It was a slow Thursday afternoon when we met the breatharian. J███, J████ and I were in the fish shop browsing a livestock list from a big west coast supplier with D–. D– was looking for some bread-and-butter fish for one of his high powered lawyer client’s salt water tank. Nothing too exotic, just some color please. So, Sgt. Major Damsel’s at 15¢ each, minimum 10? And Yellow Tangs $1.00 or Coral Beauty’s for $1.50? Wholesale prices between friends.
Pricing livestock is a tricky business; you have to pay a fortune in shipping costs when you ship live fish; fish have to be in water, water weighs a lot, fast shipping by air is by weight. Combine that with the loss rates of shipping and holding till the fish is sold and you can end up with a Damsel that cost 15¢ wholesale costing $2.00 in store. High powered lawyers in plush law firms don’t care how much the fish cost as long as it swims around in the tank to pacify the socialites waiting for to sign their divorce papers at $500 an hour. Hence D– buying 15¢ Damsels for $2.00 each selling them on for $5.00.
While we were debating the ethics of potential markups on the various fish one of our regulars, S—-, came in. S—- was a punk rock skinny-mini ex-marine that topped out at about 90 pounds. With a huge colorful tattoo of an octopus covering her right shoulder and neck as a memento of her time in Okinawa. Her fish tank was at the heart of a bitter divorce and custody battle. Not that the tank was the cause; maintenance was the issue, because when J███ did the maintenance J███ he did S—- too.
Besides being a punk rock ex-marine girl, S—- was a Wholefoods nut. She regularly came into the fish shop raving about this or that new diet fad; One month she’d be macrobiotic vegan, next month it was raw foods only. It was always going to be a miracle cure for her chronic lethargy and insomnia. We all laughed behind her back about it; and as D– once said, “there’s nothing wrong with that girl a Big Mac wouldn’t fix.” And D– was a vegetarian.
Today S—- had a tag-along; an even skinnier girl who stood a head taller but looked more like Skeletor than a real person.
“Hey guys. This is A—. And my tang died.”
“So sad, which one?”
“Yellow one. I brought some water to test.”
“OK. Test kits in the back.” With that J███ took the zip-lock bag of fish tank water and lead Sandy to the back counter. No real need, there was a test kit at the front counter. This of course left J████, D– and me alone with Skeletor.
Mark, did the dirty work of starting the conversation with the third wheel. “So, A—. Have a fish tank?”
“Not since fifth grade. S—- says you guys are all vegetarians?”
“Yep. Except J███, he’s a vegan. We all make fun of him.”
“That’s cool that your vegetarians. Cruel that you make fun of him. I’ve been vegan for a few years; training to be a breatharian.”
None of us had ever heard of this term before. D– looked at J████ and I. Then J████ opened the door; “What’s a breatharian?”
“It’s the science of living on the nutrients of air.”
I watched too much PBS as a kid to let that one go. “You can’t live off air.”
“Oh no, see that’s what most people think. Really it’s just fear that kills you…”
“… Not starvation?”
“No, just fear. We’ve all been taught for so long that we can’t live without food and water that when we don’t have food and water we become scared and our minds cause us to get ill and die.”
“So,” J████ took the bait, “if I stop eating and drinking today, I won’t die, as long as I am not afraid of death?”
“It’s not quite that simple.”
“Oh,” D– said, “it never is.”
“To succeed,” A— continued, “you have to unlearn all that you know about food and nutrition and all the science mambo-jumbo. You have to train yourself, you can’t quite cold turkey.”
“And where did you learn all this from?”
“There are a number of people all around the world that have been teaching this system for years. It goes way back.” By this time A— was really into it, her eyes were starting to light up in a remarkably Skeletor like way, only she had blue eyes not red, “but the media doesn’t want to report on it. Big Agro doesn’t want people to stop buying food, so it’s hard to learn about it from the TV or newspapers.”
“So how did you learn about it?” I asked.
“I met this guy in California who was just back from Australia where he was studying under a wonderful woman who is like the high priest of breatharianism. She hasn’t eaten or had a drink in almost seven years.”
“Seven years?” We all said that, more or less in unison, same patronizing tone the flew of Skelator’s head.
“Yes, really. Isn’t it amazing? Seven years, but it took here a lot longer to build up to it.”
“I still don’t believe you can live on air.” I said.
“So how is your ‘training’ going?” D– asked.
“Well, I’m quite weak. I went two days last week without food, but I did drink water. I felt so tired…”
“There’s a reason for that…”
“… I had to.”
“… because you have to eat.”
“I hope that by the end of the year I can go a whole week. Next year a month. It will take at least a few years to be off food and water forever. Then I’ll be so much healthier None of the man-made chemicals, no death hormones.”
By this time S—- and J███ wondered back from testing the water.
“S—-,” I started, “what do you think about this living on air thing?”
“Breatharianism? I haven’t looked into it too much,” She said.
“You think that will fix your health issues,” D– asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I just started the raw food diet.”
“Does sashimi count?”
“No, vegan, of course.”
“Well, we’re off guys, I’m going to drop A— at Wholefoods. So I can pick up a new tang next week J███?”
“Yea if nothing else gets sick.”
“Nice to meet you guys.”
We watched the breatharian walk with S—- to her ancient Volvo. They got in and drove off and we all started laughing hysterically.
“You know,” I said, “if you could live without food or water, the ‘Ethernopians’ would have figured it out in the ’80s.”
“I think she needs more than one Big Mac to fix her issues,” D– concluded, “that girl is Darwinism at work. Hope she doesn’t have kids.”