The Last Shrimp

During Saturday’s reception for graduates and their families, we had our usual party repast of cut-up fruit, cheese, mini pizza appetizers, and shrimp.

We’ve been serving a shrimp course at end of year functions since I came here in 1996. It’s a standard part of our fancy repertoire for parent events and it’s always a huge hit.

Not so much this time. As we gathered for hors d’ouvres for the class of 2010, there was a rather mournful attitude. “shrimp,” said one. “these might be the last shrimp we ever eat.” Someone else nodded, “most of the gulf is closed to fishing now. We’ll be stuck eating Maine shrimp.”. Someone else said, “even if we do get shrimp, it may be bad to eat them with all the contaminants in the waters. Give you cancer or something.”

On and on it went. Each new person to the table added to the litany of ills for the shrimp, speaking their eulogy.

Now. Maybe Gulf shrimp are done. Maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re like the ex-parrot of Monty Python fame, and maybe they’re not. What’s really at issue, though, for the guys and gals at the table is that they really like eating shrimp.

For a bunch of us New Englanders to eat cooked and iced Gulf shrimp on a hot summer evening, and to share this feast with Korean, Chinese, and Japanese parents, though… well. It requires mire than your average miracle. It requires energy, and lots of it. Energy to move the fishing boats, and freeze the shrimp, and transport them, and to move the people, and cook the shrimp and then cool them for the people to eat, and to run the lights and manage the performance that all these people have come to see… so there can be a reception at which they will eat Gulf shrimp.

All of which leaves us in a touchy situation. The very environmental disaster which causes us to label these shrimp as “the last” is itself caused by our very real desire to eat shrimp from the Gulf in early June.

Which means that the Gulf Oil Spill is not a problem. It is instead a predicament.

Problems have solutions. If I assign a math problem, it means my students are expected to find a solution. Solutions take many forms, but they all end in the apparent dissolution of the problem they were intended.

Predicaments, on the other hand, have no solutions. Some, like the ancient Greek effort to square the circle, are

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