The Edible Feast

By Sue Allison

There is tuna on the menu, and for a moment, I am taken aback. Like everyone else, I have read not only that tuna is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, but that we are destroying the planet by eating it all up. But they are wrong! Here it is, in a little local restaurant in my little town, on my birthday. This strikes me as a small miracle, and I do not hesitate.

Whose planet is it, anyway? What is my role in it? I own no smokestacks spewing ash into the air. I hardly ever take a plane. I don’t empty my bilge into the unpolluted waters of an unpolluted stream. I rarely say a harsh word, let alone suffer children to work in hovels to make T-shirts for Target. I never shop at Target. I did not put the tuna on the menu, but there it is, and though I might be a better person if I did hesitate, I do not. Quite the contrary. My husband will have the prime rib, my daughter the pasta, but I will eat the sea, and without a single scruple.

I will not only eat the sea. I will eat up the whole world. I will eat fresh rain, candy, piney-scented bread, and mornings drenched in birdsong. I will drink the wind in gulps so big I can hardly breathe; gobble up miles in my boots, or merely sit devouring time. It will be delicious. I will waste not a second or a morsel. The world is an edible feast–and I, its happy glutton.

But I am lucky. I live in a time in evolutionary history in which the predators have all been dispatched, the killing cold, shut out, the black of night, a choice. I live in a time when the world does not only not eat me, it barely threatens my existence. So I have always been an eater, not an eaten, of the world.

I remember when I first ate the sky. On hearing the tinkling from the Good Humor® truck on a summer evening, I ran to the ice-cream van with a dime from my mother in my clammy hand—our hands were always clammy then, grimy and damp—to take my place in line, giving me time to weigh my decision, which flavor Popsicle® would I pick? Maybe this time I would choose Red Cherry, which looked so good, or Lemon Lime. I longed to try Lemon Lime. The possibilities filled me with excitement, but when it came down to it, when it came to me, when it was my turn, I never wavered. I never hesitated. I always chose Sky Blue. It was not my favorite flavor. It was not even a flavor. I liked its color, the surreal, sunny-day blue, and its name. I could not not choose it. It was as if it were my destiny, my nature. I could not be the person who, when given a choice of sky and something else, would choose something else. I would consume the sweet ice slowly, savoring each lick and then lick my sticky hands, and when it was all gone, suck on the blue-stained stick, until it splintered.

I’ve come to love other skies than blue, in fact to prefer them: the blurred gray of a winter day, the murk of a fall afternoon’s lowering sky, with that tint of light that always comes when the sun is at a slant. Fall is an acquired taste, as is the bite-back of a radish; cigarettes when you are smoking from your boyfriend’s pack on a walk through Central Park in deep Sunday snow, knowing that when you get to the end you will part; coffee; fifty-foot swells, continental drift.

Perhaps one day, I will know satiety, perhaps that is what age is for—to learn moderation, to say nothing of deprivation—and so, leave a morsel or two. In any case, one day, I will die, and if I can convince those who will remain behind not to cremate me—not to turn, for even a brief moment, any of the blue sky black—I will feed the earth with my body, with my sinew, my bones, my teeth, and my happy tongue.

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