Just Four Fish?
One of the most terrifying days for a writer is the day after you’ve sold a book proposal.
For some time I had been writing about seafood and the oceans for the New York Times, getting progressively more interest from readers who, up until that time, had been only really interested in terrestrial agriculture; “landfood” as I’ve come to call it over the years.
A shift of this magnitude hadn’t been seen since humans came out of their caves and started domesticating cows, sheep, goats and pigs.
Unbeknownst to landfood reporters, the ocean, I was starting to realize, was undergoing a massive shift, completely below the radar (or sonar as the case may be). Whereas 100 years ago, nearly everything we ate from the sea was wild, in the late aughts we were just approaching the threshold whereby more than half of our fish and shellfish would come from farms. A shift of this magnitude hadn’t been seen since humans came out of their caves and started domesticating cows, sheep, goats and pigs. And, if we weren’t careful, I began to understand, we ran the risk of prosecuting the same delete-and-replace war at sea as we’d waged with wild flora and fauna on land.
And so, that damn book proposal. The idea had traction it turned out. Multiple publishers bid on the idea. And then the contract came, with a healthy advance and, yes dear reader, a big, hairy deadline.
How would I possibly pare all this down? Which fish, exactly, would I write about? I did a little taxonomic research and found that the order of fish from which humans eat from most, Perciformes, is the most species-rich vertebrate order on the planet. Depending on how you count them there are anywhere from 6,000–10,000 species contained within its bony-rayed confines.
What was I going to do? Write a book called Ten Thousand Fish?
It was then in my overwhelmed state that I realized: this is not how humans think. Humans are experts…