It is hard to identify anything more emblematic of the Chesapeake region than the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and, for those who eat crabs, piles of these tasty crustaceans call family and friends together every summer.
I had the opportunity to partake in one of these yearly rituals over the course of the 4th of July holiday.
Recently, I have been challenging myself to practice mindfulness while eating. To chew slowly and contemplate all that went into creating and producing the food I am eating. It fills my heart with wonder and gratitude to chew on a strawberry and contemplate the sun’s rays shining down on a plant, the roots that ran deep into the Earth drawing nutrients and water into the fruit, the hands that cared for the plant and picked the berry, and the journey the berry took to reach my table. It helps me remember that I am sustained by a web of life far greater than the boundaries of my mortal flesh and bones.
I must admit, this is not an easy thing to practice. I am often catching myself eagerly consuming my food and having to remind myself to slow down. For me, this task can be especially difficult when faced with a steaming pile of beautiful Chesapeake Bay blue crabs basked in seasoning! Despite the difficulty, it is a worthy undertaking.
Just stop to think about the journey these crabs take. It is a truly remarkable one that stretches nearly the entire length of the Chesapeake and even parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Crab eggs need a high salinity to survive. Because of this, female crabs migrate to the mouth of the Bay every year to lay their eggs. These eggs first hatch into microscopic larvae called zoea, which are swept out into the open Atlantic. In about a month’s time, the zoea transform into what’s called a megalops stage and begin to crawl along the bottom of the Ocean and feed on tiny fish larvae as they make their way back to the Chesapeake. After about 20 days more, the megalops transform into what we recognize as a blue crab. This earliest crab form measures just one fifth of an inch from tip to tip on their shells! It will take another 18 months for these crabs to reach full maturity and the process to start again.
Then there are the human hands that make our crab feasts possible. The watermen who work the Bay day in and day out, the wholesalers who transport the crabs from dock to restaurant or store, and the steamers who loose pounds of weight in sweat cooking our crabs for us every summer.
In the Buddhist tradition, a monk or nun often recites before eating: “This food is the gift of the whole universe – the Earth, the sky, and much hard work. May we live in a way that is worthy of this food”
All food has its origin in the Earth, and I would challenge folks to try and incorporate this mindfulness practice into your life. It is an eye-opening experience that fills your heart with gratitude.
For those of you that partake in seasonal crab feast rituals, I’d challenge you to remember the journey the crabs you are eating took to take their place of honor at the table and give thanks for that journey and the hands that make your feast possible.
May we live in a way that is worthy of our food, and the Earth that nourishes us, by being good stewards of our Bay!
By Matthew Heim
One Water Partnership Director
If you’d like a detailed narrative of the life cycle of a blue crab, I’d encourage you to check out this page from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.