As a vegetarian since the age of 8 years old, I got in a bit of a flap before mine and Adam’s first date. I had offered to bring a picnic, but the words ‘I’m a vegetarian’ don’t usually sit that well with guys. And obviously I wanted to impress!
In fact, that whole conversation tends to be a bit awkward no matter who you’re having it with, so I try to avoid ‘confessing’ to it where ever possible. Some people are so convinced that you’re about to preach to them about how they shouldn’t eat meat that they immediately get defensive. Some people panic about what they are going to cook for you and you end up feeling really guilty that you’ve caused such difficulty for them.
I became vegetarian as an extreme animal lover. I call it extreme, I imagine it was just downright annoying. I would cry for hours if someone stood on an ant. I have a vivid memory of being so distressed that a butterfly was about to be run over that my Mum ran out into the middle of a busy road to save it (and save herself the hassle of coaching me through my grief).
I spent my childhood searching for things to take care of. Unfortunately (for my parents), what I found was mostly snails. They still don’t know how I filled one of my bedroom drawers with grass and rocks, and a whole family of garden snails. I was a child, how was I to know the drawers weren’t snail tight. Dad, if you find a snail shell under the bed then it must have been my sister.
Back to the first date
I’ve always been a really bad vegetarian (known for picking the pepperoni off of pizza and eating it anyway, and not looking at ingredients too closely to check for gelatin-in fact, I’m not even a real vegetarian, as I will eat fish) so I try to just steer well clear of the topic of food. But I was providing the food for the picnic, and I didn’t want my hot date to think I was going to stop him eating meat for the rest of his life!
I bought some token meat on the picnic, in an attempt to disguise one of my unattractive qualities until he had fallen madly in love with me. The cheese was devoured. The meat went untouched.
I’ve gone way off topic here, but the happy ending to this little story is that Adam had in fact been vegetarian before, and was very happy to eat meat free meals night after night again. His mum and sister are also vegetarian, so there was no awkwardness about going to stay for the first time and feeling like I was a nuisance when it came to meal times! Perfect!
Why eat fish?
Now being the bad vegetarian that I am, I have always eaten fish. I don’t go out of my way to, but it makes life so much easier if people have the option of fish to feed me (people know what to do with fish!). Going out for dinner is easier too, and people don’t have to scour the menu for something meat free before inviting me out. This is all a good few years ago, since being vegetarian is now in fashion and there is always a vegetarian and vegan option on the menu.
But why, if it’s now so much easier to be properly vegetarian, have I not given up fish too? The honest answer, I really enjoy it. And I justified it by telling myself that if it came to it, I would be able to kill a fish for myself and eat it. Could I kill a chicken? Nope. A cow? Absolutely no way. But a fish? That seemed manageable.
This was when I lived in Yateley, and there was no chance I would ever have the chance to actually kill and eat a fish, so I thought it was a safe little promise to make. Unfortunately moving onto a sailboat meant I would be given a chance to test this promise and prove to myself that I can in fact kill a fish. And eat it.
When our Kadey Krogen 38 came with a load of old fishing gear, Adam and I set about researching fishing. I don’t mean fishing technique (though trust me, Adam did a lot of that too!) I mean, the impact that fishing had on fish and the environment. If we were going to do this then we needed to know all the ins and outs.
One of the reasons we decided to buy a sailboat as a way to travel the world was because of it’s lower carbon footprint than flying. As we now live on the sea, we have taken even more of an interest in looking after our surroundings.
But what impact does fishing have on the environment? Here is what we found out…
Most fishermen in the Med fish with nets. They trawl them behind their boat, or lay them out over a period of time hoping to catch lots of fish to sell on market day!
Bycatch is the term that refers to fish caught by accident. We have sadly been to many fishing harbours and seen piles of small fish on the sea floor, thrown away at the end of a hard days fishing. When fishermen trawl nets they can’t choose what they catch, and pulling in a whole school of fish they don’t want is inevitable.
Catching whole schools of fish is extremely detrimental, as there is no life cycle left. The babies don’t grow, the adults don’t reproduce. Catching only one fish gets rid of that problem.
By refusing to buy any more fish and only eating what we catch, we are greatly reducing the amount of fish we eat. In three months of fishing we have caught a total of 1 tuna and 5 small bream.
If we didn’t eat fish for dinner, we would have to eat something else. The food we buy is imported from all round the world, and wrapped in a tonne of plastic. Sadly here in Greece we find it pretty hard to leave a supermarket without fruit and veg in plastic bags. We always take our own, and on many occasions have had mini ‘arguments’ with the shop assistants about not needed to keep our tomatoes in a plastic bag. Sometimes we win, sometimes we definitely lose!
In trying to live a simpler life at sea we need to seek and accept all the free food we can get. Back in England I grew my own veg, here we have the sea to live off. We have spent a total of £27 on fishing gear, and the tuna we caught fed us both x10 meals. That’s 20 meals for £27….£1.35 a meal. We really can’t afford not to take advantage of our surroundings.
There are a whole bunch of health benefits to eating fish. I guess it’s the reason that, when I announced to my Mum at age eight that I was turning vegetarian, she agreed as long as I still ate fish.
Fish gives us nutrients that are hard to get from elsewhere. They are also an amazing source of protein for us money saving ‘ half vegetarians’. So continuing to eat fish felt like quite an important dietary choice too.
Becoming a killer
There is nothing nice about killing. Having researched the quickest way to kill a fish, Adam and I thought we were prepared. There is, of course, no straight answer as to the best way to kill a fish. A knife through the gills seemed to be the most voted for, so we knew what to do when we finally got a bite.
It’s not really that simple though.
When we got a bite on the hook we both panicked. It’s all very well thinking you’re prepared, but I’m not really sure you ever can be. Knowing that when you pull a living creature out of the water you will have to kill it is a really horrible feeling. It goes against every instinct. Every time I have caught a fish I have secretly wished it hadn’t bitten.
The first time Adam and I caught a fish it was a small bream. I went into melt down and Adam took over, killing it quickly with a sharp knife. He sat in silence as I prepared the fish to put in the fridge. Half an hour later I caught another-we would both have fresh fish for lunch. It was my turn to kill it, and it was truly awful.
I repeated ‘sorry’ to the fish over and over again, and had a secret cry at the bow of the boat.
Neither Adam nor I felt hungry any more.
The next time we caught a fish it was a little easier. Not the guilt, just the technique. And by the third time I knew exactly what to do and did it without hesitation, making the whole thing a lot easier. I know that the guilt will pass, and although I can’t eat the fish as soon as I catch it, in a few hours time the memory fades and the hunger takes over.
For some reason the tuna was different. I think because it was so big we were both a little in awe. There was also the feeling that this fish would really feed us. It somehow felt more worth while.
When I was a teacher I was pretty lucky to receive some amazing gifts from the children I taught. Handmade gifts like Christmas tree decorations, the ever appreciated bottles of bubbly (you need it come the end of term!), and even a poem written by all the children in my class. But one gift I will always remember was given to me half way through a term, by a boy in Year 4.
He walked into my classroom on a cold winter morning and placed a fish on my desk.
I obviously pretended to be delighted. He had been out fishing with his Dad and it was so lovely of him to think to bring me his catch. But it was a whole fish. What did I do with a whole fish!?
Luckily at the time I lived with a friend and fellow teacher that was far more capable than myself. She was delighted with the fish and promptly grabbed a sharp knife and prepared it in front of me. It was disgusting. But totally delicious (thank you Charlie!)
If there is an art to gutting fish then I am not blessed with it. Gutting small bream is one thing, you can’t really tell what anything is, it’s just a bit messy and gross. Gutting tuna was a completely different ball game.
Adam and I stopped the boat after we hauled in the gigantic thing and gutted it straight away on the bow of the boat, so as not to risk wasting a single bit of it. The things that came out of it were indescribable (I hope no one’s eating dinner right now).
You could make out all the different organs and there was of course blood. Lots of blood. Luckily I’m not too squeamish, and Adam and I worked together in a kind of stunned fascination. We ran the saltwater wash down continuously to get rid of the mess. Charlie, you would be proud!
In summary, catching a fish for your dinner is not easy in any way. It’s near impossible to actually catch them and when you do it is a wrestle with your instincts to kill them, and a wrestle with your guts to gut them.
For us, the good outweighs the bad. Eating fish that we have caught feels better for the environment, better for us and better for our bank accounts. Plus, they are super tasty!
I don’t ever want to lose the feeling of sadness at killing an animal. But now, instead of saying sorry, I say ‘thank you’. I know where my food has come from, I know how it ended up on my plate, and I am eternally grateful to each and every fish that has helped to keep me nourished and healthy.