As a vegetarian, I often had the opportunity to talk about my food choices. Because everyone needed to know what to feed me at a dinner party, and because everyone wanted to gossip about the most moral eaters around them, people often inquired about my principles. Which was cool. Truly. I dig curiosity. But the conversations often started out in the exact same pattern, and I am so frustrated by its ubiquity in our society that I could start kicking random objects around my house like an feisty, disenfranchised leprechaun.
These conversations proceeded as follows:
-Oh, you don’t eat meat? You’re a vegetarian, then?
-Yes, Yes I am in fact a vegetarian.
-Do you eat fish?
Ok what. I’m glad that so many vegetarians out there are eating fish and taking care of their brains and immune systems and all that, but since when are fish not animals? I don’t care how people respond to the fish inquiry. What’s remarkable to me is that, as a society, we’ve completely accepted the notion that eating fish is something vegetarians do.
As a matter of fact, fish are every bit as sentient and feel every bit as much pain, stress, and fear as tetrapods such as cats and dogs. And fish industries are not exactly paragons of excellence and sustainability, either. In fact, farmed fish live in fairly horrific conditions. What gives?
I think a significant part of this has to do with how conventional wisdom touts the nutritional value of fish over all other sources of protein. Fish are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and boy does conventional wisdom love it some PUFA. This fact makes it easy–nay, compulsory!–for conventional nutritionists and researchers to continually espouse the wonders of fish. Conventional diets need fish in order to make up for some of their gaping shortcomings. For example: a conventionalist might eat a hundred teaspoons of canola oil a day, so of course adding fish to his diet is going to radically improve inflammation markers. I’m not saying that fish aren’t healthy. I eat a few whole fish per week. But I am saying that we wouldn’t need fish so desperately to be healthy if we ate properly in the first place.
The safety of fish as an already-established wonder food means that fish are virtually unequaled in their value as nutritional wisdom. Fish stock is high, so sell, sell, sell! Vegetarians would be crazy not to indulge.
Another part of the pesca-vegetarian phenomena is a bit more childish, and also a bit more obvious: scales. Psychologists have shown us, as has the popularity of plush novelties, that humans have the most empathy for species that act and have similar features to us. Fish are pretty far removed from that. I understand. On the flipside, let’s be real. Fish are animals, and there’s not a whole lot your denial is going to change for anybody.
My final thought is that environmental vegetarians might point out that fish farms have a smaller ecological footprint than industrial feed lots. You get no arguments from me, here. But since, as I stated in an earlier post, health is the number one reason cited for vegetarianism, it’s probable that sustainability isn’t in fact the absolute top priority, but instead that omega 3 fatty acids are the name of the game.
That’s it. I’m fresh out of ideas. Now I’m just indignant. The ubiquity of false vegetarians is destructive for national health. Not only does it make it seem as though vegetarianism is more popular, and thus more socially enticing, than it actually is, but the increased health false vegetarians enjoy gives the rest of us a false impression of vegetarian vitality.
Edit: I have a handful of friends who don’t eat meat for religious reasons. This is awesome. My only desire is that religious abstainers (or anyone, I suppose) call themselves pescatarians if they eat fish.Tweet