In the News: Teach a man to fish…

The New York Times “Wild Side” column today featured guest columnist,Aaron E. Hirsh writing about “Fish Shares and Sharing Fish.” In the piece, he describes the “tragedy of the commons” that is taking place in our oceans:

If a fish population is controlled by a single, perfectly rational agent — an idealized entity economists refer to as “the sole owner” — he or she will manage it to maximize its total value over time. For almost every population, that means leaving a lot of fish in the water, where they can continue to make young fish. The sole owner, then, will cautiously withdraw the biological equivalent of interest, without reducing the capital — the healthy population that remains in the sea.

But if the fish population is available to many independent parties, competition becomes a driving concern. If I don’t extract as much as I can today, there’s no guarantee you won’t take everything tomorrow. Sure, in a perfect world, you and I would trust each other, exercise restraint, and in the long run, grow wealthier for it, but I’d better just play it safe and get those fish before you do. The race for fish ensues, and soon, the tragedy of the commons has struck.

He then talks about some strategies that have been effective and other measures that can be taken to ensure the survival of the rapidly disappearing fish and shellfish. This piece is compassionately and thoughtfully written – definitely worth a read! And it links to one of my favorite sites, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can find Seafood Watch, a great resource for anyone interested in helping to preserve our ocean life.

Hirsh’s column brings to mind Wendell Berry’s “Two Economies” in his book of essays entitled Home Economics (which looks to be coming out in a new edition soon!), where he writes specifically about topsoil, but more generally about the industrial economy,

The industrial economy can define potentiality…only as a fund, and thus it must accept impoverishment as the inescapable coniditon of abundance…. [T]he industrial use of any “resource” implies its exhaustion. It is for this reason that the industrial economy has been accompanied by an ever-increasing hurry of research and exploration, the motive of which is…the desperation that natually and logically accompanies gluttony.

Coincidence that another NYT article this morning features America’s favorite show about dealing with the results of gluttony? Check out “In Kitchen, ‘Losers’ Start from Scratch,” an article that answered my question about The Biggest Loser: what DO these contestants eat? I was extremely pleased to see that part of the lifestyle change the show tries to instill in contestants (apparently with varying degrees of success) is the concept that they must learn to cook at home.

It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking…. Today, women in the United States report spending an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals. The percentage of women who are overweight has risen to about 65 percent from about 30 percent in the 1960s.

So finally, teaching someone to cook, to take back the kitchen and control of their food is indeed like the old saying: Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Apparently the inability to cook a basic meal has not gone unnoticed, as the Biggest Loser article points out that “Last month the government of Britain, where obesity is spreading rapidly, passed a law requiring all secondary-school students to attend cooking classes.” I will be watching and working eagerly to see whether we Americans can perhaps also implement a similar program!

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One Response

  1. Very interesting stuff here… thats part of why I cook dinner every night!

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