Nov 21 2012

Eel, the Other White Meat

‘A Thanksgiving Eel’

by Drew Christie

Drew Christie is an animator, filmmaker and illustrator who lives in Seattle. His previous Op-Docs are “Hi! I’m a Nutria” and “Allergy to Originality.”

The main purpose of this Op-Doc video is to look at the supremacy of one Thanksgiving dish (turkey) over another (eel) and to examine people’s reactions and thoughts on the issue. Sadly, because I live on the West Coast of North America, where there are no native freshwater eels, I will not be eating eel or eel-stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving.

Give Thanks for … Eel?

by James Prosek

AS the story goes, Squanto – a Patuxet Indian who had learned English – took pity on the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony who had managed to survive that first brutal winter, and showed them how to plant corn, putting a dead fish in each hole where a seed was planted. But before that, before the ground had even fully thawed, he taught them a perhaps more valuable skill: how to catch a fatty, nutritious fish that would sustain them in the worst of winters. And this food item, likely on the table of that first Thanksgiving, would have carried special significance to those remaining colonists. Eels – a forgotten staple of our forefathers. [..]

Eels don’t like cold water, and spend the winter balled up, bodies twisted together in the mud. In the frigid months they were usually caught with fork-like spears, the eels pinned between the tines. The fish proved essential to the endurance of the Pilgrims, and it is fitting that a river near Plymouth Colony was named Eel River. [..]

But the eel is also disappearing, thanks largely to a multibillion dollar market driven by Japan’s appetite for the fish. Juveniles caught in river mouths are shipped to farms in China, where they are raised to edible size and then flown to sushi restaurants around the world – giving eels one of the least sustainable routes to market of any fish, wild or farmed. What’s more, global warming, dams and pollution have taken a heavy toll on eel populations in North America and Europe. [..]

Let’s be thankful, then, for the beautiful but forgotten Thanksgiving eel. And let’s accept responsibility for preserving the fish that did so much to sustain the newcomers to these shores so many years ago.

James Prosek is the author of “Eels: An Exploration, From New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World’s Most Mysterious Fish.”

White meat? Or eel?

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