Lessons From an Octopus’s Garden

Photo by Pasha gulian on Unsplash

The other night, we were clicking through Netflix movie offerings, trying to figure out which one we were in the mood for. We checked a couple out. “Too stupid,” we thought, or “not in the mood for that,” continuing to scroll until we came to this quirky little title called My Octopus Teacher. We clicked on it to read more and, intrigued, we started watching.

If you haven’t seen it, the movie features a guy who was burned out from his job and life and needed an infusion of purpose and meaning. He started diving regularly in a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa, where he lived. He discovered an octopus there and decided to go visit her every day in her den. The movie chronicles how they built a sort of inter-species relationship over the next year, which is the about the average lifespan of an octopus.

We found out the movie is a 2021 Oscar nominee for best Documentary Feature and several of our friends had already seen it and had been as spellbound as we were.

We thought about our 2001 trip to Greece. Out on the island where we stayed for much of the time, we’d see octopus drying on the door above the doorways of restaurants and tavernas. The sign in Greek looks like “Tabepna,” which is the way we’d say it, just for fun. I had some sense of the actual alphabet and how the β is actually pronounced like a V, because I’d had some New Testament Greek in seminary years ago. I liked to fancy myself somewhat knowledgeable. Not like I could understand of word of modern Greek, but it was fun to pretend anyway.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

We’d see these octopus drying out all over town and we even tried it ourselves. It was quite tasty grilled and we had never tried it before. We both said the other night, after watching the movie, we couldn’t imagine ever eating it again, having seen the little octopus acting like a true sentient being, if a strange looking one.

It made me think of my own personal journey away from eating animal products. It’s been a long one and it began with a piece on NPR one Sunday morning, maybe twenty years ago. I was going to Dunkin’ Donuts to get some coffee and breakfast sandwiches for my work team. Sausages and bacon were involved. I happened to hear this interview with the author of a book called Dominion (Matthew Scully), which was the first time I’d ever heard anything about CAFOs or factory farms and I was haunted by what I learned

At one point he said that the pigs which are crammed together in these tiny cages in some cases are so close together they can’t even lie down. He said, just think, these pigs are as smart and as sensitive as your dog. Well, that’s when I lost it and decided I was going to declare a moratorium on meat eating, at least until I could figure this out. We had a dog and all I could picture was our little girl being unable to lie down, her nose jammed into another dog’s butt. I never did “figure this out” and eventually left all meat eating (as my wife had done many years before that)and animal products behind, save for an egg we eat once a week now.

It was humbling to watch this movie, on the same night as Earth Hour, coincidentally, and think about our home, this planet, and how we want to treat her.

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