About half way through the flight we struck up a conversation. I had already made my judgments - executive, import/export, midwest and probably Chicago, electronics or maybe petroleum. These guys are usually pretty nice when I meet them, and remind me of America in a strange, paternal sort of way. Like if I happened to sit next to my own father, without recognizing him, while he was on a business trip.
Turns out the passenger was in the seafood business, and was from the Pacific Northwest, but by way of Chicago (one point). What was most fascinating about our conversation was how convoluted his work was, a curious characteristic of our food chain these days. He was based in Seattle, and the lion's share of fish caught for his particular company came from the waters off of Alaska and Russia.
But that fish - 'Cod,' he told me, which could pretty much be anything white and swimming these days, I thought - is then gutted, frozen whole and shipped to factories in China. In China, it is then cut into precise portions and dusted with breadcrumbs and sometimes also deep fried and frozen. Then, the cut and breaded fish boards another boat, floats back across the Pacific, and makes its way to Denny's, TGIFridays, freezer cases and other outposts of factory produced food nationwide. A fresh, wild fish, paraded around the world and frozen to nothingness, all for a shower of fucking breadcrumbs.
"The problem is, the Chinese have now learned how to soak the fillets in a (insert chemical name) and water solution and increase the weight!" he said, a little dismayed. "But the Indonesians don't. And, they're great at processing the shrimp with the tails still on, too. We just can't do that in America anymore...." he said, now sounding almost wistful.
I nodded my head with genuine interest. And I thought that the problem wasn't in the chemical bath, or the labor costs in keeping a shiny tail poking out of golden breading, but the ridiculous system itself. Then I returned to my work.
As he bit into the factory-made chicken pie that JetStar serves on that flight, I admired his wedding ring again. It really was a magnificent piece of gold, like a vein cut right out of the earth.