It was 4:30am and I was on a barge in Alaska.
I was groggy from the early hour and not looking forward to the day to come. I walked outside my room to put on my galoshes before I headed to the factory. We had to keep our boots in the hall at night otherwise, they would stink up our room. As I pulled my galosh onto my foot, I felt cold water seep through my sock, engulfing my foot. I quickly took the boot off to inspect what had gone wrong.
It was pee. There was pee in my galosh. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was pee in my freaking galosh.
It was the summer I turned 20 that my best friend and I had the bright idea to go to Alaska and work at a Salmon factory. We had heard from other people who had done it, that you could make a good amount of money in a season packing salmon. We understood that the work was going to be tough, but we were 20 and up for anything. Plus, I had always wanted to see Alaska and this was a way for me to see it and get paid. Bonus.
Hot damn! It turned out to be a terrible idea!
(Of course it did. I was a vegetarian going to pack salmon. This would have been a good first clue.)
It was the first day on the job and the factory was cold, wet and smelled just as you might expect a factory full of dead fish to smell. We had our galoshes, our waterproof overalls, our raincoats and our hairnets. We were ready to roll.
There were two sizes of cans that our plant packaged with Salmon, a big can and a small can. I was put on the assembly line that dealt with the big cans.
The conveyor belt started and I was nervous. The big cans of salmon were coming my way and I couldn’t stop it from happening. I was in position and if I left, the whole line would get jacked up.
The cans were coming, and as they approached I saw nothing but salmon heads sticking up out of the cans.
It was my job to either push the heads down far enough so that the lids could be clamped down on the can or take out excess so the lids would fit. When I pushed the heads down, there was this awful squishing noise of water and little broken bones.
You guys, I had to break dead salmon bones to make them fit in a can.
It was atrocious.
It took me exactly one can before my mind was made up that I had to be transferred to the small can line. I talked to my boss during my first break and told her that I couldn’t do it. I pulled out the vegetarian card and told her that I could do the small cans, but I couldn’t work the salmon heads all day. To this she replied that I should have thought about it more before signing up for the job. I agreed and she reluctantly made the transfer.
I spent the rest of my time at the factory working on the small can line which was still horrible, though, not as horrible as the salmon heads looking up at me.
My new job was to take the cans that either had too much salmon in them or too little and fix their weight accordingly. The machine that dumped the salmon into the cans wasn't calibrated right because 9 out of 10 cans that came down that line had to be adjusted.
I had to work fast too, because if too many cans backed up, the conveyor belt would jam, and production would have to stop. NO ONE liked it when production had to stop.
This is the perfect segway to tell you about my co-workers at the Salmon factory.
My best friend and I were the ONLY white people who worked on the assembly production line.
There were other white people who worked at the production facility but they worked in quality control and management. The only people working the line, apart from me and my bestie, were Filipino women, and a lot of them. They would came to Alaska every season to do this work. This is how they supported their families and it was their main source of income for the entire year. This job was their bread and butter. They were serious about it and took it with extreme gratitude and care.
And then there was me. A 20 year old American vegetarian who couldn't deal with the big can line.
As much as I wanted them to like me, I didn’t blame them for not. I probably took one of their friend’s job’s, someone who really needed it and here I was just wanting to see Alaska and try something different for the summer.
(They didn’t like my best friend either, but she had dark features and could almost pass as being Mexican, so they liked her more)
Needless to say:
I was not liked by my co-workers.
I was not liked by my co-workers so much that they peed in my work boots.
So there I was on the small can line, my salmon cans backing up and an entire factory of Filipino women shouting at me to “work fasta, work fasta, work fasta!!”.
Oh gawd, what had I gotten myself into?
The summer proceeded to go downhill until my best friend and I made the decision to leave Alaska early. My boss was angry, “You will never be able to work here again if you leave” she said in her thick New Zealand accent. We told her that we had taken that into account when we made our decision and we were sticking with it (though, what I wanted to say was, “that’s exactly the point!”).
We booked it for the next ferry out and made our way to Washington.
I left Alaska with galosh rot and a new understanding of hard work.
More importantly, I left knowing that I would continue to be a vegetarian (and eventually vegan) and that I wanted to help as many people eat vegetarian as I could because a salmon factory is no place for humans or salmon.
It was an Aha! moment that needed to happen.
It was part of the path that led me to eventually open vegan restaurants, coach people how to eat better, write vegan cookbooks and lifestyle books and develop clean eating programs (like the one I am smack dab in the middle of creating! More on that another time).
It was a smelly lesson but I am grateful for it and ultimately, better off.
Have you had an insanely crappy job? Did you have any that led to Aha! moments? Email me, let’s talk.
And finally, in honor of fish everywhere, here’s a recipe for Tuna Salad made from garbanzo beans.
Serve it on bread or scoop it in avocados and eat just like that!
3 cups cooked garbanzo beans (530g)
1 cup carrot, grated (85g)
1/4 cup red onion, diced (30g)
1/2 cup celery, diced (60g)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard (4g)
1/2 cup vegan mayo (120g)
2 teaspoon dulse flakes (4g)
1/2 teaspoon salt (3g)
• Place garbanzo beans in a food processor and pulse several times until the beans are flaky. Do not over mix or they will turn mushy.
• Place garbanzo beans into a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients to the bowl.
• Mix until all ingredients are combined and chill in the refrigerator until cold.
I’ll keep the recipes coming every Saturday because I like giving you guys recipes. I do sell my books on my website when you're ready for more, fyi!
Thanks for allowing me to be part of your day.
I hope you have a happy Saturday.