. They were definitely not as tasty as smoked oysters, and I will definitely not be eating them again, but the sardines I ate last night were okay.
After dinner, my niece called. “Hey,” I said. “I just ate a can of sardines. I thought they were smoked oysters when I bought them.”
“Gross!” my niece said. “You just ate a bunch of fish guts!”
“Whaddya mean?” I said.
“Sardines still have the guts in them! Gross!” Then she made gagging and puking noises.
I was not aware that sardines were not cleaned out before being canned, but I suppose that makes sense. It would take a lot of time to clean out every little fish.
I hung up with my niece and began to feel a little fishy myself. I sat in my chair to watch TV and continued to feel the essence of fish throughout my body. I went to bed and dreamt that I was a little fish in a school of fish, and I couldn’t keep up with everybody because I couldn’t use my arms. I kept falling behind.
It was a stress dream.
I woke up this morning and didn’t feel like a fish anymore, but I do know three things: I need to relax more. I need to reduce my workload. And boy, do I have a donation for the next food drive that comes around.