The Lesson of the Crab
Yesterday I killed two crabs as I tossed them into boiling water so that I could eat the succulent sweet white meat for my solitary dinner. I felt a bit like the executioner of these strange snapping, flailing creatures hauled in from the cold waters of Bodega Bay (and lusted after by so many during this winter season). The only way I could manage this was to stay right in the moment with them, watching their shiny wet bodies dripping with salt water and frantically clawing at the air, thank them for their lives and then let them go, watching as their bodies turned from dark brown and twitching to pinkish red and quite dead in the cooking pot. Many of us eat animals without pausing to envision the moment of their deaths, that instant when they go from alive and vital to lifeless. When I realized that the only way I was going to be able to savor the local crab on this New Years weekend was to cook it myself, I saw that I had a great opportunity both to face the reality of consuming living creatures head on, and to send the particular living being(s) off with great thanks and a prayer. It’s true that I’ve never seen myself as someone who chooses to kill animals, but it is also true that I frequently eat animals that have been killed. So, it was time to get real, be thankful, and do the deed. After I carefully washed and cleaned the cooked crab bodies, I felt both sad and strangely satisfied... Sad that I had been the instrument of death, and satisfied that I had looked death in the face and been able to breathe freely and not be frightened or disgusted.
Last night I very slowly cracked the pink shells, and pulled out the perfectly white meat and dipped it into melted butter laced with lemon. I thought again of the crab whose body had to be pushed down into the boiling water, who had once been minding his own business in the ocean, just trying to make it from day to day. A wave of gratitude came over me that I was allowed to feast on this sweet, delicate meat, the tangy flavor of ocean just barely identifiable as I ate.
Everything had unfolded as it should — mindfully and with reverence. I now know exactly how it feels to perform this act, and it really isn’t terrifying. There are no shrieks or screams of terror... It is all about life that comes and goes, and about how we all need to feed ourselves in order to live. The closer you get to what is in front of you, the more intimate and profound it is. The Pueblo Indians of northern New Mexico chant prayers to the deer and the elk before they shoot them, and they then consume every bit of the animal, including fur and skin. I thought of the Indians as I cooked my crab, remembering how it made me feel when I first learned that many years ago; it allowed me to see hunting and killing animals for food in a completely new way: normal ...not violent or evil.
Intention is everything. And respect for life in all forms.
I think this meal of crab may have been one of the most reverent and delicious I have ever had.