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The Sustainable Kitchen

Fish are human too - or are they? —

Let me start be saying, I was once a card carrying member — of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Once" is the crucial — word here. I try to examine both sides of every issue, be tolerant of — others' points of view and all that, but give me a break!

Touting tofu chowder and vegetarian sushi as alternatives, — PETA launched a novel campaign in November of last year. Are you ready — for this? They argue that fish - contrary to stereotype - are intelligent, — sensitive animals no more deserving of being eaten than a pet dog or cat. —

Called the Fish Empathy Project, the campaign reflects — a strategy shift by PETA as it challenges a diet component widely viewed — as nutritious and uncontroversial.

I agree with the fact that breeding habitats need to be — protected and we need to assure that fishing methods are used that prevent — over-fishing, irresponsible bycatch and habitat destruction. Enter the — Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC is an international nonprofit organization. — It has developed a globally respected certification program that provides — its label to fisheries that meet strict, independently reviewed standards — of sustainability.

But back to issue at hand. The part that makes me laugh — about the Fish Empathy Project - and I must say a bit ticked off - is — that PETA wants you and me to believe that fish are just as smart as dogs — and cats. As Bruce Friedrich, PETA's director of vegan outreach said, — "No one would ever put a hook through a dog's or cat's mouth."

Now, my dogs can catch Frisbees, tell me when it is time — to go out and occasionally jump up on the kitchen counter and steal a — carelessly forgotten morsel of food. I've never seen a halibut do this. —

The campaign is in its infancy and will face broad skepticism — to say the least. Major groups such as the American Heart Association — recommend fish as part of a healthy diet and some academics say it is — wrong to portray the intelligence and pain sensitivity of fish as comparable — to mammals. Neuroscientist James Rose of the University of Wyoming said, — "Fish are very complex organisms that do all sorts of fascinating things, — but to suggest they know what's happening to them and worry about it, — that's just not the case." National Fisheries Institute president John — Connelly stated, "It's irresponsible to discourage people from eating — fish at a time when doctors and dietitians advise eating it twice a week. — If anything, we should be eating more fish."

The really problem is that PETA's tactics are no laughing — matter. Their activists are planning demonstrations at selected seafood — restaurants nationwide and probably at a restaurant near you. PETA will — also urge changes in commercial fishing practices, for example proposing — that trawler crews stun fish before cutting them up.

What is clear to me is that consumers who question the — ethics of eating seafood won't be making their decision on the doorsteps — of a restaurant. But I'm sure the picketing will garner the protestors — their 15 minutes of fame on the nightly news.

Eco-concerns certainly will continue to impact menu planning — in 2005. People want to know and should know everything about the seafood — they're buying or eating, not just whether it is wild or farm raised. — With wild salmon out of season for months at a time, consumers alarmed — by reports of PCBs, dioxin and other contaminants in conventionally farmed — salmon consumers are wondering where to turn.

The real answer is for suppliers, grocery stores and ultimately — chefs to work closely with small, independent fishermen to find the best — quality, environmentally-responsible seafood choices.

In my opinion, one concern consumers can safely ignore — is whether the fish they are purchasing is smarter than the family pet. — And consumers who are so misguided as to buy that fallacy don't deserve — to eat seafood. Let them have their tofu turkeys and tempeh hot dogs. —

Meanwhile, if this latest hair-brained campaign aggravates — you as much as me, just remember this bumper sticker acronym: People Eat — Tasty Animals.