My romance with steak ended many years ago when a friend described what she'd seen at a slaughterhouse: the chains, the fear, the hoisting, the blades, the squealing, the slitting, the dying, the blood.... Steak had been a treat, my birthday meal of choice—the stuff of nights out in silk and heels. But now I knew too much. As I listened to my friend's hideous story, a mantra took root in my soul: Nothing has to die for my pleasure.
But there were potholes along the road to dietary righteousness. Off the bat I found it easy to reject a thick wedge of flesh on a plate, so recognizably hacked from the rump or loin of something that once had a face and a mom. Concoctions like burgers and sausage, on the other hand—adulterated, reconstituted into patties and tubes—seemed less offensive. Then there was foie gras, the Josef Mengele of cruelty food, but dainty of portion and served in ramekins pretty enough for a crème brûlée. How could anything so amusing to the bouche be bad?
The even greater exception: seafood. I couldn't muster any attachment to fish, with their flat, primordial eyes—moving dumbly through the deep, dropping eggs by the hundreds with all the emotion of a crop duster. Not cuddly by any measure, and as such, more than welcome to die for my pleasure. Besides, unlike pigs and cows fed noxious gruel in cramped pens on factory farms, fish, I assumed, spent their days zipping along in the clean, bubbly surf (until that fateful encounter with the fisherman's line).
Eventually I'd learn the truth: that fish, much like pigs and cows, are fed noxious gruel in cramped pens on factory farms, and that sushi bar denizens like me have contributed to catastrophic overfishing—that I am a threat to several species. Which feels strange to someone whose kids have kept fish as pets. The day my kids found Linus bobbing horribly at the bottom of the tank, his milky eyes bulging, the grief was real for us all.
What makes one fish worthy of love and a name, and another one something you garnish with wasabi? Are uncute creatures somehow more deserving of having their heads chopped off than those with velvety noses? I haven't yet sorted it all out. What I can tell you is that making peace with your palate is a process. These days I'd sooner eat dirt than foie gras, and while I'll occasionally order salmon tartar, I don't enjoy it as much as I used to. I'm quick to zero in on the silvery fibers running through the meat, and sometimes I puzzle over a flavor on my tongue that could only be described as death. My meatless diet, and caviar-free victory party, are in sight.What you need to know about buying eco-friendly seafoodLucy Kaylin is the executive editor of
O, The Oprah Magazine.