My first brush with vegetarianism was fish-related. I was 6 or 7 on Florida's west coast, tagging along with my father on an orchestra gig. Being raised by a musician dad, I'd been to the opera, salsa gigs and renaissance fairs but never on a fishing trip. We took a walk by the pier and my eyes caught sight of a fresh catch flopping on the deck. Before I could think twice the amateur angler took a sharp knife to the fish's abdomen and spilled it's dark guts on the sun-bleached timbers. It would be years before I would go near seafood again.
In my teens I regret to say that I discovered sashimi and had a fling with that for a while. However, before long the feeling returned that it just wasn't right to eat "anyone who would run, swim, or fly away if he or she could" (James Cromwell) so I ditched the pesca- prefix* for good and haven't looked back.
There is another side to this, though. Whereas before it was the gasping, floundering flounder that pushed the stop button, these days my aversion to seafood is far more influenced by the devastating overfishing and pollution occurring right now in our only ocean.
Now that's more like it.
Photo by Lauren Reskin
Watching Sharkwater (surprisingly good, Netflix it!) and VBS.tv's 3-part mini-documentary about the search for a massive "floating landfill" in the Pacific ocean scared the bejeezus out of me (they find it, along with some pointless sexual tension in part 3). Now, a new film coming out called The End of the Line affirms that unless fishing is regulated, we will completely run out of sea-food by 2048. Based on the book by UK journalist Charles Clover who has extensively researched the topic, it also asserts 1.2 billion people will potentially starve and it won't be pretty, folks.
If that hasn't hit it home, perhaps try this article about the collapse of the Chilean salmon industry, and how your so-fresh-and-so-clean-sounding farmed salmon is now itching with pesticide-resistant sea lice. Likewise if things don't change ASAP the breeding population of bluefin tuna will be nonexistent 3 years from now. Lastly, look what happened to Jeremy Piven. Jokes aside, if they're telling pregnant women not to eat certain foods, clearly they aren't the best things you could be putting in your body.
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It's a tired old saying by now, but there is hope. It means making small changes now so that future generations will have bountiful oceans, and hopefully make smarter and less gluttonous choice than we have. To the all-around meat-eaters and to the pescatarians who are reluctant to cut the ceviche, now is the time to at the very least reduce. Of course, everyone who is removing animal products from their diet deserves serious kudos, but a vegetarian diet is far more sustainable ecologically and the ocean will start to regain some of it's depleted biomass if we stop taking things out of it. I promise that life goes on and that the veggie options at sushi places are healthy, yummy and filling (try heaps of edamame, avocado sushi and veggie rolls with or without cream cheese). Lord knows which finned friend I might've eaten into extinction if I'd stayed on my sashimi streak.
*If one eats fish and no other animals, they are a pescatarian, not a vegetarian. Fish are not vegetables.