We should all be on board with anything that helps solve our marine biodiversity crisis, but why do we assume plant-based fish does that? Picture: OLENA DANILEIKO/123RF
We should all be on board with anything that helps solve our marine biodiversity crisis, but why do we assume plant-based fish does that? Picture: OLENA DANILEIKO/123RF

They’re at it again. The altruists who developed the plant-based Impossible Burger to help save the planet (yeah, right) have joined the move to fish-free fish in order to make both their halo and bank balance shinier.

The popularity of the Impossible Burger (and other non-beef “meats”) was born from three ideas that form a perfect zeitgeist storm. 1: Beef eating is bad for the environment. 2: Killing animals for our food is morally wrong. 3: Meat is bad for your health. These, of course, are generalisations or opinions, and in the case of point three, utter nonsense, but that’s a story for another day.

In the growing plant-based fish scenario, points one and two are still used by the manufacturers as ammunition; just replace the word beef with fish. Point three can’t be used as a reason to eschew fish, because the mainstream position (always the one big business must bow to) is that seafood is actually pretty good for your health.

Let’s look at point one, namely that eating fish is bad for the environment. Hard to argue against that, and we should all be on board with anything that helps solve our marine biodiversity crisis, right? But why do we assume plant-based fish does that? Here’s what will probably happen: eaters on the vegan track — already not eating seafood — will now and then buy fish-free fish instead of meatless meat. Omnivores will still buy seafood, and in addition will also eat plant-based fish now and then. The “pretend” fish is no replacement in taste or texture for fish (or even food in general, for that matter).

Because this product makes nobody the wiser about which marine life is better or worse to eat, most fish eaters will still, quite innocently, make horrifyingly unsustainable choices. We should also take into account that about 30% of fish caught is used as animal feed (often — though not always — for the very worst sort of livestock farming), and, again, it’s complicated, because in certain cases this fish would otherwise be wasted, but in other cases, fish as feed is the least sustainable option. The devil is in the detail. 

On to point two — the so-called moral argument. While fewer prawns — and therefore turtles, dolphins and seabirds — being caught should gladden all our hearts, conventional crop farming involves animal death too, both directly and indirectly. Denial of this is purely wishful thinking. Why don’t the corporations selling these crop-based “cruelty-free” products focus on promoting “veganic” agriculture, which prioritises no-till and no pesticides in order to kill or harm fewer small animals? But while the Impossible Burger guys make some low-throttle noise about less tillage and decreasing pesticides by using genetically modified soya, it’s all very nebulous.   

And now that genetically modified has been mentioned, let’s talk health for a second: with the top two ingredients on Gardein’s Fishless Filets being water and canola oil, it seems clear that this techno-crud should be barred from even using the word fish. You’re paying for water! And kak oil! Wow. You want big business to use our current confusion between ideology, ecology and biology to improve their bottom line? Go buy some fish-free fish.  

See both sides:

And it gets better! Vegetable-free vegetables. Check out these Megetables and Marrots :