This past weekend's vacation produced a moral dilemma along with a couple day's worth of R&R.

I'm a vegetarian and have been for years. I'm willing to wear leather because no one kills a cow just for the skin, and theoretically it's possible that my boots and jacket are from a milker who died of old age. Cheap weaselling cop-out? Sure, if you wish. I prefer human imperfection and consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. Part of the ethical credo that I subscribe to is not to knock other people's lifestyle choices that don't directly affect me, so I don't run around telling people not to eat meat. I do tell people I like to beware of hamburger and to get it, if possible, from a small family farm, or buy a known cut of meat and grind it themselves.

So, the dilemma. Several years ago, I took up fishing. I use a cane pole or a stick with a string tied on, and I use artificail bait. (Berkely makes an amazing line of artificial bait, including waxworms, maggots, and earthworms. Good stuff. It's stinky, holds on the hook well, and sunfish and crappies can't get enough of it.) My policy was either catch and release, or, if Noteponymous wanted fish for dinner, take them home for hir to clean and eat. After the birth of our child, I didn't have time to fish anymore. I missed it, to a certain extent, but not enough to go buy a license.

Flash forward. My child is now old enough to go fishing. I've looked at some research showing that fish do, indeed, feel pain from being hooked. So I decided not to fish anymore. But my kid wants to fish.

So we explained very carefully, as much as we could to a kindergartner, everything about fishing. Still want to go fishing? we ask. You betcha, we're answered.

So a couple hours later, I'm on the public pier, hauling fish out of the lake. Wait, Epo, you said you wouldn't fish anymore, ahimsa and all remember?

I solved the dilemma this way: I will not fish purely for my personal pleasure/relaxation anymore. If I catch a fish, I will thank it for its sacrifice, treat it with respect and as much gentleness as possible, and take it home. I won't clean it, I won't eat it, but my family will be fed. Will I still enjoy fishing? Of course! I'll take plenty of pleasure in matching my bare stick and thin line against the wily sunfish. I just will make sure that others benefit from it as well.

I've had a lot of discussions with people about my food choices (always at their behest) and there's a little conundrum that seems to always enter the debate. OK, you're stranded on a desert island with a cow. Do you kill and eat the cow, or starve to death, effectively comitting suicide, an act of violence against yourself, a sentient being? My answer? If the cow was stranded with me, and there isn't a food source for it, it would be a mercy to kill it as painlessly as possible and accept the gift of its flesh. If there is enough fodder for the cow to live, it's much more valuable to me alove, as a source of fertilizer and companionship. Would I then eat fish for protein? Probably. Call it situational ethics if you want to -- no one is perfect, and I hope I've lost enough ego in the last few years of trying to follow Buddhist principles to recognize that, for all my spiritual leanings, I am still human, still mostly unenlightened, and perhaps a few years on a desert island would be good for me.