Salmon ‘not just protein on our plate’


Above: Lacinda Mack (top left), Lee Bensted (bottom left) , Aileen Penner (right)

The next time you sit down to tuck into some delectable salmon, think about what you are about to eat. The message students at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies want to get across to the public is that salmon are not just “protein on our plate”. Several MES students recently spread their message by creating three tall, colourful banners and placing them in the main stairwell of the Lumbers Building, where FES is located.

The banners were part of an exhibit that uses representations and stories about salmon as a medium of education about salmon. “Salmon have cultural significance, especially to the First Nation peoples in the Pacific Northwest,” MES student Aileen Penner said. “Salmon have a life cycle that is an incredible story of struggle, resistance, and survival.”

Measuring approximately one metre by three metres, the silk-screened multimedia banners depict farmed salmon, by Penner; traditional Nuxalk, North West Coast culture in relation to wild salmon, by Jacinda Mack, York masters candidate in communications and culture; and wild salmon, by Lee Bensted, masters candidate in education at University of Toronto.

The banners are stylistic representations of salmon, highlighting their interconnections within ecosystems – including humans – and the integrity and fragility of these relationships. A fourth banner, not shown in the photos, is a collaborative, layered salmon representation and a re-telling of many of the stories learned about this species of fish.

One of the images that is integral in representing these ideas is an otolith, the kidney bean-shaped bone found in the salmon’s inner ear. The otolith reacts to water temperature changes by adding darker layers of calcium to its expanding shell. Like tree rings, the otolith forms a precise record of the salmon’s history. Daily growth rings in the otoliths can reveal if the fish are of hatchery or wild origin.

“Drawing on ecofeminist and Aboriginal ways of knowing, our banners further explore the themes of movement and memory as they relate to farmed and wild salmon, and to salmon-human relationships,” explained Penner.

Left: Aileen Penner (photos by John Vainstein)

“We aim to explore the idea of salmon as [cultural] code, salmon as magic, and salmon as machine. We also want to emphasize the theme of layers: layers of meaning, layers of history, layers of colonialism, layers of values, layers of flesh, layers of rings and layers of interconnection.”

The exhibit was part of York’s 10th annual EcoArt & Media Festival.

This article was sent by FES.