Quality outweighs quantity for long-term benefit

The hidden beauty in simple things.

You may have heard the term “quality over quantity,” but have you ever really thought about it?

If you Google it, you find an astonishing number of website discussions, some of which go down pretty deep and ugly rabbit holes, by which I mean the term gets twisted in ways I would strongly disagree with. It has also been twisted around to say “quantity over quality” — a life choice I have the luxury to disagree with.

Let’s think about food. (Who doesn’t?) An animal that is given a choice between two kinds of food will generally choose the food that has more caloric density. You might say it choses based on taste, but in most natural cases, that comes out to be the same choice because the richer foods are those with more fat and fat is good at bringing out flavors.

If you add a piece of butter to your tomato sauce, it brings out the flavors better. Whales prefer krill over fish, but they will eat herring over young cod or smelt.

King salmon will eat crabs or shrimp, but more often I see them with bellies full of sand lance. Herring and sand lance are full of fat and krill have the perfect energetic density for whales.

Usually, we assume that whales or fish eat whatever they encounter. It is known that whales and also fish follow their memories to go where they have encountered certain foods in the past. Young have to learn from the adults in the group where those resources are.

There are many well-studied examples of animals that have relied on certain food resources for decades until those food populations diminish. Those animals that relied on the steady food resource then have to go hungry or search for alternative food. If the alternative is not as rich in calories or is less plentiful, they may even starve.

Birds are particularly vulnerable because they usually spend a lot of calories flying far to reach the places of abundant food and feast. If they arrive to find those resources missing, there is not much energy left to search elsewhere.

A few years ago, thousands of common murres were washed up on the beaches around Kodiak because the fish they usually foraged on were not where the birds were looking for them. 

When an animal chooses the food that provides the highest energy density for the effort spent acquiring the meal over other choices, ecologists call this “optimal foraging.” 

When it comes to food, animals choose quality over quantity. But if there is not enough food to go around, the animal will eat whatever it can get.

I once examined the stomach contents of salmon smolt and found several samples that were full of spruce needles. Those are not an appropriate food for little fish and would not have helped them grow big and strong — an example of bad choices. You might say these salmon smolt chose quantity over quality!

Being picky about your food requires an abundance of food. Being picky about any of life’s necessities is only appropriate when one has the means to choose, which is why I said in the beginning that I have the “luxury” to disagree with the sentiment “quantity over quality.” 

This is an unusual year but, pandemic or not, Christmas is knocking on our doors again. Like many others, I have canceled my travel plans and will stay right here in beautiful Kodiak next to my fireplace, which is really not a bad place to be. 

The sentiment here is to avoid spreading coronavirus with the Christmas cheer. This year, there are no Christmas parties to attend, no Christmas bazaars to browse, and even the Christmas decorations at my workplace were not put up since there is no public allowed in the building and, apparently, that includes the Christmas elves.  

I don’t mind being less inundated with the overwhelming commercialism of the holidays; in fact, I rather enjoy it.

This year, for the first time in many years, I have found myself thinking back to old traditions like writing letters by hand and baking stuffed apples in the fireplace. I used to like trying new recipes that can be a bit more expensive than the generic chocolate chip cookies, and allowing the extra budget for that extravagance in the name of Christmas. 

While I enjoy these creative activities, I think of friends and family and wonder how they are faring. The letters and treats I make help me connect with them and send a message of caring in a festive package.

By scaling down many of the events that December usually brings, I find Christmas spirit returning to my heart. I find the time to see the hidden beauty in simple things. Not only do I revive my old hobby of making festive confects, but also today I am going to try something new: I am going to make my own paper for cards, letters and little pictures.

Christmas season is the giving season, and there is a lot of thought and money that go into choosing the right gifts. Not always does that go so well. Almost everyone knows the stale feeling that comes with receiving a piece of clothing so awful that we are almost embarrassed someone would imagine us wearing it. I have a coat in my closet that would be nice for someone, but I don’t think you will ever see me in huge red and white checkers! It’s just not me. 

Then there is also the feeling of having gifted something that was not right. You ended up buying something for that one difficult family member on your list and when they open it, you know they know and everyone knows that you just did not know what to get. Not sure if the fake enthusiasm some people muster in these situations is better, or the quick change of topic to move the situation on. 

I know open rejection and honesty can be hurtful. Whatever it is, there is an art to giving, and usually Christmas has an abundance of bad art! A bad gift is like the energetically inferior food — the spruce needles in the salmon stomachs. Not only that, it adds to the amount of stuff that accumulates and makes our homes messy, overloads our landfills, and chokes our environment.

Quality over quantity applies to Christmas gifts, too. If you know the one thing a person wants, the gift can be much appreciated. If you don’t, consider that it is better to ask than to spend money on something that only adds to the junkpile. 

If you are not that close to the person or they just don’t need anything right now that is within your reach to grant, consider a consumable gift. Can you make something they would appreciate? What do they love to eat or drink?

If your friends are affected financially by the ongoing pandemic, they may really appreciate a box of fish, some meat of that deer you hunted, or one of your awesome jellies.

If you are not a baker or a cook, but your friend or family member is, what about getting things they need but are expensive, like special baking ingredients (spices, vanilla, almond flour, nuts or liquors)? Is your friend a dog lover? Get some of the special and expensive healthy dog food for the love of his or her life. 

In the last column, I wrote about intentionality. Planning Christmas gifts with rules in mind is better than just browsing for cute things that are of limited use. Ask yourself how much usage the gift’s recipient is going to get out of the thing you are about to buy.

If you are buying a gift for kids, quality over quantity is especially applicable. I used to hate it when my child received random gifts of toys that were entertaining for all of half an hour and then added to the junkpile in the kid’s room. Does the child collect something? Does the child engage in a hobby? Do the parents have a suggestion? In case of doubt: Ask before you buy.

This Christmas, get into the spirit of giving and give with thought and purpose.

One last thing: Before you order that thing from Amazon, look up how much taxes Amazon paid last year and ask yourself if that business model resonates with your sense of fairness. Yes, I know, the world is not fair; but I am not going to stop crying about it because I believe that we make a choice with every action and every purchase.

Everything we do matters, every gift we give matters and everything has an impact on the amazing world we live in.

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