This post is the first of a six part series titled, ‘Why I Stopped…’ in which I’ll be discussing my reasons for cutting out fish, caffeine, alcohol, honey, meat and dairy. Keep an eye out for these posts once a week!
I can hear you yelling from here.
“You can take my beef burger, my pork belly, my chicken nuggets, my cheesy pizza. But you will never take my seafood!”
I get it, okay? I really do. I lived in New Zealand for half my life, surrounded by some of the best seafood in the world. I gorged on fresh scallops, oysters and prawns on a regular basis. Fishing was one of my favourite things to do on the weekend! Then I fell in love with Japan, the number one destination for sushi and sashimi – fresh from the ocean, of course. How could I resist?
I admit, it took me a while. Seafood was the very last animal product to be eliminated from my diet, but once I armed myself with the facts there was no turning back.
We’ve always been taught that fish is a healthy source of protein, and many health-conscious people make a habit of choosing fish over red meat. But the amount of cholesterol found in seafood might just shock you. According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), ‘while a 3-ounce T-bone steak contains 70 milligrams of cholesterol, three ounces of shrimp contain 161 milligrams.’ Is your mind blown yet? PCRM also state that ‘between 15% and 30% of the fat in fish is actually saturated fat, which stimulates the liver to produce more cholesterol. High-fat foods are associated with poor heart health outcomes.’
Oh, and don’t forget – seafood is the number one cause of food poisoning in the US!
But it’s not just the high cholesterol levels and saturated fat that are putting you at risk – there are dangerous toxins lurking in your fish supper. Take a sea bass, for example. Did you know that they can live for up to eighty years? Now, imagine that old fish swimming around in our polluted oceans. He’s eating small fish, which have eaten smaller fish, and so on. Studies show that most fish contain dangerously high levels of mercury, and our sea bass is becoming more and more toxic with every bite he eats. One day he is unceremoniously yanked from the ocean and placed in front of you on a pretty plate, all eighty years of him. This mercury-laden meal can put you at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Still want to tuck in?
Want to hear something scary? If we continue to devour seafood at this rate, there will be no fish left by 2050. Our oceans will be empty, barren deserts. Imagine the devastating impact these fishless oceans will have on the ecosystem! I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t live with myself if I had a part in wiping out that beautiful world under the sea. We’ve already eliminated 90% of our large fish populations in the last 50 years, according to Peta. If you want to save the last 10%, put down that tuna roll and reach for the cucumber maki instead!
I hadn’t heard of bycatch before I turned vegan, and I think commercial fishing companies would prefer it to stay that way! If you’re the same, listen up: Wikipedia defines bycatch as, ‘a fish or other marine species that is caught unintentionally while catching certain target species… Bycatch is either of a different species, the wrong sex, or is undersized.’
Those cute dolphins you saw on a boat trip? The beautiful whales from that documentary you watched? They are all potential victims of bycatch. Commercial fishing companies trawl the oceans, dragging large nets behind their boats and scooping up everything in their path. Anything they don’t need is plucked out and discarded, including the 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises that die each year due to our demand for seafood. I can’t believe I ever paid money for this to happen!
Next time you’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet, remember that for every pound of shrimp, twenty-six pounds of other sea creatures were killed and tossed into the sea. Honestly, is it really worth it?
Imagine walking along a beautiful beach, dipping your toes in the ocean. Suddenly a hook shoots out of the waves, impaling you through the lip, and drags you down into the watery depths. You’re scared, you’re struggling and you’re suffocating. Welcome to the life of a hooked fish.
Fish aren’t exactly fluffy and cuddly, which probably helps us to distance ourselves from them. Many people believe that fish can’t feel pain, but studies have proven the exact opposite. If a fish feels threatened, he will try to find a way to escape. His heart rate increases and his breathing becomes rapid – just like us! Tom Hopkins, Professor of Marine Science at the University of Alabama, describes getting hooked on a line to be ‘like dentistry without Novocain, drilling into exposed nerves.’ No wonder they’re struggling.
On the bright side (I’m grasping at straws here), hooked fish feel pain for a relatively short amount of time. Farmed fish, however, are exposed to a lifetime of suffering. You’ve probably seen the cramped conditions that pigs and chickens are forced to live in. Now imagine that, but with water. Each fish is allocated a space that is only slightly larger than their body, and there are thousands of them all crammed together. I don’t even want to think about all the poop and bacteria floating around in there! Many fish die before they are slaughtered, in spite of the antibiotics that are pumped into them. Plus, they’re often starved for a few days before they are killed, to reduce the amount of poop inside them.
Think about this: there are no legal requirements for the humane slaughter of fish. I don’t know about you, but that’s not an industry I want to contribute to. So, what are the alternatives? Thankfully, companies are stepping up to the plate (heh) and are providing delicious cruelty-free options! I was wary of vegan fish for a while, but once I tried it I was hooked (okay, I’m going to stop with the puns now). Quorn do amazing fish-free fingers, and V-Bites make a ridiculously authentic fish steak. If you want to keep things more natural, try using mushrooms in any recipe that calls for scallops.
If I can eat vegan at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo (bring on the inari pockets and avocado rolls!) then you can do it anywhere. Don’t let these companies destroy our beautiful oceans – vote with your fork and help save our fishy friends!