News headlines of late have been littered with Extinction Rebellion, air quality, electric cars, the reduction of coal power and the latest David Attenborough environmental programme. But more recently, at a time when climate change is coming ever more into the public eye, the conversation about vegetarianism has never been more topical.
A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports found 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a concentrated area of plastic waste in the Great Pacific twice the size of Texas – consists of abandoned fishing nets. In lieu of the guilty panic over single-use plastics (which makes up ‘only‘ 20% of the Garbage Patch), perhaps we need to rethink how our taste for fish is polluting the oceans, instead of sipping McDonald’s milkshakes through an un-recyclable paper straw…
When I first decided to cut out meat, the idea of fish being meat was jaw-dropping: Fish was always a light, omega-3 rich option that did not compare to the sentient cows, pigs and sheep being slaughtered. After going pescetarian for a while, I realised how ridiculous this was. According to Oceana, an ocean conversancy group, 20% of the billions of marine animals caught are ‘by-catch’ and are thrown back into the ocean, dead or too injured to survive.
Dolphins suffocating in nets and even sharks being bludgeoned to death with baseball bats..
Undercover investigations have reported dolphins suffocating in nets and even sharks being bludgeoned to death with baseball bats. The consequences of the fishing industry are certainly severe, with ‘individual fishing quotas’ attempting to regulate fishing with ‘species-specific allowable catch‘. However, considering the by-catch issue, perhaps these quotas are meaningless.
It was a particularly compelling philosophy lesson on personhood that persuaded me to stop eating meat. Following a history of philosophers denying that animals have souls, such as Plato and Descartes, Peter Singer put forward that animals do possess personhood, even arguing they have more sentience than newborn babies or coma patients. He’s actually convinced Richard Dawkins too! As funny cat videos and rescue centres take social media by storm, we have never cared more about animals.
But what about fish? Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism our democracy depends on today, questioned ‘Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’. After the long-held belief that fish are incapable of feeling pain, it has been discovered that fish have nociceptors used to detect potential harm and produce the same opioids (the body’s natural painkillers) that mammals do; with brain activity responding to pain the same way as terrestrial vertebrate (land organisms with a spinal column).
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means one of those fist-shaking veggies asking you to never eat a bacon sandwich again. Going vegetarian has completely changed the way I see what’s on my plate. It has made me consider food in a way I failed to do before. There is a lot to be said for reducing the amount of meat we all eat during the week, especially when there has never been a better time to enjoy meat-substitutes: even for fish! Moreover, cutting down on red meats, such as beef and lamb even reduces your carbon footprint by nearly a quarter.
Although invisible and easy to shake out of mind, it is clear that fish should be considered as meat. Whilst it is easier to empathise with farm animals, perhaps the next time you reach for that tuna mayo sandwich, remember what it cost for your meal deal to be sitting on those shelves.