The Trouble With Our Tilapia

Two summers ago my husband built an aquaponics system in order to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. He was inspired by several medium-to-small scale operations that we saw while on vacation in South Africa and decided to give it a try at home. In that time, he’s grown peppers, spring onions, lettuce, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, green beans (those were not so successful), broccoli (not enough light, so they flowered, but died) and squash.

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An aquaponics system is a quirky little thing. It’s a self-contained ecosystem made of up PVC pipe, hoses, sawn off barrels, water and lots and lots of living organisms. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics incorporates the use of an animal to create balance in the life cycle of the plant. These animals create waste, which contains ammonia, which feeds the plants. We decided to go with fish… about 12 gold fish initially and then two tilapia, one of which died within days. The last of the goldfish perished two weeks ago after a cold snap, and now only the more hearty of the tilapia remains. And my word, is he/she/it hearty! This is a 2-3 lbs fish we’re talking about here.

This is where the trouble begins.

As I revealed to you earlier this week, we will be leaving the country in a few months. That means we have to begin the process of storing, moving and discarding things. A tilapia is not a “thing”. At least not in my books.  It has been our guest for well over a year, faithfully providing animal waste for the plants we graze on whenever we have a mind to! Now we find ourselves in a quandary about what to do with it. Well, Marshall not so much. His solution is simple: If we won’t eat it, give it to someone who will.

“I don’t know how to approach one of my friends to ask them if they’d like a LIVE tilapia for dinner,” I said.

“Then we can ask Mrs. P if she would like it,” he shrugged. “She’ll probably jump at the chance to eat some fresh fish.”

You remember Mrs. P? She’s our Jamaican neighbor whose house I had to break into a few weeks ago. Anyway, it turns out she is not that sort of Jamaican. She admitted she has no idea how to clean or cut up a fish. Just as I am (apparently) no longer that sort of African. Although I am quite adept at how to skin and scale meat, I find myself reluctant to do so. In fact, I refuse.

While I have been putting myself through all these contortions about what to do with this fish that I can’t release into a river (it’s not native to Georgia), nor bring myself to turn into Friday dinner and that I hesitate to give away because I can’t figure out how to ask the Average City Dwelling American such a question, I suddenly found myself wondering about what my father would say. I could almost hear him, as though he were standing in front of me:

“Ah. But what is your problem? This is meat!”

“But, Daddddyyyyy!”

“Oh gerrout. Let me even cook it for you.”

Was I right in my supposition? Rather than speculate, I decided to tell my father about my dilemma to see what he’d proffer as a solution. I messaged him early this morning about what I’d been wrestling with all night. This is how our exchange went:



You are laughing. Stop laughing!

The funny thing is, I know that his glibly offered solution to eat the fish isn’t an “African” thing. It’s a practical thing; Because I’m 95% certain that if I were to contact MX5 (who hails from a small town in North Carolina) with the same quagmire, she wouldn’t hesitate with advice about what to do with said fish.

“Girl, you brang that thang over here and I’ll have the grease HOT n’ ready by the time you arrive! That’s meat!”

Oh dear.

The entire dilemma has helped me realize how detached I’ve personally become from my food source(s). For all my talk about “survival skills” and a desire to “live off the grid”, I know that if it came down to it, I could not bring myself to eat this fish. Ever. The food supply chain I have adapted to – where I meander down brightly lit aisle with my shopping cart and gleefully taste samples of carefully prepared tidbits of cheese and chicken – won’t let that sit well with my spirit. I mean, if the tilapia were headless and grilled on my plate, I’d attack it with gusto…but to go to my back porch, capture him/her, gut it and THEN eat it? Nah.


I have not yet decided to do with our guest/pet/potential main course, but I know a choice will have to be made soon. What would you do? Better yet, what would your grand daddy do? Grand daddy would have it ready by supper, wouldn’t he? Mmmhmmm….