The other day I stopped at Whole Foods to buy tuna to grill for dinner. I waited at the fish counter for my turn. A woman joined the line between me, then edged between me and the counter to my left, roughly even with my position, attracting my attention as a potential line-jumper. The first person in line ordered farm-raised salmon fillets. The woman to my left said something–I didn’t hear what–that caught the attention of the salmon purchaser, and began pointing angrily at the fish. Were they together? Had the woman in front forgotten her grocery-purchase instructions? The woman to my left raised her voice. “That’s carcinogenic!” she exclaimed, pointing again at the farm-raised salmon. “That fish is carcinogenic! If you are going to buy salmon, only buy the wild-caught!” The woman in front returned some sharp words, turned away angrily from the Salmon Doomsayer, and completed her purchase. At this point a server behind the counter said “I have to disagree with you. Our farm-raised salmon exceeds all minimum government requirements and is raised in only the best conditions.” “That’s a lie! It’s carcinogenic! It’s raised in its own filth!” “No” said the server, “it’s not.” “Yes it is!” shouted the woman. “It’s poisonous! All fish raised in the United States is poisonous!” “This fish is not raised in the United States. It comes from Norway.” “That doesn’t matter. It’s carcinogenic! You only buy it because it’s cheap!” She hurled these last words as an indictment, as if it was the worst possible thing one could say. The server was calm and reasonable. My line companion was shrill and nasty. She was not merely discussing the merits of farm-raised versus wild-caught salmon. She was ugly. She was vicious. Meanwhile no one was being served. The line had grown eight-deep. I spoke up. “Enough of this” I said, spinning a forward circle in the air with my right hand and catching the server’s attention. “Keep the line moving.” He was relieved to break off the exchange and turned to help the woman waiting patiently in front of me. I soon bought my tuna and left.
Was this woman having a really bad day? Was she a representative of the North American Wild Salmon Council? Was she mentally ill? What moved her to interfere with the customer’s purchase of farm-raised salmon? Maybe she thought the customer just didn’t know the facts, but there was nothing helpful, no fellow concern, in how she delivered her message. It seemed that Whole Foods’ sale of farm-raised salmon enraged her. It was a weird grace note to an unremarkable day.
The tuna? It was excellent.