But... but... but... it has eyes!
July 12, 2010 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I've been vegetarian for 10 years, but I think it's time to make the switch to pescetarian. I need some help with the details.

I've been thinking of doing this for a while, and I'm still a bit conflicted ethically. I'm not interested in your opinions here. I can't stress that enough (though I certainly tried). My MAIN problems are the environmental impact of pescetarian versus vegetarian, and the fact that eating things with eyes still freaks me out. The last thing isn't something you'll be able to help me out with, obviously.

As a vegetarian, my diet is not particularly heavy in meat substitutes. I enjoy the occasional veggie dog/burger (more so in the summer), and I eat seitan very occasionally. The biggest fake meat product in my diet is veggie bacon, which is also pretty occasional. I eat a fairly balanced diet, otherwise, but I think/know that adding fish to my diet would probably make my diet healthier.

I do have some concerned (as stated above) that I won't be able to "stomach" eating something with eyes again. If you have any personal experience in this matter, I'd be happy to hear it. I'm really not interested in hearing how you switched back to eating cow or pig again. Not want I want to hear. Fishies only. I see a crab and its eyes and it still freaks me out. I'm afraid I'll order fish at a restaurant and they'll give the whole fish to me, head and all, and I'll have to eat it while it's starting at me. I'm skeeved out by the little legs/tails on shrimps. So, yeah. Still working on this part.


* How did you make the switch from vegetarian to pescetarian?

* I live in Philadelphia. If you know of a nutritionist in the area, I'd love to hear about it. I'd even be interested in a web-only nutritionist, if that exists. Bonus question for Philly folks: Tell me about restaurants/markets that serve fresh, local seafood.

* If you have any resources regarding making the switch to a pescetarian diet. Online, books, support forums (ridiculous, but perhaps necessary for us whiners), etc, would all be helpful.

* Resources talking about the benefits diets have on the environment. I have tons of books on sustainability, and I'm very interested in this. I'm particularly interested in making sure what I'm doing is not only sustainable, but realistic in terms of my lifestyle. I live in a city. I can't grow my own vegetables, etc. I'm happy to do whatever I can. I own In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen and it's next on my list of books to read.

This isn't going to be a change I make overnight, and I may even decide against doing this. Thanks for the advice, and I'd like to stress again that I'm looking only for personal experiences in certain areas. Please reread the question if you are about to comment about cows and methane, how delicious pigs are, etc. I do not want to see that.

posted by two lights above the sea to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish, eyes and all. If the menu says something like "filet of [fishname]", then you're not going to see a head or a tail or even a fin. The only exception may be smaller fishes, like sardines, which may be served whole (and are delicious).

Can't help with the switch (I'm an omnivore), but I thought I'd offer some reassurance about ordering in restaurants. (Oh, and it's perfectly okay to ask the server, too.)

(My partner is a pescetarian. We like tilapia farmed in the US - it's quite mild, it's fileted, and it's easy to cook in a variety of ways. We also like salmon, but there's been no salmon season in California for three years. We prefer local, and wild, so there's been very little salmon for us recently.)

Oh, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a good and updated list of fish it's "okay" to eat (in terms of sustainability).
posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: Regarding the environmental impact, there are types of seafood that are sustainably fished, and types that are not.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has excellent information available online - you can look up different types of seafood, download a guide to your phone, or print out a wallet sized guide to keep with you in the supermarket or restaurants.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I do have some concerns that I won't be able to "stomach" eating something with eyes again.

Please don't take this as being snarky. Consider clams, oysters, etc as a start to a pescetarian diet..even if they are served in a shell, there are no eyes to worry about. Also, I have never received an entire fish, eyes and all at a restaurant, but asking the waiter before you order seems like it would be a pretty easy way to prevent something like that happening.
posted by kro at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2010

I'm afraid I'll order fish at a restaurant and they'll give the whole fish to me, head and all, and I'll have to eat it while it's starting at me.

Well considering you live in Philly, and not China, this isn't going to be a problem. Fish is going to come out in fillets. Here is what a lovely ahi tuna fillet looks like.

Worst case, you can always ask the waitstaff before ordering.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2010

WRT #4, switching from a vegetarian to pescetarian diet is never going to be beneficial to the environment (I've heard michael pollan say that eating fish is virtually the only case where wha't healthiest for you is not what's healthiest for the planet), but it might help you with your ethical issues to be educated about (relatively) sustainable fisheries so that you can be confident that you're being very conscientious about WHICH fish you're eating and how they're caught. The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes excellent resources on this topic, including a little card you can keep in your wallet and an iphone app, for checking which fish on a menu or at a grocery store are the best choices. you can find information about those here:

good luck!
posted by juliapangolin at 9:12 AM on July 12, 2010

oops, link didn't work http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx
posted by juliapangolin at 9:12 AM on July 12, 2010

You can start slow by putting fish or oyster sauce in, say, a vegetable stir fry.
posted by domnit at 9:13 AM on July 12, 2010

You may be especially interested in this page from the Monterey Bay Aquarium - it's their "super green" seafood list. Everything on the list is both healthy (low levels of contaminents, high levels of omega-3s) and on their "best choices" list in terms of environmental impact.

Also, I noticed that mussels, oysters, and scallops are on the "super green" list. Mussels and oysters have a stronger ocean-y taste, but scallops might be an interesting place to start; they don't have eyes like finfish do, and they're quite mild tasting (I love them).
posted by insectosaurus at 9:14 AM on July 12, 2010

Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish, eyes and all.

Unless it's a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. Might want to wait on ordering seafood in that particular cuisine until you have gotten a little bit better adjusted to the "eating something with a face" concept.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was a veg*n for a while and a seafood hater for....ever? I just hated the smell and I had never had any seafood at all.

But I had some severe health issues and decided to give fish a try and I had good results. What I would do was make a normal Thai curry and use wild Alaskan salmon that was frozen in easily cooked squares instead of the usual tofu. The spicy flavors neutralized the fishiness and I realized that well...if I was going to eat seafood it was going to have to be in the context of a flavor and a cuisine I LOVED. Soon enough I had all sorts of Thai and Malay cookbooks out from the library and I was enjoying all sorts of sea creatures. I think the mildest animals I've tasted are crab meat, scallops, sea bass, and tilapia.

So basically: frozen easily cooked fish without eyes/fins/scales/whatever subbed into recipes you like.

Eventually I conquered my fear of sea creatures and now merrily devour whole fish, but that took some paradigm shifts. Some of the fishiest fish are the most affordable and sustainable.

As far as environmental issues, I recommend Taras Grescoe's Bottomfeeder. The Fabulous Flexitarian is a pretty solid cookbook with both fish and regular veg recipes.
posted by melissam at 9:16 AM on July 12, 2010

Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish, eyes and all

Not true -- whole fish are pretty common, actually. But it's easily avoided, just by asking. Lots and lots of people who eat meat every day won't eat things that look back at them, so asking the waiter is normal and not weird at all.

How did you make the switch from vegetarian to pescetarian?

I just started eating fish, that simple. I started ordering it at restaurants and eating it at people's houses, and then at some point started cooking it for myself. Seriously, it's not a big deal except in your mind. Digestively speaking, fish is super benign; it's not greasy or tough or anything like that.

Environmentally, your biggest concern is going to be overfishing. And that's a huge, huge issue. Add in the problems with fish farming, and you need to be even pickier. I don't eat very much fish (I buy local meat instead, preferring the ethics of buying local over transporting fish hundreds and thousands of miles; ymmv) so I don't lose sleep over this, but there are plenty of guides to finding more sustainable fisheries.
posted by Forktine at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sara C.: "Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish, eyes and all.

Unless it's a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. Might want to wait on ordering seafood in that particular cuisine until you have gotten a little bit better adjusted to the "eating something with a face" concept.

Or italian restaurant. I have never seen a full fish served without notification though. Always says full fish and they usually ask to confirm.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2010

I like all kinds of meat but I can't eat anything that still resembles a carcass (well, I'm working on this but it's still really gross for me) So I totally get where you're coming from with the eyes thing. Have you ever had vegetable sushi? I started eating vegetable maki rolls (the kind at the supermarket) awhile back because they are a quick, cheap, filling meal. Then I transitioned to regular fish maki. They don't look anything like the fish they used to be. You can get smoked or cook fish in them so they aren't raw. It might be something to try. Also, you can always ask your waiter if you're worried about getting a fish head on your plate.
posted by amethysts at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2010

I have only ever once been surprised by a whole fish, at a Mexican restaurant (Huachinango a la Veracruzana I think, so watch out for that dish in particular), and the only other kind of place I've regularly seen it on the menu is at Chinese restaurants, where it is very well labeled. In general americans don't want eyes on their meats any more than you do, so you are in pretty good shape in that most menus label it well.
posted by advil at 9:20 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the reassurance about the whole fish-not-being-served-whole thing. I was 16 years old when I started stopped eating meat, and for about half that time I was dating some one who was also vegetarian, so I almost never saw how fish was served. I hope that explains my ignorance about that.

kro: My snark detector is on and functioning properly! I have considered eating only mollusks, but I wasn't sure my diet would improve greatly. I'll have to look into that.

Thanks for the Monterey Bay Aquarium link. That's definitely along the lines of what I was looking for. Thanks! Keep 'em coming.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:20 AM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: I have been a "vegetarian" for more than 20 years but started eating fish again about 10 years ago (hence the quotes around vegetarian).

I don't know why I started eating fish, but for some reason I decided to make a tuna casserole one day. Tuna is an excellent gateway fish, since it is pretty much already prepared as soon as you open the can and does not look like a fish in there.

It was very weird to eat fish at first because it feels like meat when you chew it - a sensation I had not experienced in a long time when I first started with the fish again. Eventually, I got used to it.

I now love to order a whole fish at a Mexican or Vietnamese restaurant (the only places I know to get a whole fish) and am not bothered by the eyes. Fish faces are not super sentient looking, really.

The biggest hurdle for me has been learning to cook fish, which I have only started to tackle (ha!) in the last three years or so. This is coming from an avid cook, but I learned cooking as a vegan in my early 20s, so I really knew nothing about fish until now. Cooking fish is tricky since they're easy to overcook. So I guess my suggestions are, start with tuna and ordering fish curries or fish soups or whatever in restaurants, and work your way up. And yeah, fish sauce is another good gateway.

Not sure why you need a nutritionist, but for sustainability, I carry that Monterrey Bay Aquarium list in my wallet. Stuffed and Starved is a pretty readable book that includes stuff on sustainability. At least, I'm only partway through it, but it seems readable so far.
posted by serazin at 9:23 AM on July 12, 2010

Do you want to only order this stuff in restaurants, or are you interested in cooking it yourself? If you're preparing it yourself, I would 2nd getting prepped filets, probably of white fish. Tilapia, cod, snapper, are all fairly mild in taste. Shrimp is another good option, and is pretty easy to prepare. Scallops are a little trickier, but a very nice lean protein nonetheless. Lastly, have you considered mixing your seafood with your veggies? Mexican cuisine is well known for this. You could make ceviche (yes, you can cook the seafood), or campechana, perhaps. You might also consider a stir-fry, or even a fried rice preparation.
posted by Gilbert at 9:30 AM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: Hi,

I did this about 5 years ago. I was also really freaked out about eating anything with eyes. More than that, I hated the idea of chewing on fat, dealing with skin on salmon, deboning anything, I could go on...Also, the texture of the food I was eating was *really* important.

Here are a couple things that helped me:

* I started with mild, white, flaky fish like mahi and halibut. Sometimes I would order from a filet from an upscale seafood restaurant so that I knew I was getting high quality. It also allowed me to ask detailed questions about the different seafood options.

* Blackening spices were a helpful seasoning. I used to eat blackened tofu tacos, so I began to eat blackened fish tacos. The transition was really easy.

*Don't play mental games. Stop thinking about the eyes, and legs and mouth of your food. When I did this, I would squick myself out and lose my appetite. I did not try to be daring or adventurous when I started out. I just tried to enjoy the food in front of me. Seriously, sometimes you just have to STOP THINKING so much.

*Many people dislike the idea of their food staring at them. The chances of ordering a whole fish by accident is pretty rare. It's ok to let your server know that you are new to eating fish, ask for details about the preparation. Don't order something if you don't know how it is prepared. Don't recognize a word describing the dish?? Ask for clarification.

*Finally, I had the help of a guide. Go out with friends who love food, love fish, and are happy to talk to you about it. Try each others food. Order a couple dishes or appetizers and share. Learn your preferences and try to learn some vocabulary for what you like and dislike. I can't stress this enough. A lot of people do not know how to talk about taste. If you can start describing what you like and what you don't like, you'll be able to expand your fish choices by asking for recomendations based on what you have tried before.

* There was a lot of food I avoided at first until I wasn't so "skeeved out". Get peeled and deveined shrimp. Try a sushi roll with crab meat, but don't order crab legs- you're probably not ready to be prying apart the legs and getting the meat out.

*I waited a while before I cooked fish at home. It was easier for me to transition to eating fish by having it arrived to me fully prepared, than deal with any prepwork or fishy smells.

Hope that was what you're looking for. I don't want to talk about the environmental impact because there are a lot of people who know a lot more about that than I. I will add that with time it got alot easier, I found I love raw fish, and eventually I began eating and cooking meat. (Not that you will, just know that people's tastes and preferences can change). Try to look at this as an adventure. Have fun.

Good Luck!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 9:31 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, since you are in the Northeast, I will say that I highly recommend scallops. Not so much for a veggie/pesca transition, but just because they are delicious. Very easy to cook, and generally possible to get locally sourced. As far as I can tell, and I am by no means an expert on the sustainable fisheries of the eastern seaboard, you want the little ones called "bay scallops". Those are the ones I see at the fish booth at the greenmarket, and the ones I tend to see with a more local provenance at the market. I don't know that the bigger "sea scallops" are as friendly. Though they are certainly still wonderful to eat.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 AM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: I guess I should have made this more clear: The biggest reason I'm considering switching is for a healthier diet. From what I understand, the B12 from animal protein and the omega from fish is a good thing to have, but I'm not a nutritionist. I wouldn't be abandoning my otherwise healthy diet, I would simply be adding fish into it. So, a nutritionist would help me make sure my diet is a healthy one, since I've been off meat for the last 10 years and don't know what I'm doing!

It's also a matter of balancing the health and sustainability. Great links so far, but please back up claims with some kind of link/book recommendation. I'm not asking you to do all the research for me, but I'm not just looking for things that you've "heard". I've heard a lot of things too, which is why I'm here. I've you've read a study/book, I'd love to see it.

Fish faces are not super sentient looking, really.

Maybe not to you, but you've been eating fish for the last ten years. This isn't going to happen overnight. Comments like "get over it" or "just order fish at a restaurant" are easier said than done. If I didn't care about any of the things I said above, I'd would just do it. For those asking/wondering, yes, I'd absolutely like to eat fish at home and out at restaurants, if that's what I decide to do. I am lucky enough to have the help of a meat eater to help with food preparation, if necessary.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2010

I have never seen a full fish served without notification though.

I have. Doesn't happen often, but I was first made aware that fish comes as anything but a fillet in a Greek taverna in Manhattan. Surprise: whole fish with bone and eyes intact!

In the intervening years this has happened to me on multiple occasions - I'd say that the Mediterranean restaurants around me are more likely than not to have whole fish on the menu without warning.

Maybe in the midwest or in restaurants that are geared for tourists, they will warn you and make sure to double check. But here in New York I have been unexpectedly served whole fish on more than one occasion. I don't know where Philly lies on that continuum, so I can only warn the OP that it is possible.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 AM on July 12, 2010

I'm sure you know this, but one can easily take omega oils as a supplement. Your nearest health food store probably has fish oil in capsule form. If you only want the benefits of eating fish without having to actually eat fish.

Also, if you're only in it for the omega-3's, I'm guessing you'd prefer to stick to oilier fish. Not sure how much health benefit something like a mussel is really going to give you over and above any other sort of food. They're just yummy to eat.
posted by Sara C. at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2010

Try sushi! I have had only one piece of sushi ever served to me with gross identifiable anatomy, which was some kind of ocean-going crustacean that did not smell all that great, either. I didn't eat it. Anything else, go for it.

Of course, sushi probably isn't that great in terms of sustainability, and I recognize you view that as a factor. I am somewhat ambivalent about my love affair with sushi from a sustainability standpoint, as well, and I'm fairly carnivorous. I am suggesting sushi as a purely transitional item in your case. It's an easy way to try a variety of seafood and find out what you like, after which you can make selections that you can work with at home.
posted by adipocere at 9:46 AM on July 12, 2010

Maybe not to you, but you've been eating fish for the last ten years.

I didn't intend to tell you to "get over it" and I apologize if my comment came off this way. My hope was to encourage you by suggesting that looking a fish might be easier than looking at the face of another animal.
posted by serazin at 9:54 AM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Serazin: It's okay! I was trying to make a broad point about those types of comments. I'm a pretty big sissy when it comes to this stuff, so I'm just dipping my toes in the water on this issue here.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:56 AM on July 12, 2010

Fish tacos.
Seafood chowder.
Fish and chips.

No eyes to look at you and make you feel guilty.

I've been mostly vegetarian for about 15 years. Two years ago, I was traveling in China and decided that I just needed to roll with it if I was served meat or fish. I couldn't stand eating poultry or pork or beef, but I found that I actually kind of enjoyed some fish, especially a particular stew of fish in a beer broth common in (I think) Dali. Since then, I've been eating fish maybe once or twice a month. I can't get down anything too strongly flavored or too chewy. I don't like salmon, for example, and I can't face (literally) crustaceans. But the things I mentioned above are great.

If you want to try eating fish again, start with the mild, flaky varieties. You'll probably have an easier time if the fish is surrounded by delicious things that you're more used to eating - vegetables, spices, tortillas, hamburger rolls, etc. - or if its texture is familiar, such as the crispiness of fried fish. Start out by ordering it occasionally when you're out. If you start getting fond of it, then you can graduate to cooking your own. (I haven't made that leap.)
posted by bassjump at 10:05 AM on July 12, 2010

My suggestion on the restaurant front would be to never order anything (often crab, lobster or prawns) out of the live tank. I recently was at an upscale seafood restaurant and ordered spot prawn sashimi, which was on special because they'd just gotten in a fresh local order and had them in the live tank. The waiter came out with the prawns, which were great, but then he came right back with a plate of deep-fried prawn heads, complete with eyes and feelers, compliments of the sous chef! I am a pretty seasoned seafood eater, but that plate definitely threw me for a loop. So anything that chefs have access to out of the live tank presents more of an opportunity for the heads/eyes to make an appearance.

Dr. Carl Safina heads up the Blue Ocean Institute, which has a great seafood guide. I work in fisheries and would definitely follow his advice.

Mussels are almost always a good bet; I have a colleague who is a very strict vegetarian, but eats mussels and clams because they aren't sentient. Ymmv.
posted by just_ducky at 10:07 AM on July 12, 2010

I caved back to fish for smoked salmon. And clam chowder. No eyes involved.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:22 AM on July 12, 2010

Obvs for fresh anything there's always the Terminal Market though you could also build a rapport with a monger at Darigos in the Italian Market, that way you could talk this stuff out with someone who will remember what you like when you come through the door. Skip the sushi the until you're in NYC and can get it from Tomoe or some place comparable, Philly isn't known for mind blowing raw fish.
posted by The Straightener at 10:36 AM on July 12, 2010

The only time I can remember being served a whole fish was in France. I grew up on fish sticks and filets and other things that were not particularly fish-shaped, so it was quite a surprise to have it arrive, bones and eyes and all. I was with work colleagues and trying to appear more sophisticated than the fish-stick-eating American I was, while freaking out on the inside because my lunch HAD EYES. The two things I did to deal with the situation were:
1) trytoactnormaltrytoactnormaldon'tfreakoutdon'tfreakout,
2) move the lemon slice that was garnishing the plate to cover the eyes, so it wasn't looking at me anymore and
3) surreptitiously watch my colleagues to see how they ate the fish so they wouldn't realize I was stymied.

As far as I know, I covered it pretty well, and it's never happened to me again (although I think having survived it once, I could deal better the next time). As a general rule, if someone asks me about food limitations I'll tell them I don't eat food with the eyes still on. If you're in a situation where the preparation method isn't clear and you have some fear that you might get something with eyes, you might want to stick with vegetarian options for that meal.

You may also want to avoid paella and Cajun food. I feel like those are the cases where I'm most likely to be confronted with shrimp-with-heads and crawfish and other still-eyeballed crustaceans that I have not learned to deal with yet. Yeuuuuuch.
posted by srah at 11:01 AM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: Why Even Vegans Should Eat Oysters

Okay, so the title is dumb and kinda ignores something fundamental about veganism, but that aside, it has a point; oysters are one of the lowest impact kinds of seafood you can eat and it's unlikely they feel pain like vertebrates (yes, there is philosophical uncertainty on this point, but oysters are probably near the top of a list of food animals that suffer least).

They are nutritionally pretty good, too. They have 230% of your DV for B12 in a 3oz serving (probably about 3 raw oysters) and alot of anti-oxidants and trace nutrients, while being fairly low calorie. Having them once or twice a week would probably help you get some things you are not getting from a vegetarian diet, unless you're already taking supplements for things like B12.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:04 AM on July 12, 2010

With Cajun food, it's usually pretty easy to avoid things with eyes (or still looking like their living, fully embodied selves). As long as you're not at a crawfish (or crab, or shrimp) boil, you should generally be fine. Shrimp ordered in a restaurant may come with tail still attached, but usually not the head (and you can always ask). Crab is probably best avoided unless the menu specifically says "lump crab meat" or something like that. Fish is never served whole - hence why this little Cajun girl was shocked to get a whole fish at her first Greek dining experience. If in doubt, get oysters!

And if you are invited to a crab/crawfish/shrimp boil, there's usually other food there you can eat - often people will bring typical barbecue/cookout sides like salads, baked beans, chips and dip etc. And even if it's really just the crawfish boil for food, the cook almost always throws potatoes, corn, and other veggies into the boiling liquid with the shellfish. These taste awesome and are my favorite part of a seafood boil. You may not get any complete proteins, but it's just one meal.
posted by Sara C. at 11:13 AM on July 12, 2010

This short TED talk by an ocean photographer really opened my eyes about the environmental impacts of seafood fishing. Isn't it also generally acknowledged that the ocean is being unsustainably over-fished?
posted by statolith at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2010

I started eating fish six years ago for health reasons, after being a vegetarian all my life. For me it was very important how well cooked the fish was. I started out with canned tuna and fried fish. Then I slowly got into frozen stuff (I didn't know this when I started of but fish should be cocked exactly the right time to taste well; as soon as it is not raw any more it is finished and should be eaten). Now I happily eat sushi, tuna, and cold smoked salmon but those was certainly not my first choices.
posted by furisto at 11:49 AM on July 12, 2010

Anything caught in Alaskan waters is from a fishing industry with an excellent reputation for sustainability. Most canned salmon is from Alaska but beware, if you buy the regular stuff, it is literally a chunk of fish with the skin and bones still attached.

To get you started, I would try some mild flavors, like the shellfish suggested, or a mild white fish like halibut. Halibut has a very bland taste and a very friendly texture.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:00 PM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: My mom was a vegetarian for 10 or 15 years, and she recently started eating fish again. It was a combination of factors: health/nutrition like yours, also getting some variety in her diet, and having more options at restaurants.

When I've been out with my mom recently, she's usually gotten something with salmon, such as a spinach salad with salmon. Pairing the fish with another non-fish ingredient could help you ease the transition. Crabcakes are also good.

As for the whole eyes and tail thing, I completely understand not wanting to eat a whole fish. I'm a full-on omnivore and *I* don't want to see that on my plate! The majority of restaurants serve fish in filets or other cut-up form. The whole-fish presentation tends to be only at fancy restaurants or certain ethnicities. When in doubt, ask! Also, if you want to try cooking fish but don't want to see them at the seafood counter, maybe ask a friend to purchase it for you?

Sara C. mentioned crawfish boils and the like...I'd stay away from these personally. I was a little freaked out the first time I went to a crawfish boil in New Orleans.

Reading between the lines of your post, it sounds like you're getting a lot of pressure and opinions from others about your decision. My mom was having the same sort of struggle when she decided to go from veg to pesc - not from anyone else really, but she had identified as a veg for so long that she felt weird about not being a full veg anymore. I told her "Look, there are no vegetarian police. If you want to have fish sometimes, do it. If you decide to stop eating fish, then stop. Eat what you want, when you want, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."
posted by radioamy at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sara C.: "Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish, eyes and all.

Unless it's a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. Might want to wait on ordering seafood in that particular cuisine until you have gotten a little bit better adjusted to the "eating something with a face" concept."

Or italian restaurant. I have never seen a full fish served without notification though. Always says full fish and they usually ask to confirm.

Or Chinese restaurant. My experience is that in authentic Chinese restaurants in the US, fish that isn't a garlicky deep fried appetizer or added to a stew comes whole. Tiny whole dried fish are often an appetizer, and tiny dried whole shrimp are used for flavor in many dishes. Also, these places usually have tanks full of fish that are for the purpose of cooking on prominent display. I used to eat dinner and watch hands reach into the tanks and grab a fish to cook. This could be a bit much at the beginning.

Chinese people know how to cook fish, though! It's usually very tender and delicious. If you can get someone to bring you some with the unpleasant parts removed I think it's worth a try. I don't think it's that difficult to steam a fish, so if you find you like the Chinese steamed fish recipe you could learn to do it at home.
posted by millions of peaches at 3:02 PM on July 12, 2010

Can I come back to clarify? Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish without telling you that it's a whole fish.

Unless you're at a banquet Chinese restaurant, for instance, no restaurant is going to serve you a whole salmon - salmon are enormous. Trout may be served whole.

The vast, vast majority of restaurant menus will be pretty clear - e.g. "Oven-roasted filet of [fishtype]" or "Whole braised [fishtype] served with etc." Check out the menu from the Rose Pistola (.pdf), for instance. If it doesn't say "whole," it won't be whole.
posted by rtha at 3:34 PM on July 12, 2010

Almost no restaurant is going to serve you a whole fish without telling you that it's a whole fish.

This may or may not be true, and if it's a concern you should definitely ask.

I have been served whole fish many times without being told. Of course, the vast majority of the time, it's not whole fish. But if you think it might be (and in certain cuisines, that's the go-to preparation), ask. Especially if you would not be able to stomach eating it.
posted by Sara C. at 3:39 PM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: Just a couple of things in response to your reasons for switching:

- You can get plenty of B12 from dairy products. 1 cup of cottage cheese has 2 micrograms of B12 (Daily Recommended Intake is 2.4 micrograms for healthy adults); 1 1/2 oz. of Swiss cheese has 1.5 micrograms.
- Keep in mind that it's not enough to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids; you also need to limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids to maximize the benefit from omega-3s.
- There are also other sources of omega-3s, including fortified eggs (from chickens who have been fed oily fish meal), nuts, and certain oils (flaxseed, soybean, walnut, canola). The oils provide linolenic acid, which the body uses to make other omega-3s. The fortified eggs provide a type of omega-3 called DHA.

I say all this as a vegetarian who became a pescetarian, but who is now reconsidering the switch. I was a lacto-ovo veg for about 6 years before I began eating some fish. I started by eating light, flaky white fish; I still cannot eat firm, dense fish like swordfish or tuna steaks. Frankly, I think the suggestion to start by eating raw fish is a little odd, and I disagree completely - but that's just me. Canned tuna is an excellent place to start - in a can, it bears no resemblance to an actual animal, and you can blend the tuna with mayonnaise, white beans, mustard, etc. so you're not just eating straight fish. (Do remember, though, that tuna isn't the best source of omega-3s; mackerel, salmon, herring, lake trout and sardines are better choices.)

Finally, you might want to see if you can meet with a registered dietitian versus a nutritionist. An RD has completed a program in dietetics accredited by the American Dietetic Association (at least, here in the US). They have completed internships or preprofessional programs and have also passed the RD exam; many are also licensed to practice. Nutritionists may or may not be RDs and may or may not have solid credentials. In some states, you have to have an MS or PhD to call yourself a nutritionist, but this isn't true everywhere, and I don't know what the case is in PA.
posted by pecanpies at 3:49 PM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

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