Reimagining the presence of bighead and silver carp could go a long way toward healing the river system. While the canal may be here to stay, we can repurpose its use. The riverway is funded by close to 2 billion public dollars, giving us the right to redirect money away from oil profiteers and toward the preservation of our watershed.
Rather than perpetuate the racialized rhetoric that justifies technocratic solutions, we can take actions that demilitarize our sacred streams. The impacts of Climate Change that cause superstorms and flooding accelerate the need to transform how we think of water.
As opposed to extractive logics, Fawn Pochel, a member of First Nations Oji-Cree, claims many Indigenous perspectives view the river through a framework of kinship. The river traditionally connected families throughout the region. It was fundamental to trade and travel, but not in an industrial sense. Pochel describes the relationship between humans and rivers as reciprocal. In return for human care of the river, the river sustains communities.
These perspectives offer a crucial shift in the representation of waterways and the species within them. Where the language of “bio-terrorism” and “invasion” cue military action that perpetuates slow violence along the rivers, Indigenous approaches enact a reciprocity premised on healing. Metaphors, argues Izayotilmahtzin Mazehualli, are key to understanding rivers: “Indigenous perspectives often rely on poetry and metaphor to understand and describe what water is. Technocratic solutions keep us trapped in 20th century modernity and fantasies of dominating water. Our focus should include shifting to the symbolism offered by water. Rivers teach us to be adaptable, to flow with emotional complexity, and to be in synchronicity with the ecosystem around us.”
One of the ways we can move away from harmful metaphors toward symbols that heal the watershed is to call carp food. Some folks in our watershed already embrace carp as food. Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop, a Chicago seafood store, has hosted barbecues touting the benefits of carp burgers. To the average person wanting to know how they can help stop carp, Dirk Fucet says, “you can eat it.” Fucet joins an ever-growing chorus crying “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em,” leaning on our palettes to protect the Great Lakes. He offers a recipe for Mediterranean carp burgers with arugula, tzatziki, and pickled onions. His shop was featured recently in the New York Times as the place-to-go when you want to eat well.
In their project, “Eat the River, Heal the River,” artists Sarah Lewison and Andrew S. Lang envision a thriving watershed amid climate change. Like Fucet, Lewison and Lang point toward the nutritional benefits of consuming carp. In an interview with the Freshwater Lab, they argued that eating introduced fish isn’t a new idea – most of the fish in the Great Lakes are introduced.
When we frame the fish as invaders, we no longer address privatized interests benefitting from the current infrastructure. “Invasive species are a symptom, not a cause,” the artists said. Eating the carp is a matter of environmental justice: “We need to move to models of ecology that aren’t extractive.” The carp processing program Fin Gourmet exemplifies an ecological model of holistic environmental healing. Their approach turns to the ecological and cultural waylays to restore justice to both. Established in Kentucky, the founders reimagine how people and new species can adapt to the changing water geography through a framework of equity and healing. They hire people released from prison to staff their efforts to reimagine how we eat amidst Climate Change.
We need to change how we talk about where fish belong. Lang and Lewison are galvanized by examples like Fin Gourmet, suggesting we are only beginning to scratch the surface of new possibilities in our watershed. The 21st century has dawned and antiquated approaches that rely on engineered solutions shouldn’t limit our imaginations.