Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

I’ve Lived at the Beach My Whole Life — Here’s Why I Gave Up Seafood

I grew up on an island. I left that island to go to a little college right on a riverbank, and then I left that riverbank to go to graduate school with a view of the Irish Sea. And then I came back to that island. I’m here now.

Growing up, I went fishing with my dad, either on our little boat in the bay or standing on the beach. Sometimes I would even practice casting lines in the backyard. My mom worked at a seafood restaurant until I was ten, and years later, I worked at one too. I served up lobster rolls and fish tacos (my old favorite food) night after night.

I was a snob about seafood, too. Fish sticks from my college dining hall? God, no. Scallops dredged up by my sister’s friend who worked on the fishing boats out in the bay? Yes, please.

I loved it. I loved the taste of saltwater, I loved drizzling lemon over a flakey white slab of striped bass, I loved dipping fat sushi rolls stuffed with tuna into bowls of soy sauce, I loved sitting at beach bars and licking tartar sauce from my fingers after eating a crab cake. And when I moved away, I loved digging into piles of greasy fish and chips at hole in the wall Irish takeaways. It all tasted like home.

If you’ve been reading my work for a little while, you may already know that I am now vegan. That means no seafood (although my grandma did inform me the other night at dinner that “fish aren’t animals, sweetie”). It was the last animal product that I ate before making the switch. My Indonesian roommate cooked up some fish and rubbed it with spices that her mom sent her from Jakarta. It was a lovely last goodbye to an old favorite.

One of the biggest struggles that anyone faces when changing their diet is giving up foods connected to their culture. The funny thing is, by the time I went vegan, I was barely eating seafood. I was on a very tight budget, and it was expensive. Giving up cheese was a much bigger sacrifice in terms of what I was actually eating — but giving up seafood was the hardest.

At first, I almost felt like I was betraying my roots. How could I live on the water for my entire life and suddenly refuse to eat seafood?

Then I began to learn more about overfishing and the impact it has on our oceans. I learned that one day we could be seeing oceans without any fish. I learned how other animals were killed in commercial fishing operations.

I realized that if I really loved the ocean, I had to stop eating from it. If I wanted future generations to be able to learn about all the beautiful creatures living in its depths, I had to leave seafood off my plate.

It’s been almost a year now since I’ve eaten seafood. I won’t lie and say I don’t miss the taste — I do. The good news is that I’ve fallen in love with vegan sushi, and I’ve actually had pretty good imitation shrimp and crab cakes. I was shocked that I could enjoy any seafood substitutes, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Food and culture will always be intertwined. As long as I live by the water I’ll be surrounded by people who eat seafood. At least someone catching their own dinner is better than eating factory farmed meat. It wasn’t easy to give up, but by making this small sacrifice, I feel like I am honoring the place I live in a whole new way.