24 October 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Fish-Eating

Before leaving this question of "consistency," as affected by the gradations of our duty of humaneness to animals, a few words may be said on the practice of fish-eating. It has been humorously suggested by Sir Henry Thompson (Nineteenth Century, June, 1898), who, as I have proved in the second chapter of this work, wrote in complete ignorance of the facts and dates of the vegetarian movement, that, as Vegetarians have "added" milk and eggs to their diet since their Society was founded (a statement quite devoid of truth), they may perhaps still further enlarge their dietary to include fish. Here again Sir H. Thompson has only shown his unfamiliarity with the subject, for his novel proposition is in fact an old one, which has been debated and rejected by the Vegetarian Society in its adherence to its original rule of excluding fish, flesh and fowl, and nothing else, from its dietary. So far, then, as organised Vegetarianism is concerned, those who eat fish are not within the pale of membership; but looked at from the purely humane standpoint, it must be admitted that there is an immense difference between flesh-eating and fish-eating, and that those unattached food-reformers, not few in number, who for humane reasons abstain from flesh, but feel justified in eating fish, hold a perfectly intelligible position. And I would further note that the very fact of there having been some disposition, wise or unwise, within the vegetarian ranks to recognise the comparative harmlessness of fish-eating, corroborates what I have asserted throughout—that the raison d'ĂȘtre of Vegetarianism has not been a pedantic hard-and-fast crusade against "animal" substances, but a practical desire to abolish the horrors of the slaughter-house.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 57-8 [italics in original])