One of my daughters went vegan. So I had a crash course on the environmental benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. I respect the passion that comes from trying to save the planet from stingy human animals, but my point of criticism is the tone and language often used in these passionate declamations.
Case in point is the documentary “Seaspiracy,” which became one of the most watched shows on Netflix shortly after its release, before much of its secondary news was exposed as a deliberate hype.
Of course, I like documentaries that don’t bring home a point. Films such as “My Octopus Teacher”, which won the best documentary at the Oscars this year and made a lasting impression. The documentary was a delicate, grand exploration of a relationship between a man and an octopus and the limits of that relationship. But it raised an interesting point: after watching this movie, if you saw it on a seafood restaurant menu, would you really order octopus?
“Seaspiracy” was a noble endeavor by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi. The revelations were gruesome and deeply troubling. It was horrible to discover large numbers of dolphins being killed as bycatch because we love a good tuna sandwich.
Peter Hammarstedt, director of Sea Shepherd, an environmental law firm, remarked in the film that it is shocking to realize that “the greatest threat to whales and dolphins is commercial fishing. Every year over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed as bycatch from industrial fisheries. “Most of the times, when fishing for tuna or shrimp, other marine animals such as dolphins, whales and sea turtles are caught or get entangled in fishing nets. These marine animals, often injured, are then thrown back like debris and left to die. The documentary captured those heartbreaking scenes and it felt like I was watching a gruesome murder.
The film stated that this is the collateral damage from increased profit margin fishing. The human palate is taught to adapt to what is readily available. And large-scale fishing expeditions are said to flood the market and lower prices. And human appetite adapts to include cheaper foods.
The film reveals a number of myths.
For one thing, the focus on plastic straws is out of place. Most of the plastic pollution in the ocean comes from fishing gear. One report claimed that plastic straws account for only 0.03 percent of the ocean’s pollution.
And that the fishery receives US $ 35 billion in subsidies. Put that next to the fact that we supposedly need $ 20 billion to end world hunger, and these subsidies don’t make sense.
However, the documentary water began to turn cloudy when Tabrizi began bringing home his point of view on veganism.
There was a scene in the film where a hungry fisherman used sign language to indicate why he was on a weak raft without a life jacket and braving the elements. And the answer was obviously hunger.
Sea life was a way of life for many coastal communities. This way of life has been threatened by large commercial fishing vessels, which depleted the ocean’s resources and left little for small coastal fishing villages that have a relationship with the ocean. Fishermen who traditionally relied on fishing now have to venture further and further into rough waters.
For these and other indigenous communities, the transition to veganism would undoubtedly be difficult.
Veganism, while a worthwhile consideration, is not for everyone. And especially not when the pantry is empty.
I’ve cooked and served at animal shelters in the Bay Area, where tuna casserole and chili con carne are disappearing faster than salads and fruit. If it’s your only meal of the day, it’s understandable to have animal proteins that keep you going for long hours.
Yes, there are plant-based protein alternatives, but accessibility and price are barriers to this conversion.
For many, it’s a balance between cost, eating habits, diet and sustainability.
Walking the aisles of the Grocery Outlet at San Francisco’s Mission, you can bag two pounds of grapes for $ 2.99 and take home a single salad for $ 3 with weekly coupons. However, a frozen pizza can be sourced for less than $ 4 and a pound of shrimp for $ 6.99. The latter two will likely satisfy the gnawing hunger for longer than the salad or the grapes.
I understand that veganism will fight the commercialization of death and cruelty to animals and will lower cholesterol, increase heart health, ward off dreaded diabetes, and aid in weight loss.
Veganism, conceived as a war on capitalism, animal cruelty, environmental disasters, and a lack of government control, is no small or short endeavor. And surely one way to wage this war is to shake and shock the human mind like “sea piracy” does.
On the other hand, I feel like with minor changes we can make a bigger bump. For the average consumer, going meat and dairy free and shopping on ethical farms one or three days a week is a starting point. Subtlety and encouragement go beyond accusations and judgments.
There is no doubt that the planet must be saved. And hats off to vegans everywhere. But vegan activists, please watch your messages.
Jaya Padmanabhan is a visiting columnist, and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan.
EnvironmentFishingVegan and vegetarian
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