“Fish: Friends or food?”  by Sarah Becker

The tilapia struggled on the cutting board, gasping for breath as the shimmering knife blade approached. The blade grew closer, touching its scintillating scales. Suddenly, a flash of silver and the blade was wedged in its spinal column, piercing its tough exterior and plunging in to its flesh. A quick, fitful spasm, and it grew still, surrounded in squirts of its own blood on the now red cutting board. I took a deep breath, picked up the spoon, and gently began stroking its sides, beginning the process of scaling to prepare the fish for its new purpose in its afterlife: human food.

Death is always a touchy subject. Though I have never personally experienced a loss, I have grown up in a culture that diminishes and hides death, labeling it with words like, “bad” and “scary” from the time we are very young. As a result, I grew a little uncomfortable when I learned in Human Ecology that we would be selecting and killing a fish as a food source. I love fish. I eat it all the time. But to actually kill a fish? To me that just seemed wrong. Yet fish are killed everytime I choose to eat them. And this is the paradigm of our culture: a disconnect from farm to table, from source to product, from fish to food. As consumers, it is our right, and our duty, to be informed about what we consume, and this includes the food we put into our mouths three times, or more, a day. We have separated the animal from the product. The shark in Finding Nemo was right when he said, “Fish are friends, not food,” except now all animals are friends. Most people would never hurt a cow, but no one thinks twice about eating a hamburger. The reality is, that by eating that hamburger, you are hurting a cow. In fact, you are hurting the 1,000 cows that make up that burger. Like Food Inc. said, every time you ring something through the check-out line, you are voting. Voting for the food that is produced, the food that is available, and what the future of the food industry will look like. By purchasing and eating that burger, you are voting for more cows to be force-fed GMO corn, to be packed indoors instead of out in the fresh air, to live knee-deep in their own manure, to be so sick they cannot even walk to the slaughterhouse themselves. But no one knows this, for the same reasons why Perdue, Tyson, and Monsanto refused to be interviewed for Food Inc. Our culture would be shocked to see the practices that occur behind these companies’, and others, closed doors. They don’t want to us know about the “bad” and “scary” parts. They just want the happy ending, and dinner on the table. We have lost the connection to our food, and with it our accountability.

Watching a fish die wasn’t enjoyable. In fact, it was gruesome. But I feel I have a responsibility to understand and accept the death of a fish if I make the choice to eat one. While most people don’t have the privilege of catching and preparing their fish, they have more power over what they consume than they realize. The food industry works the same as any other industry: simple supply and demand. A farmer interviewed in Food Inc. said, “People need to demand good, wholesome food, and we’ll deliver.” He’s right. If the nation starts demanding humane practices and healthy food, the food industry will be forced to oblige if they wish to stay profitable. We have the power to change, and it starts with each bite we put in our mouth. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We have the opportunity and the responsibility to change the nation’s food industry. We can be the change we wish to see.