Here’s a post (indented) that I put up on January 28 of this year, and it garnered nearly 300 comments.
Here’s a theory (which is mine) for which I’ll surely get shellacked. My theory, which (again) is mine, is this, and here it is. It’s just below:
In general, people don’t like fish nearly as much as meat.
- Catholics used to eat fish on Fridays as a penance, which means that foregoing meat for fish was considered a sacrifice. (This practice was also the reason why McDonald’s created the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, as hamburger sales fell off on Fridays.)
- The most consumed fish in the U.S. are #1: tuna, and #2 salmon. What do they have in common? They’re “unfishy” fish, with a meaty texture and flavor. In fact, I frequently hear people say that they don’t like “fishy” fish, which means that they don’t much like fish.
I know a lot of people will write in angrily and say they love fish, and love fishy fish like anchovies and herring. I recognize that you people exist, but I am making a general argument, one supported by the data above. (Another non-fishy fish that’s highly prized, by the way, is swordfish.)
Full disclosure: I am not much of a fish fan, and when I do eat it it, it’s tuna or salmon.
p.s. Be temperate in your remarks below: remember there are rules about calling people names. Try not to carp too much.
p.p.s. I am talking about humans here, not cats.
Now of course a lot of people wrote in saying they LOVED fish, as if that were some kind of refutation of an argument based, well, not on statistics, but on general observation. Single cases of fish-lovers don’t count. And I still claim that most “carnivores”, that is, people who eat both fish and meat, and have the opportunities to do so, usually prefer meat to fish. Remember, the most-loved fish are tuna, salmon, and also swordfish, which are “unfishy” fish.
Yesterday it occurred to me that there may be an evolutionary reason why people prefer meat to fish. Over the vast period of human evolution, we ate plants and meat—and meat more often after we tamed fire. But surely we ate uncooked meat over much of our evolutionary history. On the other hand, we didn’t eat much fish, if for no other reason than early African ancestors probably didn’t live near areas that harbored a lot of fish. Further, the first evidence for fishing dates back only about 40,000 years—only 1% of the time since we split off from our ancestor with chimps.
What does this mean? As I’ve always said, foods don’t have an inherent flavor: how they “taste” to us is an evolutionary product of our olfactory and taste receptors and the neurons in our brain that interpret their signals as “yummy” or “ick”. And evolution would mold the taste “qualia” in a way that we would discern as pleasurable the foods that we require given our physiology and way of life. I’ve also said that a vulture probably finds the taste of well rotted carrion as pleasurable as we find the taste of ice cream sundaes or (if you don’t like sweets), steak or chicken. We like fats and sweets because, in our ancestors, those substances were vital nutrients and sources of energy, and so natural selection molded us and our ancestors to find those things tasty. (Now, of course, we’re screwed by those genes, for we eat fats and sweets in quantities never available to our ancestors, causing diabetes, obesity, and heart problems in modern humans.)
So why do we like meat more than fish? Because meat was for dinner over most of our evolution and fish wasn’t. Our taste receptors and neurons gradually adapted to this diet, so that we find meat far more palatable than fish. Those people who didn’t like meat didn’t leave as many copies of their genes. That, at least, is my theory, which is mine.
Now don’t go into the comments and carp, saying that my argument is wrong because you like fish. That’s an anecdote, not a counterargument. (My anecdote: I’d take a good steak over tilapia any day.) If you want to refute my argument, which after all is just a top-of-the-head thought, you’ll have to come up with something else.
An addendum: in those cultures which now subsist largely on fish, selection will mold genes for fish-liking; and, of course, there are culturally-based preferences, so some of the Japanese love of fish surely comes from the fact that they’re brought up with it, and may regard other foods with suspicion.