I love goldfish, but I couldn’t eat a live one
Puns abounded after a PR stunt involving goldfish went totally belly up this week. Advantage SA sent 55 live goldfish to clients around the country, urging them to “test the water and be the big fish in a small pond” in Adelaide. But, Mumbrella reported, at least some of the fish were DOA.
It’s the sort of story that will probably end up in marketing textbooks. Someone probably got their arse kicked. CEO Karen Raffen sounded genuinely apologetic on radio. No one was insensitive enough to crack jokes about Adelaide as the murder capital of the world, but that’s just a matter of time.
Advantage SA’s mea culpa included the promise of donations to the Animal Welfare League and the RSPCA to make amends for any distress caused to the fish. Begging the question: Since when did we, as a society, care about fish?
Plenty of us have swung a little goldfish carcass down the toilet with nary a tear. Even pesky-tarians who will turn their noses up at other forms of flesh will scoff whitebait with delight, downing dozens of whole animals in a single sitting with a crunch and a smile and a dollop of aioli.
The nation wept watching the Four Corners special on the Indonesian slaughterhouses; our little hearts went out to those animals with their warm blood and long eyelashes.
Facebook is swamped with pleas for people to adopt stray dogs; activists rail against chicken farms; even some hardened gourmands quail at the thought of foie gras.
But fish? We boil them alive and hear them scream. We delight in catching them in the wild, while condemning duck shooting.
We tune in to shows of hooks going in then being ripped out, of sea creatures small and large slithering and bleeding on boat decks.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, on a food tour, the group recoiled at the string bags of frogs already skinned, but still alive.
But then we shared stories of some famous fish dishes, of half-fried fish served up still alive and flapping, of sushi carved from a gasping creature.
Disclaimer: I haven’t tried those ‘delicacies’. But somehow the thought is not as revolting as, say, still-kicking lamb on a spit.
It’s because they’re primitive, and oh-so-different to us. We don’t anthropomorphise them, with their cold, cold eyes, the way we do with the warm-blooded animals we care about (but still munch on). Or is it just that we think they’re dumb, and therefore guilt-free torture victims?
Most people would probably argue that it’s because fish don’t feel pain. But that’s not quite true, just as it’s a myth that goldfish have a five-second memory.
Several studies have found fish indeed do have feelings, that they have nervous pathways and respond to stress – one doctor has even claimed his pet fish pined for him when he went away.
So eat fish or don’t eat fish. Eat meat or don’t eat meat. But don’t wail about the poor dead goldfish unless you’re also going to rethink the Christmas seafood platter.
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