Eat fish but not meat? You are probably suffering from the Pescatarian Paradox

Regardless of your personal views on the morality of eating meat and fish, the facts are clear: humanity’s current habits are not good for the environment, our health, or animal welfare. And if you know all this, it can be hard to justify continuing a meat-based diet, rather than switching to full veganism.

Of course, there is a compelling counterargument to this: being vegan is carry. Or gross, or emasculating, or any number of other undesirable things, which is why some people choose to limit their meat consumption to only fish or shellfish.

But does this decision really solve the ethical problems it seeks to answer? Kind of not, actually. So why is it so popular? A recent study delved into the reasoning behind the dietary choices of 10 pescatarians to find out the secret, and the results were downright paradoxical.

What is the paradox of pescatarians?

Before we can understand the pescatarian paradox, we need to do a little background research. Now, if you’ve ever embraced ethical vegetarianism, you’re probably already familiar with the meat paradox: the conflict between loving or loving animals while endorsing an industry intrinsically dependent on their suffering and death.

And we can go further. There’s also the cheese paradox, employed by ethical vegetarians themselves whenever they consume eggs or milk: a juxtaposition of claiming to care for animals and their welfare, while relying on some pretty horrific practices to get their dairy fix .

With that in mind, you can probably figure out the pescatarian paradox: the problem is somewhere in the middle, facing those keepers who avoid most meat but allow fish or shellfish in their diet.

For many, this position is a sensible compromise, eliminating the worst aspects of the meat industry without going too extreme with their diet. But philosophically speaking, it’s perhaps the thorniest stance of all: despite what many believe, fish can probably feel pain; they can be depressed, they can get stressed, and they can love and care for their little fish families.

Nor is the fishing industry particularly respectful of the environment, another common justification for renouncing the meat of terrestrial animals. It is well known, for example, that animal agriculture produces nearly 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, including about two-thirds of global emissions of nitrous oxide, a gas that has the potential whose global warming is almost 300 times greater than carbon dioxide. But commercial fishing also has a big impact in this regard: according to 2021 calculations, only bottom trawling, i.e. catching fish with heavy nets that drag the seabed, emits about the same amount of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire aviation industry. .

And here’s the thing: ethical pescatarians must know about these problems. At the very least, they presumably accept that animals can suffer and believe they should be spared the pain. They are even willing to completely overhaul their diet to account for this.

And yet it is definitely a dead animal on its plate. So why don’t fish count?

Why Your Diet Makes You Uncomfortable

At the core of all these conundrums is the concept of cognitive dissonance: the all-too-human ability to hold two conflicting beliefs at once, and the psychological discomfort this causes.

So, let’s say you’re an animal lover, but you also eat meat. Well, there is no solution: you want the animals to die. Every time you eat a BLT, for example, you’re enjoying the fact that someone killed a pig. So how can you say you like animals?

It’s not nice to think about, is it? That’s why our minds rebel, usually choosing one of three options to resolve the psychological tension: we can change our values ​​and decide that we don’t love animals so much; we can change our behavior, and be vegan or vegetarian; oi this is generally the most popular option that we can continue as we are, and make up some kind of excuse as to why everything is fine, actually.

With the meat paradox, these excuses have traditionally been summed up as the Four N’s, the name stands for Natural, Normal, Necessary and Pleasant and if you want to see examples, just check out the comments section right now. Eating meat can cause pain, suffering and death to billions of animals each year, supporters argue, but no eating it is just not feasible in the real world, it’s unhealthy, difficult, or even not that delicious to be vegan.

The cheese paradox is circumvented in a slightly different way: it is often justified by abstraction. It is not for nothing that there is a trend in Western countries towards less fluid milk consumption and higher cheese consumption: as a paper from last year says, the further a product [is] away from their animal origin, the most voluntary people [consume] this

So what stain do pescatarians take?

Defending your dinner

According to the study, there are three main ways pescatarians justify their dietary ethics, and the first is something I already knew. It’s the idea that pescatarianism is simply a practical compromise between the carnivore and vegan spectrum: yes, eating meat is bad, study participants would agree, but cutting. all getting out of it would be too difficult or too extreme.

Is it a logical argument? Not really as the authors point out, feasibility is a subjective perception that cannot be proven or disproved by objective arguments. But is it effective? No doubt: Participants in this study were able to provide a multitude of justifications for their current consumption of aquatic animals, the study notes, defending their behavior by pointing to things like lack of cooking skills, time constraints, the desire to fit in socially. , health problems or enjoyment of taste.

If these excuses sound familiar, they should: it’s basically a repetition of the Four N’s ​​of Carnist Cognitive Dissonance. Perhaps surprisingly after all, in rejecting terrestrial meat, a pescatarian is presumably not swayed by these arguments, but there is another psychological trick that solves the problems here: fish, some pescatarians in the study argued, they don’t matter as much as other animals.

When asked why participants continued to eat aquatic but not terrestrial animals, limited cognitive abilities and an inability to feel pain were consistently cited as reasons for their decision, the authors report before noting that the evidence of cognitive abilities and pain perception in fish is increasing. .

This was not the only strategy deployed by the participants to distance themselves from the fish. Some pointed to the perceived evolutionary distance between us and non-aquatic mammals; others claimed they could probably kill a fish on their own, sight[ing] this as a conclusive argument justifying their consumption of pre-processed marine animals, says the study (this particular adoption could lead to some strange conclusions, such as the participant who said he would not eat one of those fish that have a hundred years). and huge.)

For others, psychological distance stemmed from actual physical distance. Researchers discovered that cows and sheep had personalities; they could be friendly faces that study participants saw every day and bonded with. Fish, on the other hand, were virtually invisible, both participants were literally unlikely to see fish farmed or living in the wild and thus rarely confronted with the reality of their diet and metaphorically, with many subjects reluctant to investigate or question them. options too close.

In other words: cognitive dissonance? Just don’t think about it.

But it is the last tactic that may seem the most puzzling: faced with the mismatch between their values ​​and their behavior, some pescatarians chose to deny that they eat meat.

The authors found that, despite being asked to identify themselves as pescetarians, most participants seemed less confident in their identity as pescetarians than expected. This was expressed through the interchangeable use of the words vegetarian and pescetarian [] Some participants even compared their dietary practices to plant-based diets, despite their consumption of various animal products.

It’s an odd tactic, but not uncommon: As many as one in four self-identified vegetarians admit to eating fish, despite the fact that, well, you know. It may not even be completely dishonest, seven out of 10 participants expressed a desire to be vegetarian or vegan in some point, even if these plans were, shall we say, less firm.

But ironically, taking this stance may be precisely what is delaying that professed goal. [The] The comparison could allow pescetarians to socially distance themselves from meat eaters and thus make their choice to consume only marine animals seem more ethical, the authors note. This is a potentially advantageous comparison that works to alleviate cognitive dissonance by creating a more positive and moral self-construal.

In other words: aspiration is more important than action. [Participants] The researchers conclude that the commonly expressed values ​​of caring for animal welfare and environmental impact are more important to them than whether they ate a tuna sandwich for lunch.

So how do you solve the pescatarian paradox? It is easy. It turns out there are no pescatarians, just a bunch of vegans who eat fish.

Isn’t that a relief?

The study is published in the journal Qualitative Research in Psychology.

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