Don’t tune me about tuna - it’s an animal, not a veggie
Pescetarians please note: Oysters, shrimps, calamari, all of which come from the ocean, are classified as animals
Going pescetarian. It’s a top food trend and growing, by all accounts. And it’s pretty annoying. Why? Well mainly because so many pescetarians call themselves vegetarians.
“I’m vegetarian, but I eat fish,” is something I hear almost every week. Which is a lot like saying: “I’m not a vegetarian.” If I remember anything from biology, it’s that fish and squid and crabs and so on come from the animal kingdom. They are made of meat, right? The pescetarian approach perfectly exemplifies a syndrome of modern-day food fads and eating patterns: just exclude or include certain species or food groups, and you have your magic bullet. The side-effect is that the more complicated and relevant stories are ignored.
Some pescetarians will tell you that eating seafood is a sort of pathway to a fully meat-free existence. It’s a gateway to vegetarian food, by some logic. Well that, I’m sorry to say, is just plain daft. How is eating animals that come from water a halfway stop between eating land animals and being vegetarian? Is the difference between an omnivorous and a vegetarian diet largely about height above sea level? It’s almost charmingly loopy.
Some fish eaters tell me it makes sense to place fish somewhere between animals and vegetables, because fish are thicker (in the limited way we understand intelligence), and don’t feel much pain.
That’s a pretty sweeping statement to make about marine life. Even researchers on the topic aren’t too sure about a sardine’s chances against his octopus opponent when it comes to Sudoko, what with octopus being fairly famous for performing canine-level party tricks. Our food world is complicated, compromised and damn tricky to navigate. But we get closer to good decisions when we call a spade a spade. And so we should call a fish an animal. Even the dof ones.
The other problem with this category-based logic is that, much of the time, a seafood diet includes a whole lot more than fish, prawns and anything else in the pesce category. Much fishery by-catch involves marine birds, turtles, porpoises and dolphins. These animals may not be on our plate, but they’re sure as hell part of the meal.
All food production and harvesting, to be sure, creates collateral damage to a greater or lesser degree. But in the case of seafood, it’s especially hard to trace the story behind your meal. Truly sustainable marine meat choices? In mindful moderation? Fine. Truly sustainable land-animal meat choices? In similarly mindful moderation? Just as good. It’s more about how, and less about what.
A BETTER PROTEIN? Another popular reason for making fish the only things with eyes that one eats, is that red meat apparently causes cancer, and a whole lot of very vague other stuff besides. Yes, this is the talk at the gym juice bar, in many “fitness” magazines, and even in dieticians’ rooms . There’s just not enough space here to sift through the pathetically flawed research from which this notion sprang. And are you sure the red-meat issues around beef don’t apply to that crimson, iron-rich piece of tuna sashimi?
• Burgener is chef at The Leopard, 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark.