This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Last year I paid a visit to Miya's Sushi, in New Haven, a restaurant that tries* to be sustainable
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. We do our best to not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is vegetable-centered; the other half does not utilize traditional sushi ingredients such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Octopus, and so on. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include unconventional sushi ingredients such as Catfish, which, unlike the farming of many farmed fish, are grown in confined ponds that make it virtually impossible to cross-contaminate other species or destroy the aquatic ecosystem around them.
I was reminded of it because on a popular Facebook group called International Paleo Movement Group, there was an argument between me and Lana, the admin of Ethical Omnivore Movement, a facebook page where she posts various articles and other information.
Lana thinks it is unacceptable to eat any seafood ever because we need to give our damaged oceans a rest. That there is no such thing as sustainable seafood. She was promoting a film called Sea the Truth, which is produced by the Dutch animal rights party.
They also produced Meat the Truth and I think here it's where we find parallels between many tactics that animal rights activists use to discourage omnivory. The main tactic is to highlight parts of the industry that is destructive and then also highlight incidences where corrupt governments and NGOs labeled meat or fish sustainable where it wasn't. The implication is that the entire industry is bad and it is impossible to buy sustainable versions of these products. With the growth of the local food movement, in meat at least, this position has become untenable since a growing number of people have personal relationships with the farms they buy from and see that not all meat is produced in the way portrayed by these documentaries. So they also increasingly ally themselves with other arguments that appeal to self-interest such as that meat or fish is all full of toxins or will clog your arteries and kill you slowly.
They also attack small producers, trying the best they can to find small producers that are poorly run in order to undermine consumer's confidence that they can find good products or to highlight the idea that even small producers can have a negative effect on the environment such as Meat the Truth's emphasis on methane that even grass-fed cows produce.
They want you to firmly believe that there is never an acceptable meat or seafood to buy.
When this kind of stuff gets incorporated by the paleo movement, it becomes even worse since so many people in this movement are rabidly anti-government and anti-agriculture. Fish farming? It has the word farming in it, so it must be always bad. Government monitoring and regulation of fish stocks? Nope, because a lot of governments are corrupt. I don't even know what solution they are proposing. Lana simply said people who eat fish are being selfish and small picture and we have to personally change in order to save the ocean.
Given that the ocean is the commons and in general owned by no one (a more sophisticated libertarian argument would attack lack of ownership), and that we can't assume that rest of the world's population is willing to give up seafood because of animal rights films, unfortunately the main viable solutions will be on a global policy level. Which definitely is difficult considering the capture of governments by industry interests, but the consensus on individual action is that it is ineffective at even making a dent on global problems like ocean health or climate change. I think even the makers of these films understand that. Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician that helms these films, is a big supporter of bans for things she doesn't like, not trying to guilt consumers into making different buying choices. The Dutch understand this more than most people with their multiculturalism struggles. Marianne, knowing that many of the things she opposes are deeply culturally embedded, has backed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter for example.
I'm not saying that small local solutions aren't important, but they will fail if they rely on the commons and the commons are not protected. A good example was efforts in the Gulf to develop sustainable fisheries that were stymied by the oil spill there.
The reality on fish and meat is that it's not all black and white, that the presence of bad apples shouldn't tarnish efforts to reform the industry, develop alternatives, and lobby for regulations or other methods that protect the commons for everyone. Some methods of harvest will need to be banned like trawling (some countries have already banned them) and some species will require harvest moratoriums.
Sustainable solutions do mean we have to consume less of certain things and not consume others at all, which is why arguments about emissions from grass-fed cows and other similar arguments can be so deceptive. Methods like pastured cattle raising are less productive, which means higher prices for consumers. Even though I get my beef at a very good price, it is still more expensive than factory-farmed beef. Which means the average consumer will buy and eat less. There are costs, but they are worth it in order to support functioning ecosystems that can produce all kinds of foods for future generations.
Of course when you are dealing with a wild animal things get harder. You have to have sophisticated monitoring in place in order to determine what can be taken sustainably. You have to accept that some years you might not be able to hand out any tags for animals or harvest quotas. It's possible that the best solution for some of these stocks is to treat them a bit like we started treating land hunting in the US after overhunting became an issue: we heavily regulated it, de-commercialized most of it. If you want a deer, you can go out and get it yourself with a tag given out by the government. This method has already been applied to abalone in California. You have to dive to get wild abalone. Given that this is kind of dangerous, sustainable abalone farms have been developed for the commercial market.
Back at Miya's, I thought most of our sushi tasted very good. The menu describes the production method, harvesting method, and a little bit about each fish. Well, maybe not a little bit. One of our complaints was that the menu was the length of a small novel, which made it difficult to actually decide what to order. I'm not going to pretend that my own choices or even your choices can save populations of fish. For every bluefin tuna I chose not to consume, there is a consumer in a developing economy who probably just got his or her first paycheck and is going to probably order fish without looking at their "seafood watch list" card. Solving ocean problems requires large scale policy solutions, not telling a relatively well-off educated person in New York City that they are selfish for eating grouper like Lana was doing on IPMG.
But I do think those of us in the food industry, whether its writers, chefs, or grocers can make a small dent by promoting good products and leaving bad ones off the menu. Good products might not reach everyone, but they provide business models that can be used around the world and generate demand that might spur development of similar production/harvesting elsewhere.
We hear a lot of endangered seafood, but what about marine species that are pests? That are invasive and negatively impact ecosystems? These are ideal to consume, we just need to make sure that we are purposefully overharvesting and not replenishing. And that we accept that if we are successful, these things won't be on the menu anymore. Jackson Lander's Eating Aliens highlights some of these species. Miya's has a tasting menu of invasives.
There are also conservation success stories that have been so successful that these species flood the market, which is the case with lobster right now.
I also think that we need to embrace some forms of aquaculture. This isn't black and white either. There are bad fish farms. Maybe right now most fish farms are bad, but there are good systems that are being developed right now. Development of fish feed for aquaculture that is not itself wild harvested and is not also species inappropriate grain pap is a major issue right now. We need to look at systems that farm seafood at every level of the ecosystem, from aquatic plants to brine shrimp. I visited an aquaponics operation here at the Plant in Chicago recently and there were farming herbivorous Tilapia there. Unfortunately, with most of their diet being grain, consuming them has almost none of the benefits of consuming wild fish. Innovations in the production of DHA-rich algae could be a possible solution. Closed salt-water fish production systems are already being developed. I have had an interest in aquaculture for some time and would very much like to produce freshwater prawns on my family's farm.
Also, I can't help but notice Lake Michigan in my backyard, which is full of fish. Maybe someday once the remediation is done, we can get pollution under control so we can consume fish out of their more often. I eat fish my father catches from there sometimes, but try not to consume it very often.
Either way, we can't let ourselves be derailed by sexy documentaries and books created by people who have other motivations, namely the end of omnivory, in mind. Even as a niche market, we can drive the development of better solutions.
I recommend the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe which takes a look at the current state of the fish industry. It's a short read and free of extremism. When buying seafood, I would recommend Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can even print out a card to take with you to restaurants and the grocery store. They use several criteria to determine which seafood are good choices. The ideal choices come from healthy populations which only what can be replenished is harvested, using methods that do not damage the ecosystem. The ideal fishery is managed in a way that preserves and maintains the marine habitat. You can read more here. You should also take toxin levels into account like mercury and PCBs. If you take fish oil, consider switching to algae-based DHA or source your oil carefully, as much fish oil production is currently unsustainable. I used to buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish, but based on their approval of fisheries that use trawling, I do not believe they are a trustworthy source of information.
I treat buying seafood the way I treat buying anything. There is a wrong way to produce things. There is contamination everywhere. But if I ditched anything that was possibly bad, I'd have nothing to eat. Instead, I look for and support the best I can find. This requires me to ask questions and be knowledgeable. With sardines for example, there are two main fisheries. One is threatened (Atlantic), the other thrives (Pacific).
Personally, I've never been crazy about fish oil. I think the benefits have been exaggerated and there might actually be some negative health effects to high consumption.
I never ever ate fish until I was about 20, when I first started trying to use diet to treat my health problems. I hated fish and remember drenching it in spices to choke it down. But now I actually appreciate the taste of many fish and think it is a very important element in the flavors of my cooking. The main seafood items in my kitchen are:
I really would like to find a better source for shrimp. When I see wild caught Oregon shrimp at Whole Foods, I definitely buy them. Since fraud is an issue, I would suggest finding a reputable fish monger and buying whole easily-identifiable fish.
So no, I don't think the solution to our ocean's problems is to leave them alone. Good fisheries are stewards of the ocean and by relying on the ocean for food, our stake in the matter is much higher. Good community fisheries can even mount effective resistant about threats like undersea drilling. I also think it's important to preserve traditional healthy livelihoods and work with small local community fisheries to adapt their traditions to new global challenges as best as we can, a sentiment Lana does not share. To her it's black and white- there is no fish from the ocean that is acceptable to eat. I won't be liking "Ethical Omnivore Movement" any time soon on Facebook. It's time for a rational omnivore movement.
* they had no information at the time I dined there on the sustainability of the rest of the menu, such as the vegetables or the grains.
The New York Times recently announced a contest to write an essay on why it's OK to eat meat. They made it clear that entries that engage in the naturalistic fallacy and a smattering of other silly common arguments would not be acceptable. Some people wrote me to ask if I would enter.
I will not. In order to argue that it is OK to eat meat from an ethical standpoint, you must establish philosophically that animals do not possess the right not to be eaten by humans. In 600 words. And to a panel of judges that is biased to say the least. This is a philosophical and ethical question, the the judges should be experts in those areas. Instead, you have Michael Pollan, who is a journalist, Jonathan Safran Foer, who is primarily a fiction author who wrote a popular non-fiction book about meat called Eating Animals that is anti-meat, Mark Bittman, who is a cookbook author who has branched out into frequently ill-informed food policy blogging. Mark Bittman eats meat, but it's clear he hates himself for it. Peter Singer IS a philosopher, but only represents utilitarianism, and certainly already has his mind made up about meat since he has been outspoken about this issue for many decades at this point. Andrew Light is of the pragmatist school from what I gather and seems ambivalent(pdf of a book on animals and pragmatism) on the issue. He is a pescatarian.
So you not only have a few totally unqualified people, but mainly people who already are biased on the issue. And those that are qualified do not represent the full spectrum of philosophical schools involved in this debate. So you have to convince mainly people who are already convinced...in 600 words. In many ways I am a masochist, but it's not that extreme.
Hey, at least i'm not complaining that the panel is stacked wrongly because of what's between the judge's legs like the vegan second wave feminists are. They are asking for people EVEN LESS qualified, just because they are women and vegan, like Kathy Freston, who writes unscientific garbage for the Huff Post.
Also, an addendum, if you are entering this contest, your most serious opponent is probably Peter Singer, who has been arguing about this for DECADES. I strongly recommend reading his works, particularly since he's written some books for a laymen audience, such as The Ethics of What We Eat. Peter Carruthers, another philospher, has a book online that opposes some of his most important ideas.
So you've heard eating animals is bad for the environment. The scientific and economic reality is that sustainable food is more complex than cutting out animal products- some animal foods are good for the environment and sustainable to produce. An extensive academic treatment of what this means.
Great blog post by a local farmer. Some of you may have heard about GoDaddy CEO's canned elephant hunt. On one hand the dude is clearly an asshole (with company whose web interface sucks) and elephants are very intelligent. On the other hand this is a single elephant. How many companies have policies that destroy the environment for millions of animals? Where is the outrage for that?
And it also highlights a problem. You see, first world folks like us want to protect elephants. And several conservation efforts have done just that, which has created the issue that in some areas the elephant population pressure is very high, which leads elephants to raid croplands of the local people, who are often impoverished. In my opinion we need to learn to live in balance with animals and part of living in balance is hunting. Electrified fences and birth control for elephants sound nice, but they are not practical in such a situation. Ecotourism is an option, but it's not practical in every area. As a humanist, I believe the needs of the local population come first, particularly since the elephants in question are not endangered. I don't have a very high option of people who hunt for fun, but either way, the CEO donated the meat to local Africans, who quickly swarmed the carcass.
That highlights another issue: I often hear people say "blah blah blah vegetarianism is the diet of most of the world." Well, no. The world's poor eat very little meat (or so say the statistics), but they eat whatever they can. I've read about North Koreans keeping a single prized soup bone for months and Africans eating dangerous bushmeat because they so desire the animal protein for their children. Development projects that focus on giving people what we think they should want instead of what they actually want will never curb things like the bushmeat trade. Luckily, more and more people are realizing this and several great development projects focus on livestock.
This isn't the first or last we'll hear from Westerners decrying the right of African's to manage their own wildlife resources for their own benefit instead of for the interests of bleeding heart animal lovers.
The ultimate pinnacle of this sort of attitude are animal rights terrorists. A scary blog post discusses the problem of animal rights terrorists intimidating undergraduate researchers with threats of violence. I have many friends and family members who are scientists and this frightens me. Don't let anyone lie to you and tell you that scientific research on animals doesn't save lives or isn't necessary. Some day, but not now.
Trivial perhaps, but I would not be able to blog about many topics that are on here without animal research elucidating facts about biology.
Some of the most important research is in the development of antibiotics. The situation here is quite frightening, as this article about the antibiotic crisis outlines. Misuse of antibiotics, but also just the general evolution of bacteria, has created a huge need for new antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections could put infectious death disease rates back to 19th century levels.
Besides research, I feel we do need to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Antibiotic effectiveness is the common property of humanity and allowing single entities to destroy it is a huge problem. This excellent article, Our Big Pig Problem, discusses agricultural antibiotics and how they are endangering our health. Arguably, we need to stop worrying about some elephant a rich dude killed and start worrying about the antibiotics in the food millions of Americans consume.
It's interesting to compare Meat : A Benign Extravagance to the Vegetarian Myth. On the surface both challange animal rights dogma, but Meat is primarily a book about economics and is far more rigorous than the Vegetarian Myth. Unfortunately one thing they have in common is that both authors adhere to philosophies that I would deem somewhat noxious to put it lightly, though Fairlie's in a bit benign.
Behind both of their philosophies is the idea that somehow humans are bad for the planet (some even call us an "invasive species"). Our pleasures are irrelevant, we are a scourge upon the goodness of nature. I first heard about Keith from a lecture given by her good friend Derrick Jensen, a misguided character who would welcome a new Black Death and advocates violence as a way to solve environmental injustice. Her association with that movement is unfortunate. Luckily Fairlie is more an acolyte of a secular form of neo-puritanism advocating the idea that we should live very simply, perhaps similar to 15th century European peasants, spurning "luxuries" and only having a few "extravagances."
But what are luxuries and what is extravagant? One lesson I've learned from studying paleolithic cultures is that humans don't really need very much. Bushmen get along quite well without houses or possessions of any kind. This family in Chad gets by with a tent, a few animals, and meager rations of gruel. Most vegans spurning meat as an arrogant luxury go home to well-lit artificially heated apartments. Why are those OK? I don't know. The whole thing seems arbitrary.
Even a ecoconscious vegan's life in the US seems extravagant compared to this family in Chad. This is their food for an entire WEEK. Their housing and clothing are very simple too.The OED says one of the meanings of extravagant is " 7. Exceeding the bounds of economy or necessity in expenditure, mode of living, etc.; profuse, prodigal, wasteful." The word comes from "medieval Latin extrāvagāt- participial stem of extrāvagārī (or extrā vagārī) to wander, stray outside limits, < extrā outside + vagārī to wander. "
So from the outset, by calling meat extravagant, we establish Fairlie as a complex character. We won't find him at either an animal rights ralley or the local Argentine steakhouse. He's kind of like an old school hippie.
It's funny because in the end people calling things luxuries are often the most arrogant. Last week I had a conversation with a vegan on a blog about The Heifer Project, which provides families in developing countries with livestock. Vegan dude was angry because Heifer sponsored a study that seemed to show that children fed animal products in developing countries did better. According to him "let them eat tofu!" Well, if folks want to chose a bicycle tofu press over a goat, that's find by me. But I suspect they won't. But that's not the point of vegan dude's views. Vegan dude thinks he knows what's best for everyone. I don't know what's best for everyone, though I suspect that goat milk is better for children than tofu. So in the end I think it should be up to people in Sudan to make that choice for themselves. Too bad the world is full of people who want to make choices for other people.
When I was a child my little sister and I sometimes fought bitterly. One day we were fighting over some candy and my mother was so frustrated that she said "Well, if you children can't share it equally, none of you can have it at all!" Besides the obvious lesson here that children who are given candy are liable to behave badly, this reminds me of some common positions in environmental debates. Namely that (insert food or agricultural practice) is bad because it can't feed the world. Sure, feeding the world is an admirable goal, but isn't it a little silly to assume that there is one system that will feed the world perfectly?
And yet,this is taken very seriously in environmental debates. I hear again and again how terrible organic is because it can't feed the world. Or how terrible meat is because of the same. It almost becomes nauseating. Hasn't macroeconmic reductivism caused enough problems in our world?
Meat tries to answer some questions about whether or not meat is inefficient, but in the end you end up with what most of us localists already knew: different production systems are appropriate for different places. There is no one magical system that's going to work everywhere. People should be free to chose the system that works for their own land.
With that, it's still interesting to inject some numbers into the debate. Agricultural production is more complex than people would give it credit for being.
Some animal rights environmentalists would have us think that when you raise livestock you are taking food that humans could eat and wasting it on animals, who convert feed to meat/dairy/eggs inefficiently.
If you've ever had pets, you might notice that animals will eat things that we won't. In the old days of small farms animals served primarily as a way to inedible things into food. Cows can eat fibrous waste products and forage on land impossible to till. Pigs can eat well…pretty much anything (haven't you seen Snatch? *spoiler you can feed humans to pigs!*, wild boars are omnivores). Chickens can eat kitchen scraps.
Some of the waste resources animals can turn into food include
1. spoiled food
2. byproducts from milling, oil pressing, slaughterhouses
3. foods that humans spurn (bruised apples)
Animals turn these things into meat, milk, eggs, and manure. Fairlie calls this level of animal production, that which is a byproduct of plant production rather than as a primary product, "default livestock." I would personally quibble with that, as it reflects an agrocentric view of things that ignores nomadic pastoralism as a potentially ecological livelihood in certain situations.
Vegans sometimes call milk "liquid veal" since veal production is an inevitable part of milk production (though through science this might be eliminated in a future through cheap sex selection). Turns out that with that logic, most vegetable oil is liquid meat! The meal left over from vegetable oil processing is a highly profitable part of that industry because of its value as feed.
One of the things livestock provide is fertilizer from manure. Of course veganic (livestock completely without domestic animals) proponents could argue that some of the waste we are talking about could be composted and turned into fertilizer that way. Fairlie examines some current veganic farms and it turns out some of them do quite well, but others don't. As always, it seems that the ideal system varies from land to land.
The idea that land taken out of production by switching to more efficient food systems would be used as habitat never made sense to me. What are the odds that a farmer who needs less land will let the excess go feral? Odds are that it will be sold and turned into a mall or subdivision, which is what has happened with increased agricultural efficiency in most of the US.
Of course Fairlie and most animal rights folks aren't too concerned with that because they are usually advocates of governmental inventions. Which is ironic since Fairlie discusses quite extensively the havoc created by regulatory capture (when industries lobby for laws that benefit mainly them) and misguided policies. One of the most hilarious is the USDA law that hamburger can't be cut with pork fat. Pigs produce tons of excess fat, whereas grassfed cows don't. Why not make some appetizing burgers using both? The fact it's illegal has created demand for fattier feedlot cattle.
Other more insidious laws are those in response to animal and human diseases. Mismanagement of animal waste has led to several food poisoning outbreaks, such as the spinach e. coli debacle. Laws created in response have discouraged manure as fertilizer and the presence of animals on vegetable farms, which is a shame since properly managed animal manure is an asset.
Without this, one much purchase synthetic fertilizer or set aside large amounts of land to grow green fertilizer.
Some other problematic regulations were created in response to mad cow disease, which banned the feeding of slaughterhouse wastes to livestock. This is unfortunate because slaughterhouse wastes are perfectly appropriate for pigs, who are natural omnivores. Fairlie says this is a result of the "nanny state" but seems to call for regulations when they fit his ideology, which is a shame.
Because of such regulations manure and inedible animal parts have become a liability rather than an asset, though the livestock industry is still remarkably efficient.
The best parts of this section are those in which he dissects numbers thrown around by various animal rights ideologues. In my opinion those numbers are nothing but veils on a philosophy that's at its core about reworking our system of morals to turn them against humans, but either way most of them are wrong. The most amusing one is the idea that one kg of beef requires 100,000 liters of water to produce. Turns out that number is a bit of accounting gymnastics that would make any product seem inefficient, because it takes into account ever scrap of precipitation that falls upon the area of land a cow might occupy. Hmmm. Guess someone didn't learn about opportunity cost. The rain that falls on grassland isn't going to be collected and sent to people suffering from droughts in Africa in the absence of cattle.
This book is enormously dense and I feel like I haven't done this section enough justice despite having written quite a bit. I'd love to take questions from other readers. Please post in the comments or at our facebook group.
Wil asks "Fairlie talks about default/sustainable production and calculates an individual's "fair share" of total world meat production. Is it unethical to eat more than this "fair share"? Can you justify eating more than your "fair share"? How does population growth play into the equation? Are we obligated to help feed the world? Are we obligated to slow/halt population growth?"
In my opinion population growth is another localized issue. The book The Coming Population Crash is one of the few that treats it rationally and not as if humans are a terrible scourge upon the Earth. The truth is that some countries have more people than is optimal and others have less at this point in our history. Barring total immigration reform, this makes population issues fairly local.
As for the areas that may have optimally high populations, we have a well-accepted model called the demographic transition that posits that during development populations growth increases, but then decreases as having lots of children is increasing dis-incentivized. Women reading this from the comfort of first world countries will understand this quite well. How many of us can afford to have five children?
It also seems odd for an advocate of local food to calculate a fair share based on global factors. Unless you are a radical communist that believes everything should be equally distributed, it makes more sense to focus on valuing externalities properly to make the price of meat reflect its true toll on the environment and then allow people to make purchasing decisions based on their own desires. Let's say Fairlie is in charge of policy and decides to give me a meat quota for the month. I still have the same income. I might make even more unsustainable purchasing decisions in that case, like using the money I used to use to purchase grassfed meat on pretty dresses.
A major problem I just mentioned is improper pricing of meat because of subsidies and other distortions caused by the fact that we assign no value to many natural systems. It shouldn't be free to dump waste in an ocean you don't own.
Discussion questions from me:
1. What does extravagant mean? What do you think Fairlie means by it? What does it mean to you? What foods do you consider extravagant?
2. Should we use policies and regulations to reduce meat consumption to a default level? Do you agree with Fairlie's definition of default?
3. At what point are regulations part of a "nanny state?"
More blog posts:
This is a food blog...why post about the oil spill? To me, the oil spill represents what's wrong with politics in this country. How is it "free market" to let a company destroy what it doesn't own and not have to pay the full consequences? This whole thing cuts across party lines.
Much of my family lives in the Gulf and wild foods from the ocean are a big part of their diet. In many poor areas of the Gulf Coast these are the last remaining healthy traditional foods that people eat. Because of this oil spill, more and more people will lose their food traditions and become dependent on unhealthy processed food.
That's my gumbo you are ruining BP...
Hmm, I guess my previous post made it seem like I am callous about fish. But I care greatly about fish as species and as important parts of our ecosystem. While I certainly wouldn't go out of the way to kill a fish cruelly, the ecology is the most important part for me. Before I switched into agricultural development economics, I nearly finished a degree in environmental economics.
Most of my classmates in my courses then were studying for degrees in ecology, which spurred me to also take some ecology classes. I continued to dabble in that field, taking a few classes every year. The ecological worldview had a huge impact on me, causing me to view animals not as individuals, but as members of an ecological entity. When I worked with bees this was especially important. My entomology professor always cautioned us against personifying bees.
I understood why. Viewing the queen as some sort of well...queen in the human sense obscured her true role in the colony. The same went for the individual bees. The more I appreciated their complex and amazing behavior, the more I learned to respect them as a colony rather than a group of individuals with individual interests. In a bee hive, their decisions always prioritized the colony.
On the subject of fish, I always chose fish that are the most sustainable and healthy for humans. Sometimes that conflicts with the welfare of individual fish, sometimes it doesn't, but either way my priorities are clear for healthy ecology for them and me.
A good book that really cemented my desire to avoid fish like farmed salmon or those harvested by trawling was Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. If you don't want to read an entire book on the subject, this Salon interview captures some of the main points of the book.
Salmon from these farms tends to be full of persistent organic pollutants, [some of which] are highly carcinogenic. Salmon farmers grind up smaller fish like anchovies, sardines and anchoveta to make the pellets -- all of which should be going to feed humans, not making deluxe fish, especially in the context of food riots -- and salmon farms have been proven to spread disease and parasites like sea lice to wild fish populations, among them sea trout in Ireland and wild salmon in British Columbia