I have a confession to make: I am eating fish again.
During my year of vegetarianism, I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “Does my body function better when I eat fish?” So I’m now conducting a personal experiment: making fish a dietary mainstay during my stay in Hawaii, where I’m on assignment for Lonely Planet.
Forgoing fish was no problem, as I’m quite satisfied with tofu, lentils, and other vegetarian protein sources. But I seemed to be pushing my limits without enough nourishment; for example, I experienced minor but nagging soft-tissue injuries. Perhaps my diet wasn’t hearty enough, perhaps my slight frame offered minimal reserves. I joke about my fish-and-rice-eating ancestry (Japanese), but perhaps we are genetically programmed to thrive best on specific sources of sustenance.
Having grown up in Hilo, Hawaii, I’ve taken for granted not only the local bounty, but also the way people are closer to food “production.” Locals might plant fruit trees in the backyard, grow summer vegetables, or gather seaweed and catch fish. I’m talking about regular people, with regular jobs, who nevertheless find time to live off the land (which in Hawaii includes ocean). Here, one knows that a tuna is more than a slab of red flesh wrapped in styrofoam and plastic.
Fishermen and their relationship with fish
One night, I attended Hilo’s biggest winter craft fair. Among the sellers was Derek Wada with his Nature Prints Hawaii tee shirts featuring Japanese gyotaku impressions of Hawaiian fish species.
An avid fisherman born and raised in Hawaii, Wada creates detailed images that capture not only a species’ overall form but also scales and gills and eyes. He knows that most people never see a live fish before eating it, so he tries to share his experience. From his impeccable booth setup and handling of his merchandise (not to mention his elegant artwork), I’d expect similar respect and care in fishing.
I still have qualms about killing and eating fish. But I’m trying to do so as mindfully and moderately as possible.
Images: maguro (tuna) sashimi; Mahimahi, Nature Prints Hawaii
I used to be a vegetarian, and vegan, and now I eat everything except for assholes & elbows. I try to be mindful about food, wildlife, and support local farmers.
There’s a big gray area when it comes to food & ethics. And no one right answer for everyone.
I’d rather support local free – range poultry farmers, than purchase packaged veggie burgers from California.
I agree with you that our particular biology informs us. I’m Irish, and I always feel better eating potatoes than rice or pasta.
One of the Buddhist precepts is to abstain from intoxicants which cloud judgement. The reason given is that your body does not belong to you. It belongs to your ancestors, and to the generations that will come after you.
If you make food choices (or other choices) by looking at your family & ancestors, and the wellbeing of all of humanity, this affirms life.
Also, everything is alive — not just sentient animals & fish. You are taking life when you harvest wheat.
All life arises out of death. All soil is composed of decayed / decaying organic matter. Plants & insects need soil to grow. Death fuels life.
The first Buddhist precept to not take life is perplexing. I interpret it as not being reckless or harmful, or damaging with life. (ie. not supporting factory farms, or cruelty to animals, or wasting food etc.)
Thanks YogaSpy — great post!
I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my body cannot handle beans. I simply can’t digest them without serious gastrointestinal issues. I had been so determined to stick with a vegetarian diet even though it wasn’t making me feel good. I added fish and was eating is very sparingly . . . most of my diet consisted of beans in one form or the other (including tofu) and nuts. But it just wasn’t working. I’ve been completely bean free for a week now and I feel amazing. It means that I have to start eating meat again but like Tricia (great comment btw), I’m trying to do it the best way possible, i.e. from a local farmer whose practices are okay. After years of suffering, I’m finally at a place to encourage others to do whatever they need to diet wise to feel good. Food is supposed to heal and energize, after all!!