I remember goading my little sister. Try this. The pressure was on. Five or so pieces of eel lay before us and I was relentless.
We are not leaving this restaurant until you try it.
She smiled funny at the weight of the threat. She knew what I was doing. There was no way out. It was the sort of hazing my father and I put her through. Little tasks or bets where we would toughen her up. Make her bolder. She saw right through our actions and yet still was subject to them. She picked up the eel reluctantly and took a small bite.
It’s pretty good.
She finished her piece and declined my offer of more.
My last bite (Ever?) of the Unagi bowl at Yuko Kitchen is incredibly satisfying. This jewel box of a café on the Miracle Mile is straight out of your favorite anime. It is kitschy but still delicious which for me means that it has it all. Everything. There is outside seating with multicolored murals on the walls along with offerings of boba tea and bow-litos ( A savory hand-held rice snack in the shape of a burrito- Totally ridiculous, and totally good.). It’s fun. About an hour after meeting with Tory and enjoying an eel bowl I go online to research sustainable fish guides on a whim only to find out that eel is on the avoid list of every major publication.
“Freshwater eel is most commonly sold as “unagi.” Worldwide, farmed freshwater eel is on the “Avoid” list. Young eels are farm-raised after being captured from the wild. This practice adds pressure to wild populations already in decline. In addition, there’s concern about habitat loss and damage, and the amount of wild-caught fish required to feed farm-raised eels.” – seafoodwatch.org
As I sit across from Tory I pick up a piece of eel and put it in her bowl. Try this. She likes it, agrees this place is the cutest and continues to reminisce about the twenty years we have known each other. There is no bullshit between us; we are more or less related.
When my mother was alive I remember her sharing and taking tips with and from her friends, “Oh, you’re not supposed to use Styrofoam” “Oh, recycling is really important though.” “You have to try step aerobics.” And this was the 90’s so looking back it all seems a little silly, but I address my friends in the same way, “Eel is actually pretty vulnerable.” “I’ve been working on meditating, and it is really helping me.” “Haters can hate, I love juices”
I was socialized to share information this way; I internalize information like this. And it has to be from someone who I trust and have laughed with, or else I feel preached to, mandated, and my personality is so contrary that I’ll disregard the idea even if it is a good one. I’m not proud of this characteristic, but it’s totally part of my make up. And so familial cues on ways to be a better citizen of the planet are very important to me.
I think part of our resistance to change behavior based on information stems from nostalgia for sweet experience. I loved the period of time when I could play these games with my sister. Eel represented a world outside that I had seen, and that I would introduce her to. It was a way I could show her love. And when I ate it last it tasted more delicious because of that memory; because I had a context for it in my sibling relationship. Eel was not just a dish but a symbol for the areas of life where I was able to be there for her. I couldn’t help her learn how to walk in heels and had to call on Tory when she got her period, but that is life growing up as a young woman without a mother I suppose.
I’m a believer that if you eat an animal you should have some reverence for it. You are what you eat and all that. Self-love as love for the total environment. I’ve eaten more unagi than most and so it is my turn to champion and thus avoid the creature with the maniacal grin and ribbon like way of movement.
It is my time to share this information in that casual manner I inherited from my mother and her friends.