I am an ethical vegetarian who perhaps one day, when the kids have grown a little, will become vegan or nearly so. I also have an allergy to fish. Back in the days when I was a flesh eater I would throw up and have a histamine reaction within thirty minutes of eating even white fish. This is a proper allergy (not an intolerance) and quite common apparently.
This combination of factors means I have to physically restrain myself from getting into a full blooded, red in the face, frothing at the mouth rant whenever anyone mentions omega-3 and fish oils and how we HAVE to eat oily fish for healthy brains. Clearly I haven’t ever successful consumed the stuff and I am neither dead nor stupid – though you may disagree. This is a little pathetic as it makes me sound like the octogenarian chain smoker saying “never did me any harm” but I just can’t help ranting. This is a related story that is hopefully more interesting – bear with me I am trying not to rant.
There is an interesting quote in this article in the Guardian about the government actually suggesting an ethical approach to food. The whole article is fascinating in its implications but it is a particular quote that sparks me:
Rosemary Hignett, head of nutrition at the FSA, said: “Eating fish has considerable health benefits, so we will continue to encourage consumption as part of a drive to improve public health but we recognise the potential impact our advice might have on demands for fish.”
What does the phrase “considerable health benefits” mean? Benefit over what? Clearly we all have to eat something and it is perfectly possible to have a healthy diet without eating any fish in which case adding fish to ones diet would not improve it. There are many ways to balance a diet and only some of them include consuming fish. What I guess she really means is eating fish rather than something like fatty meat is better for you but the thing that is doing you good is not eating the fatty meat rather than eating the fish. If you swapped meat out for tofu and brown rice it may have an equally beneficial effect. Rosemary is probably being very sensible in accentuating the positive rather than harping on about what people must not do. Eat more X is more likely to be acted on than stop eating Y. But our whole logic seems totally twisted in order to support this complex of assumptions about the fact that it is good to eat fish.
The point that bothers me is that this bothers me when it probably doesn’t bother anyone else who isn’t a veggie with a fish alergy. Everyone else is blind to it because they have a different perspective. Now if I presume that I am much like other people there must be things I am blind to that they see or perhaps no one sees. Things I take as read without questioning. Things I say and do that are grossly wrong, possibly offensive and cause harm but that I am totally unaware of. How would I feel if I were aware of them? Could I handle it?
So this short passage about fish just makes me realise that I know little about Reality and my view of the world is highly blinkered. For me this is a familiar kicking off point for my interest in Buddhism. From this mundane example it is easy to move to the realisation that I know little of the real nature of anything – even the current experience of myself in this moment. So I stop and try and tune into it through meditation and this in turn leads me to taking an ethical stance on eating flesh and we have come full circle.