When I was very young I stopped eating seafood. I had a good reason at the time, one that made perfect sense to me. I was in third or fourth grade and our class was discussing the dangers of littering – a very important topic everywhere, but one that has a particular relevance on Cape Cod. We learned about turtles and straws as well as fishing nets and dolphins. However, we also heard one piece of information that, no matter what I did, I couldn’t ever get out of my head. “Due to the amount of microplastics in the ocean, it is statistically impossible to eat a fish and not consume at least a little bit of plastic.”
I don’t even know if that’s true. It would be irresponsible of me to peddle information that I can’t confirm, and as a non-scientist I lack both the academic literacy along with the emotional strength to research this question. Therefore, I can’t tell you whether it’s true that it would be statistically impossible to eat a fried fish without consuming at least a tiny bit of microplastic. However, I can tell you that I was told this information in 2010, I can tell you that we’ve made quite a bit of plastic in the last decade, and I can tell you that hearing this statistic frightens me today just as much as it did then. After I heard that information for the first time, I stopped eating seafood.
Growing up on Cape Cod, this was inconvenient to say the least. Though the inciting statistic had only mentioned fish, I was done with anything that came out of the water. No lobster, no oyster, no calamari. And of course any type of fish was an automatic no. The problem arises when one considers how many restaurants on Cape, particularly fancy restaurants, don’t serve anything that isn’t seafood. They were easy to avoid on my own and with friends (because who wants to go to a fancy sit-down restaurant when you’re just hanging out?) but the true difficulty was with family. Whenever family visited from far away we’d go to a fancy restaurant and have seafood. Whenever I got a strong report card or won some academic award, we’d go to a fancy restaurant and have seafood. If you think this blog post already reeks of privilege, you might wanna skip this next sentence. In my family, barbeques typically consisted of lobster and clams instead of burgers and hot dogs, so at most family gatherings we’d have seafood.
As a result of these encounters with seafood, I developed a number of strategies for evading what I believed to be plastic poisons. One of them was to claim that I had filled up on appetizers, typically nachos or something like that. Another was to order something strange, like a mashed potato. However, if I was feeling like being a real bratty kid, I would simply tell the people I was eating with about the horrors of microplastics. Imagine my surprise to discover that the elder members of my family were more concerned about me being a picky eater than they were about this ecological crisis.
Eventually, this proved to be a phase that I would grow out of. Thinking back, I’m realizing that my first experience with fish and chips occurred around the same time when, at 15 years old, I began to work for a seaside snack shack. One of those places that’s been there since the 50s and serves food that’s average at best with a 400% markup but also provides the biggest sense of relief when, after a long day at the beach, you see that they sell ice cream. Unsurprisingly, this was a miserable place to work for.
The weird thing is, I probably shouldn’t have gotten over my anti-seafood phase while working there. I saw how they made the seafood and I saw how much trash, specifically plastic trash, never made it into the trash bins. Neither of these were very encouraging. A lot of other stuff happened at this place that I won’t go into, but trust me when I say that the environmental standards of the average seaside snack shack are shockingly, horrifically, and probably illegally low.
Herein lies the weird paradox of growing up. As I aged and matured, I became more likely to eat fish while simultaneously seeing my fears about the food become less and less irrational. Much in the same way that, as we grow up, we learn more and more that the earth is doomed from climate change yet the older a person is, the less likely they are to, for example, support climate policies like the Green New Deal.
Of course these aren’t the same thing. My fish anecdote is probably more about a child getting over a childish preference than anything else, and the only reason that old people hate good ideas is because we used to use lead paint in every home and workplace and over the years it’s poisoned their brains. However, this does get at a deeper issue, at least in my eyes.
Cape Cod is facing an existential threat and while everyone is aware of it, no one seems all that phased about it. Sure, there were a few news stories back when Cape Cod was running out of cod fish because that’s ironic and funny, but the fact remains that Cape Cod will one day sink and we’re all cool with that. I’m cool with it.
Of course Cape Cod is going to sink at some point, it’s a cape. Capes have incredibly short natural lifespans when compared to almost all other geographic features. They’re made of sand and surrounded by ocean. Erosion is natural. What isn’t natural is the rising of sea levels caused by the melting of the polar ice caps of course due to man-made climate change.
I’m not trying to say that it’s your fault for not recycling that one water bottle when you were eleven. I’m not trying to say that recognizing your inability to change humanity’s effect on the planet is a bad thing. What I’m trying to say is that living in, visiting, or even learning about a place that has a nonzero percent chance of no longer existing at some point within your lifetime is a feeling that’s very hard to describe. Perhaps in some it can cause depression or in others it may provoke nihilism. I don’t really know how it makes me feel besides a sort of hodgepodge of fear, sadness, worry, and the ever present thought that I’m not enjoying or appreciating what I have now and will live to regret all the diems that I didn’t carpe. Then again, I’m sure that’s what everyone who’s ever tried to comprehend their own mortality has ever felt. Conventional wisdom tells us that you can’t ever really appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore, like that one Counting Crows track from forever ago that says “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got it it’s gone?” Following this line of thinking, can anyone still living truthfully say that they can recognize, understand, or appreciate their own life? And where is the difference between preemptively mourning something that we can lose, like a loved one, a pet, or a peninsula and preemptively mourning ourselves?
Anyways the best fried clams on Cape are at Sir Cricket’s in Orleans with Captain Frosty’s in Dennis at a close second. The best clam chowder is Captain Parkers, which can be found all over but is originally from their restaurant in South Yarmouth. Fish and Chips are good everywhere, they’re hard to mess up. The Dockside in Hyannis is kind of a hidden gem with a killer lobster roll and I’d go to Brax Landing in Harwich Port for oysters.