Pescetarian pests

It is almost 4 weeks since Graham and I ate meat. I say “meat” deliberately because we are still eating fish and seafood, and that doesn’t count as meat. I checked in the dictionary so it must be true. I believe this makes us “pescetarians” doncha know.

I don’t much like that term. Firstly I don’t like it because it makes you sound like a middle-class tosser. I made my peace with that years ago, though. Mainly I don’t like it because it sounds like you’re a vegetarian manqué. A wannabe who doesn’t quite follow through with their convictions, and I don’t like that mainly because it’s true. This makes it head an on-going list I have of drawbacks of pescetarianism:

1) You have to defend a stance that you agree has elements of hypocrisy. “It’s ok to eat fish ’cause they don’t have any feelings,” sang Nirvana ironically. Yes Kurt, I know, I know. You’re right. Fish and sea-dwellers are still living creatures. My disingenuous answer to this would be that I don’t think that these creatures routinely suffer as much as meat-producing animals can. The real answer is, baby steps! If we get on ok with no meat then perhaps no fish will follow. As it stands, I would have gone mad without being able to eat fish and seafood over the past few weeks.

2) In a similar vein, people ask “what about other animal products such as milk, eggs and leather”. I don’t even have a disingenuous answer here. I agree. I hope that I could build up to avoiding these too one day. As it is I’m one prawn away from being a lacto-ovo vegetarian and really getting my middle-class tosser card stamped.

3) Reduced choice. Want to grab a quick supermarket sandwich for lunch? Better get used to liking cheese. They’ll advertise it as “ploughmans”.

4) False advertising. Don’t announce a “mushroom burger” and then serve one mushroom in a bap (this has happened). And please don’t charge the same for it as the meat option either (see below).

5) Paying the same as meat eaters. Of course it’s fair to charge the same for a curry that is principally potato as one that is made of lamb…

6) Discovering that “vegetable” as a option as opposed to beef/pork/chicken etc. is often essentially what the meat option gets, without the meat. Don’t expect any extra veggies in your vegetable chow mein.

7) You have to double check everything. Have some free prawn-crackers and a barbecue dip offers the kind waitress as you take a seat at the Chinese restaurant. Bite. Spit. Ah, so when you said “barbecue dip” you really meant “spare-rib gravy” didn’t you, you naughty Oriental minx.

8) You have to double check everything. Fruit wine gums – no of course you can’t have those. Beef and mustard crisps – never been anywhere near a cow. Knock yourself out. Unlike the cow.

9) Expect people to get things wrong. Hot and sour vegetable soup ordered. Hot and sour mixed meats soup received and sent back. Vegetable soup apologetically returned. Thai spicy vegetable soup. And eaten, at least this mistake can be consumed.

10) Ordered a salad? You must clearly be asking for this because you’re trying to watch calories and not because you want a decent meal made on a base of lettuce. Don’t worry, though, we’ll still charge you the same as the other “real” meals so you won’t feel like the odd one out (see above).

11) Mmmm bacon <<said with Homer Simpsonesque drool>>. Right, come on, if the Jews and Muslims can do it, so can I!

All that said, moving to pescetarianism still feels right, at least at the moment.

The thought of meat doesn’t disgust me. I know there are health benefits from reducing meat intake, particularly from red meats, but we’ve always enjoyed eating vegetable-only dishes and so were not always chowing down on huge steaks and sausages garnished with bacon so this isn’t a large factor in the decision. The main reason to avoid meat is that I don’t trust the meat industry – even those that claim to support free-range principles – to treat the animals with enough humanity in the process.

If all animals in the food chain were really raised on open-air farms where they spent their lives gamboling, rolling in mud, pecking at grain scattered by ruddy-faced farmers’ wives at dawn – or whatever else animals are happy doing – until the day they are humanely and quickly slaughtered then I probably wouldn’t have such a problem with it. But I don’t believe that’s often – maybe not even usually – the case.

When we are buying specific animal products such as a joint of meat we can make the choice – if we can afford it – to pay more for a free-range product. But so much of what we eat has a processed element to it, and as capitalism squeezes profit margins I find it highly unlikely that many animals entering our food chain are treated in ways I would find acceptable, whether legal standards are broken or not. A friend once told me of the first and last morning he spent of a summer job stumbling round crying on an industrial-scale chicken farm. I won’t go into detail but the story certainly stuck with me through the years.

I think it would be hypocritical of me to consume animals killed in a way I couldn’t bear to witness. When on a farm in France on an exchange visit as a teenager they gave me the job one day of feeling the haunches of lambs as they passed by to decide if they were big enough for slaughter yet, and if they were to put a red cross on their back. I’m fairly sure they did this to see if they could get a reaction from the foreign city boy, but I was happy to do it. I knew they would be slaughtered humanely and was happy to chomp on the roast lamb the next day that they were at pains to tell me was one of the lambs I’d picked. Tant mieux.

But I’ve seen so many examples of animals living and dying in conditions that I couldn’t bear to witness (and often don’t even want to know about, thanks Facebook) that I want to remove myself from the equation as much as possible. I also struggle with the dichotomy of mooning over the sweet antics of a funny pig, duck or lamb in a video clip and then turning round and eating a bacon butty. And the range and quality of vegetarian food and “meat substitute” food is so high that I feel there is less and less of a reason not to abandon meat. So bye-bye burgers.

I don’t know if it will last, but it feels like the right decision for the moment. Enough so that it more than counterbalances those disadvantages discovered so far, in any case.