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Do Irvine's dead fish deserve a memorial?

October 30, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Proposed memorial to fish killed in accident in Irvine.
Proposed memorial to fish killed in accident in Irvine. (PETA )

It’s my favorite “Twilight Zone” episode.

And news from Irvine this week -- OK, I’ll say it, another fish-out-of-water story -- got me to thinking about it again.

In “To Serve Man” (for you young folk), an alien race comes to Earth, bringing with them tools to end war and hunger and disease.  Our plan for you is all in this book, they tell Earth’s leaders.  Written in their language, it’s undecipherable to humans; government scientists can only crack the title: “To Serve Man.”

But it all works out:  Happy, healthy, well-fed Earthlings are soon boarding spaceships to vacation on the aliens’ home planet.

Except -- one intrepid code breaker manages to complete the task. She finds her former boss just as he’s about to board the alien ship. Don’t go, she pleads. “The book … it’s a cookbook!” she shouts -- too late for our hapless narrator, who finds himself on the way to E.T.'s dinner table.

But what’s that got to do with Irvine?

Well, The Times reported this week on one Dina Kourda, a volunteer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who “is asking the city to erect a memorial at the street corner where 1,600 pounds of fish died this month when a container truck crashed into two other vehicles.”

As my colleague Nicole Santa Cruz writes:

The fish had been stored in large tanks that cracked open as a result of the Oct. 11 accident. When firefighters opened the back of the truck, some fish flopped out, and others had already died. None of the people in the accident were seriously injured.

"Although such signs are traditionally reserved for human fatalities, I hope you'll make an exception because of the enormous suffering involved in this case, in order to remind drivers that all animals -- whether they're humans, basset hounds or bass -- value their lives and feel pain," Kourda wrote.

OK, go ahead. Roll your eyes. Snort. Laugh out loud even. Everyone together: “They’re fish!”

And you’re not wrong. They are fish. We eat them. We eat lots of animals.

But admit it: Isn’t there a part of you that cringes, just a bit, at just how many animals we eat, and just how we treat them?  Tell me you don’t feel just a little bit guilty when you pass a semi rig on the highway carrying cattle or pigs or chickens? Or when you gaze out at a feedlot, or even just at cattle grazing in a field?

And that doesn’t even begin to describe how many of us feel about pet shelters and their unfortunate occupants, or the animals we see dead by our roadways, or those we catch sight of, alive, roaming our mean streets.

How do we really know what they feel?  Are they like those “Twilight Zone” humans who were destined to be the main course? We don’t really know, do we? 

Sure, it’s silly -- a memorial to fish.  

But you know, if you’re ever in Boston, go tour the Massachusetts State House. There, hanging in the House of Representatives hall, you’ll find “the Sacred Cod,” a  5-foot-long cod, carved in pine,  suspended above the entrance.

As the website Celebrate Boston explains:

The Speaker of the House faces the cod during the meetings. The Sacred Cod is a symbol of the bygone importance of the fishing industry in Massachusetts. The carved fish is more than 200 years old, and remains an ancient symbol of prosperity for the people in the state.

So maybe Dina Kourda of PETA is on to something. Maybe those dead sea bass were just fish. But maybe even fish can -- should -- have their day.

Maybe it's the least we can do.

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