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Sin and vegetarianism - Off in the distance
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May 2016
 

The Bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 12:59
Subject: Sin and vegetarianism
Security: Public
There seem to be a tradition that although vegetarians may not eat beef, port pork, chicken and other such products of mammals and birds, that they can still eat fish. (Whether they can eat alligator, turtle, locusts, snails or other creatures is not something I've yet found out.) Like many others, I've often wondered about the origin of this, since it seems a bit weird, but the other evening, I think I encountered a plausible reason.

It appears that it comes down to the Christian tradition of fasting. Supposedly, the reason for 'not eating meat' during Lent, or on a Friday, or if you're a monk or the like, is that eating meat is indirectly partaking of the original sin. Animals reproduce by breeding, and in the case of mammals and birds, breeding involves copulation. If copulation is sinful, then the product of copulation - even that of animals - is also to some extent sinful, and therefore their flesh should be avoided.

Fish, on the other hand, do not copulate. Therefore, the flesh of fish is not the product of sin. And thus it is permitted to eat fish.

Okay ...

(Though whoever categorised whales as fish never went out with the sperm whalers. And also not all piscine species use the eggs-and-milt approach.)

Edit: for silly typo - thanks Feòrag.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 14:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
... and the rivers and fish ponds, too. As a Brit, I do tend to think of fish as being something that comes from the sea, but in a lot of Europe, the fish eaten are primarily freshwater.

IIRC, there were cultures where a nice big carp was the celebration dish.
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Sarcasticia Nitpickerson
User: tisiphone
Date: 2010-02-18 14:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, yes, true. The amount of fish that used to be available in Britain is really astonishing. There's a book called "Londoner's Larder", which discusses how the London region has eaten since ... I don't remember, well back into "once used for ritual purposes" territory I think. They claim that there used to be over 50 kinds of fish readily available and cheap enough for beggars to eat. The mind boggles.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 14:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There was a time when apprentices used to try to insist that they didn't have to eat salmon all the time. When I first heard of that, it was in an era when fresh salmon was a bit of a rarity, and I boggled somewhat at the idea.

There's also the favourite street meal of the Cockney - the jellied eel. Not that I get on with those, bloody messy stuff and a pain to eat. (I last had some a couple of weeks ago.)

I don't know when England stopped eating so much freshwater fish. I suspect it's when our population density went past a certain point, and only the sea could provide the quantities needed. Oh, and the rivers become too polluted for fish. It's no good trying to catch salmon in the upper Thames if the poor things can't survive through London.
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Sarcasticia Nitpickerson
User: tisiphone
Date: 2010-02-18 14:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am not sure I'd have been happy about eating fish that grew in a medieval European river. They're also just harder to catch - lake and river fish you mostly catch by the one, while ocean fish you can scoop hundreds with a net, fairly often. (Or they're large enough to be worth catching singly).
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 14:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For eels, eel traps were the typical method. And there were some quite industrial methods of catching river fish, too, such as the fish-weir.

I certainly wouldn't want river fish from the near downstream of a town, but upstream ought to be OKish.
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Sarcasticia Nitpickerson
User: tisiphone
Date: 2010-02-18 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Everywhere's downstream of somewhere. Well, except in the Scottish highlands I guess, but... then you're in the Scottish highlands.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 14:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, I did say 'the near downstream'. The rule of thumb I grew up with was that a dead animal (a drowned sheep, for example) will pollute a small river for a mile or so downstream. Reeds and water-weed make good filters, and there's also dilution from tributaries and side streams.

But there's a reason why in those days even children were given beer to drink. (My father had small beer when at school, about WWII. I attended the same school a quarter century later, and we got water.)
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Sarcasticia Nitpickerson
User: tisiphone
Date: 2010-02-18 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
(Mind, this is my hangup, not medieval English people's hangup.)
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Megabitch
User: megabitch
Date: 2010-02-18 15:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jellied eel... one of the very few seafood/fish "delicacies" that I won't eat, right up there with caviar and roe for "dear gods, that's one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted!"
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 15:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jellied eel is an odd combination of slooshy wet jelly, chewy flesh and embedded bones. I like eel, but I like it filleted and smoked, thank you.

Now, roes are interesting. They vary from the caviar/lumpfish ones at one end that though I do enjoy them, I can quite understand how others don't, through to nice pressed cod roe at the other. Totally different texture, because the eggs are so small as to be pretty much a paste. (And that's ignoring taramasalata, which is the smoked cod roe paté.)
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Megabitch
User: megabitch
Date: 2010-02-18 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh yes, I don't like pressed cod roe either (Dad used to buy it tinned and fry slices for breakfast *ew*) or taramasalata either. It's not just the texture, though I still found pressed cod roe very gritty. This also means that when I have any tinned small fish like sardines, I carefully open up each individual fish and take any roe out (leaving the bones behind) to be disposed of before mashing the rest up for spreading on toast *omnomnom*
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 16:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh right, OK. You really don't like roe at all.

(Contrariwise, I'll open sardines to slip out the bones.)
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User: vatine
Date: 2010-02-18 14:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In the Stockholm area, fish traditionally came out of the Baltic or out of Lake Märaen, the first is brackish, the second is definitely freshwater. Quite a few species live happily on either side of the dividing points.
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desperance
User: desperance
Date: 2010-02-18 22:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
IIRC, there were cultures where a nice big carp was the celebration dish.

Still are. These last couple of years, since we developed a large Polish community around here, the local supermarket fishcounter has offered carp for the traditional Xmas Eve feast.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2010-02-18 22:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We don't have enough Poles here for Tesco to have started that down here, but perhaps it's something that will happen.
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