Wednesday, 4:53AM PDT in Los Angeles...
I think I'm a bit weird.
When I was a kid, breakfast was one of those things I looked forward to every morning. I really liked- and still like- all of the foods associated with the morning meal. And one of those timeless menu items that I grew up with and still love is...oatmeal.
(Some of you in places other than the U.S. and Canada may call it "porridge" or some other name, but you know what I'm talking about here!)
It's probably one of the most maligned foodstuffs mankind has invented. Children have revolted against the stuff for centuries. Adults consumed it because there was no other choice...And the shit really hasn't changed all that much in the hundreds of years. It's been the humble food of millions for as long as anyone can remember. Practical, filling, simple.
However, in 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that consuming oat bran or whole rolled oats can lower the risk of heart disease when combined with a low fat diet via the effect of oat beta gluten to reduce blood cholesterol levels. A similar conclusion in 2010 by the European Food Safety Authority cemented oatmeal (LOL) as an anointed superfood that is more than the humble morning meal of our forefathers.
What happened next? It became sort of...well, sexy. Maybe? Okay, "cool" maybe?
(Ohh, nutritional porn! Don't show the kids!)
Yet, even after racking up international accolades, many people think about eating oatmeal the way we might approach a colonoscopy: It's something that is good for us, but not among life's more pleasant things. Others may not take such an extreme opinion of the stuff, comparing it to say, owning a minivan- safe and reliable, and comfortable for taking the kids to school and going to the supermarket, but not the vehicle of choice for a thrilling driving experience.
Dude, where the %&^^&*( are you going with this in a fish blog?
Think about this in the context of what we do.
We advocate the idea of tossing leaves and dead pods into our aquariums...something that Nature has done in wild habitats for eons. Yet, something that has historically not been viewed kindly in the hobby. At least, not on a larger scale.
Sensing an analogy here?
Hobbyists have been adding natural materials into our tanks for generations, and faced a fair amount of criticism or garnered some odd looks along the way. Sure, adding this stuff creates a different sort of aesthetic which isn't for everyone-tinted water, an earthy vibe-more "random" and ephemeral.. And it seems to be a bit counter-intuitive to the hobby "narrative" that's been pushed on us for generations.
Yes, botanicals break down in the aquarium, imparting tannins and other compounds into the water. "Bioload" in the true sense. For years, we've been advised that water needs to be crystal clear and devoid of "excess" biological materials. Advice that, although sound to a great extent- has been somewhat overstated, IMHO. To the point where the concept of adding these materials was looked at with almost a "counterculture" mindset- as if it were some odd, potentially hazardous practice.
Or just not cool, at the very least.
Such criticisms lacked context, and failed to look at the upsides of this practice, when incorporated into an overall practice of good husbandry, patience, and observation.
And, in recent years, studies showning the benefits to fishes of humic substances and other compounds contained in leaves and botanical materials have made this practice not only more palatable- they've demonstrated that adding botanicals to an aquarium- and allowing them to "do their thing"- is a beneficial, practical approach to maintaining healthy tropical fishes and fostering their reproduction in our aquariums.
And the aesthetic:
Brown water, leaves, earthy tones; a really natural look- is catching the eyes of hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike. The mainstream aquascaping community is looking over their shoulders, wondering if there is more than the "Fairy Forests" and underwater dioramas they've been spitting out for the past decade...Perhaps, something more natural and equally interesting as a "Game of Thrones"-inspired rockscape (Whatever the hell that might be...I mean, it's not even 5 AM here...cut me some slack...)
There is something alluring.
Something interesting. Something not everyone likes still- yet something no longer looked at with outright dismissive attitudes. It's something worth familiarizing ourselves with- understanding the benefits of...and perhaps worth giving a go in our own tanks.
And we prepare the stuff for use by "cooking" it! Isn't that a sort of coincidence?
(Cue "Twilight Zone" theme here.)
The result is a truly natural aquarium in both form and function, courtesy of the humble botanical "detritus" from Nature herself.
Oatmeal. At least in the metaphorical sense.
Eat more oatmeal. Share the joy of oatmeal with others.
Create more natural-style aquariums using botanicals.
Spread the word.
Stay bold. Stay resilient. Stay creative. Stay proud. Stay a bit rebellious. Raise a little hell now and then...
And Stay Wet.