Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Vegetarians" Who Eat Fish

Few things get me as passionately upset as someone who claims to be a vegetarian, or who says they "don't eat meat," but who makes an exception for fish.

Let's get one thing straight.  The definition of "meat," according to, is "the flesh of animals as used for food."  I don't think that anyone out there will claim that fish are not animals. 

Maybe this is some old Pope's fault.  During Lent, Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays.  So some old fool decided that "meat" did not apply to fish, insects, or reptiles.  Yet, people who are otherwise entirely non-religious, who went veg generally for humanitarian reasons, often decide to adopt this fallacious Catholic definition for their own.

And let's be honest about why they do this.  They do it because they want to eat meat, but they also want to not feel guilty.  They've heard of countless vegetarians who eat fish, so they join in with that.  Even Fiona Apple, celebrated vegan (and a musician I legitimately love), said in recent interview that she sometimes eats fish.  Look, I understand.  I understand that it's hard to give up meat, and that it may go in fits and starts.  I understand that many people crave animal flesh enough that they have to have a sacrificial lamb, as it were--one animal or type of animal that it is somehow "acceptable" to eat.

Of course, this takes some intellectual maneuvering.  The first time I ever heard the idea that fish don't have feelings, it was in the Nirvana song, "Something In the Way."  The line is, "It's OK to eat fish, 'cause they don't have any feelings."  I remember, though, that even as a child of roughly 9 or 10 when I heard this, I thought that Kurt Cobain was being sarcastic, making fun of people who would make such an odious claim.  Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, I really don't know.  But if he was being serious, it's almost excusable, because it wasn't until 2003 that it was scientifically proven that fish feel pain. 

Here is a terrific article from The Daily Mail about what science has to say about this question of whether or not fish have feelings: Do Fish Have Feelings Too? It's a Slippery Question for Science.  It explains that fish are not as mindless as we once assumed.  And, most importantly, it has this to say at the end:

Humans currently kill a staggering 500,000,000,000 fish a year. And the way we catch - and kill - fish is not pretty.
Forget the riverside angler. Huge trawlers net fish in their tens of thousands. They are then dumped on deck, their swim bladders swelling grotesquely in the the low air pressure. The animals slowly suffocate. It is a very unpleasant death.
I'm glad this article at least brings up the issue of trawling.  I object to trawling mainly on the grounds that it empties the ocean of all life, both plant and animal, causing irreversible damage to ocean habitats that make it almost impossible for any animals that actually manage to evade capture to continue to survive, as their home and food sources are destroyed.  But they're also brought en masse quickly to the surface, killing them with the sudden pressure difference.  Suffocating them. 

I, for one, believe that fish have awareness and fear.  If you chase a fish, it swims away.  They care for their young, they have will to survive, and I believe that they are probably aware that there is something very, very wrong under the sea.  There are far fewer of them than there used to be, and the predators (us) become more and more sophisticated while they become more and more screwed.  Large fish can't even make it to an age where they're able to reproduce anymore--juveniles are hunted relentlessly despite their smaller size, as we've already hunted all the most profitable large mature fish.  You think that fish don't feel horror when they're hunted before they're even of age?  I think they do, but you can feel free to disagree with me if you like, and say I'm placing mammalian values onto fish.  That's your right, but it does not change that, at least, fish experience physical pain.
Nemo is scared.

I really do understand that it's difficult to give up all meat.  It's even more difficult to give up animal protein altogether.  I do my best, personally, and do not beat myself up or quit if I eat something non-vegan.  I just go back to cooking vegan for myself as soon as is possible.  I have two tips, though, for everyone out there struggling with not eating any meat:

1.  When I crave meat or other crappy things, I eat something good that I've cooked myself and I know is healthy and vegan and delicious, and once I'm not hungry anymore, I find that ALL cravings cease.
2.  If I really am thinking about or craving meat, I'll either make my own vegan sausage or, if I'm being totally lazy, buy some Tofurky whatever.  This really helps to pass the cravings.

Please do not eat fish!  Fish are animals, and they're endangered ones.  I know people think it's very healthy, and it would be the healthiest meat if we didn't live in a world where our waters are disgustingly polluted, but since we DO live in a world with grossly polluted water, fish is really not a very healthy meat.

And, please, if you're going to insist on eating fish, do not say you don't eat meat or otherwise call yourself a vegetarian, because you're not one.  I still support you eating less meat, but I wish it wouldn't be at the expense of fish, which happens to be the most environmentally problematic animal.  Yes, I'd argue even more problematic than cows, despite the enormous greenhouse gases that cows produce.


  1. Everything you said. It's utter ridiculousness that anyone could say a fish has no feelings. We have family try to convince us to let our kids go fishing and just throw the fish back because it doesn't hurt them!!! So sad that people can't think of anything more creative to do for fun. :(

    I'm very behind these days, but when I get on the computer I'll add your blog to my roll. :)

    1. Oh, phooey, I was logged into my wrong google account; it's Jenny from veganandsoforth. :)

    2. Hello, Jenny! I appreciate you adding me to your blogroll. And thank you for commenting, too!


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