Oysters in a Pandemic

by C. J. Hirschfield

Learning a new instrument, a second language, how to create and maintain a sourdough starter. These are some of the most popular skills people are mastering during the pandemic. Me? I’ve mastered the art of oyster shucking.

I know that raw oysters aren’t for everybody, but I’m a big fan. And although the shellfish is no longer harvested in the San Francisco Bay, it was at one time a staple food of the local Ohlone and Miwok people, who used their shells to construct shellmounds as ceremonial places and burial sites.

In 1909, a University of California archeologist published a map of shellmounds still present around the shores of our bay; there were over 400.

The largest was in Emeryville, a sacred burial site of the Ohlone people that was leveled in 1924 and is now a California Historical Landmark (located near IKEA). And there’s actually a shellmound in downtown Oakland, where a Burger King used to be.

To shuck, you need a tool. I have invested in my own shucker. Use something to hold the oyster—I use a rubber glove. Hold the oyster flat side up, and slide the tool between the upper and lower shells and work it until it separates. This is the hard part. Then slide the left side to remove the upper shell.

Oysters are good for you, with solid amounts of vitamins E and C—good for immune-boosting. Their magnesium and potassium can help lower blood pressure, while their B-12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron aid brain function. Selenium, copper, phosphorus and calcium lead to stronger bone health and density. And then there’s the longtime claim that they’re an aphrodisiac…

I admire people who have turned to nurturing their sourdough starter as though it were a child, and I’m sure that the baked goods they create are happiness-producing. But as for me, I’m shucking and slurping my way through this pandemic.

And if you want to support a fine, community-minded local business, you can order unshucked Drake’s Oyster Company oysters for pick-up at The Cook and her Farmer, located in Swan’s Market in Old Oakland.

C. J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel, and advocated on behalf of the industry. She has penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years, and now writes regularly for The Oaklandside, EatDrinkFilms and Splash Pad News. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University. Hirschfield currently lives in Adams Point and serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film Series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.