The cost of tradition?

When we were in the gulf coast, I remember being baffled by the decision many locals made to continue to eat the fish. Time after time, we’d ask if they were concerned about the oil contaminating their food and were met with a variation of the same response: “The fish looks fine”. “Mother Nature will provide”. There was even a crude joke that we heard that said; “I guess the oil makes it better for frying”.

Then we’d ask them about dispersant.

And the confident quips would halt. Distrust would seep into their voices as they shook their heads in disgust. Even though there was an incisive suspicion that the dispersant wasn’t good, many continued to cast their line, pile their catch into their picnic coolers, and go home to eat the fish.

Photo Courtesy of Terell Clark

To me, it seemed like this was their way of standing up for the culture and way of life that had been rocked by the oil spill. While jobs may have been lost, and 11 families lost a loved one to the oil spill, at the very least, they would continue to do the rituals that have been embedded in their community for generations; fish.

But at what cost?

With reports of the residents in Alabama and Florida getting sick, I fear the cost of preserving culture and tradition is too high. Gulf Port resident, Lori gave us a first-hand account of the way people’s skin would be visibly red and irritated after being in water that had been sprayed by dispersant . Environmentalist Jerry Cope recently discussed how his own health was compromised just by working in the gulf for a while. These stories are bringing to light the beginnings of a dark consequence of this oil spill.

In the rush to normalcy, it saddens me that people may be neglecting the very real impact these chemicals, and the oil itself can have on their bodies in the short and long term. I hate to think that people who I met could have brain damage, or suffer cancer 5, 10, or 15 years later because of our insistence on keeping things as they are.

And I say “our” because all of us play a part in this tragic drama. They cast their lines, we fill our tanks, double up on plastic bags in the supermarket, and watch new companies drill for new oil off new coasts. How many lives will have to be disrupted to change the script?

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09 2010