Being Salmon, Being Human

Maddy Harland | Friday, 25th May 2018
An exploration of the world through the eyes and lives of salmon.
Author: Martin Lee Mueller
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Publication year: 2017
RRP: £18.99

Being Salmon, Being Human starts with a wonderful, evocative foreword by Stephan Harding, describing what it means to consciously realise in every cell of our body that we are living on a sentient, interconnected planet as opposed to in a dead Cartesian machine.

This sets the scene for Martin Mueller who takes us on a journey from the vigour and beauty of the salmonid species worldwide to its industrial, genetically modified farming system, as terrible as any terrestrial caged feedlot.

He relentlessly unpicks what we have done to this extraordinary creature who builds 90% of its body from marine ecosystems and then leaves it, after spawning, in fresh water, to feed hungry bears at the end of the winter, aquatic life lower down the food chain, and all the terrestrial species that live on the bear’s leftovers. (Bears like to take the carcasses into the forest and eat the rich feast of male salmon brains and female roe. Even the old growth forest benefits from the cascade of nutrients that are washing into the mycorrhizal system of its roots.)

Mueller juxtaposes two key narratives: the Norwegian salmon industry specifically and generally the global salmon industry, with the Gaian worldview and the indigenous cultures of the Pacific North West. He draws upon ecologists, biologists and fisheries experts, and places his findings next to major philosophers like Descartes, Heidegger, and David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous).

The reader is made to confront the terrible cruelty of an industry that has spliced and imprisoned a sentient species. This is framed as a consequence of mechanistic thinking that has placed humans centre stage, negated sentience and turned our world into a collection of resources. The outcome of this merging of two worldviews is a pulling apart of the old mechanistic worldview and scientific insights of the world we are destroying. Layered beyond this is the stepping forward into Gaian complexity and entanglement, where the narrative of interconnection surpasses theory and moves us into realisation.

This is intricate, powerful reading.

Maddy Harland is editor of PM

Useful links

Wild law: recognising the rights of nature

What we do to nature, we do to ourselves

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