Crab, Coronavirus and Other Tenuously Related Subjects

“Shopping at Costco,” my friend Alex texted me one day a week or so ago. “People are going berserk. You should see the things they are buying. Giant boxes of Pop Tarts and cases of Gatorade.”

We both agreed that in the face of impending doom, you’d be better off purchasing big bags of dried beans and rice.

Empty hand sanitizer shelf at Smart & Final (photo courtesy my friend, R. Brody)

My wife was at Costco a couple days later and, swept up herself in the hysteria, was attempting to buy big bags of dried beans and rice. But they, along with bottled water, had been cleared out. I, meanwhile, was a Ralph’s, where I found a lovely pork shoulder on sale and made a pot of chile verde. Didn’t check to see if there were still Pop Tarts on the shelf. The beer hadn’t been cleared out yet either, so I bought some of that. Just to be safe.

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Same friend Alex, a photographer by trade, posted a photo on Instagram of a live meat market he had photographed once years before in China. The same type of market crowded with caged creatures where pathogens such as coronavirus make the leap from bats to civet cats to humans.

“They’re nuts about wanting the animal to still be living right up until just before they eat it,” he said.

I was at the 99 Ranch Chinese market earlier in the day, as fate would have it. There are no civet cats there, but lots of tanks filled with live sea creatures. I was eying the Dungeness crabs clamoring all over each other in one tank. “And then I saw a few dead ones for half price,” I told Alex. “And guess what… It was gonna die anyway!!!”

“Where is it that they like to eat the animal while it is still actually alive?” he said. “Korea, I think?”

I recalled walking through a fish market in Busan, South Korea, where they were selling every slug, sponge, sea cucumber and other oddity scraped from the sea floor, all still alive. To prove the point, a woman poked a particularly phallic organism with her finger, and right on cue it spouted a urinesque squirt of salt water that hit my daughter in the face, causing her to scream. The woman burst into laughter.

I am reminded of a Woody Allen quote about oysters: “I want my food dead. Not sick. Not wounded.

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“If things get really bad,” I told Alex, “come on over, we’ll be eating fresh chicken and pork chops!”

The chickens were out on the back property, scavenging insects and acorns, blissfully unaware of my plans for them if the grocery store shelves ever ran out of pork shoulders and beer. Henri, the pig, likewise ignorant, was napping in the sun.

A friend asked me once if we were planning on eating Henri. “No,” I said, “Although I did one day find him napping in the rosemary. And I thought to myself, ‘I could just build a quick mud oven around him, throw some coals in, and he’d never know what happened.'”

We’ve got a lot of acorns out back. I mean, a LOT. This year, more than I have ever seen before. The pig likes to eat the acorns, which sets my mind to Spain’s famous Iberico bellota acorn-grazed hams, the most expensive and delicious ham in the world. And I begin to rethink my commitment of non-violence toward Henri.

Iberico bellota

All day long, as I sit at my computer and work, I watch the acorn woodpeckers — Melanerpes formicivorus — flying from the branches of the live oaks to the side of our house, an acorn in their beak on each run. One exterior wall of the house is riddled with holes, made by Melanerpes formicivorus. And every day from dawn to dusk, the woodpeckers fly between the trees and the house, depositing their acorns in our wall. Nobody knows why they do it. They eat bugs, not acorns. Once I had to replace a rotted board on that side of the house. I took the board off, and a waterfall of acorns came pouring out.

I read a story about an old wooden water tank in Arizona that someone decided to dismantle. They opened it up, and some four tons of acorns came cascading out, the work of dozens of generations of acorn woodpeckers.

Once we’d eaten the chickens and the pig in my doomsday scenario planning, we could move on to the acorns. They are apparently nutritious, if not delicious. First, to eliminate their bitterness or toxicity, you must grind them then soak them in something or other. I watched a Chumash elder demonstrate at the local native American museum on a field trip with my kid once. He offered up samples, and it won’t be displacing pork shoulder in my diet. Unless, of course, necessity were to dictate that it does.

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I think I may have already had the coronavirus. A couple weeks ago, I had a strange cough with no runny nose or sore throat that lasted two or three days.

Armed with that rationale, I venture out per usual, buying all the delicious things at the grocery store the Pop Tart hoarders pass by, enjoying the relative quietness of the streets. I don’t wear a face mask, and I hardly ever wash my hands.