My vegetarianism began like most - a PETA magazine with a bunch of salad-touting celebrities and guilt-invoking exposes on meat processing. I was 8 years old, and I proudly announced to my family that I would no longer partake in the barbaric practice of consuming animals.

I didn’t mention that a huge part of it was because I just didn’t like meat. I dreaded neighborhood cookouts and the awkward waiting game my family played to get me to finish my plate at dinner. Vegetarianism was my out, and although my eating habits were not particularly sustainable at age 8 with the primary food groups of grilled cheese and mac and cheese, I grew out of it.

I began focusing on nourishing my body with lots of fruits and vegetables and discovered my love of tofu, nuts, and beans to keep my body strong and healthy. It worked, and for 11 years I kept it up. Besides a brief stint in China where I ate primarily mushrooms and rice for two weeks, I had never really considered eating meat again. Until this summer, that is.

Erin Thomas

I had the opportunity of spending this summer galavanting through Europe (with a little studying on the side). The cathedrals were magical, the views were mind-blowing, but the food left me wanting more. Let me be clear, there are few comparisons to European baguettes and chocolate and beer. However, being a vegetarian too often left me without substantial food.

beer, stout, ale, lager, alcohol
Erin Thomas

Case in point: the tortilla espanola. A world-renowned Spanish dish consisting of egg, potatoes and spices, which, at best constitute a lot of salt and maybe a dash of pepper. Combining hashbrown and an omelet seems like a recipe for success, and maybe it would be if I didn’t have to resort to it as my only option for nearly every meal.

Not only that, I was repeatedly offered salmon or tuna as the vegetarian option. I’m typically not the gripey-vegan-type, but it came out when I found myself starving and being offered a dish that would probably make my stomach explode. It’s cultural, I get it. That’s a big part of the reason why I made the change.

puree, pea, avocado, guacamole
Erin Thomas

My three months in Europe were also just the beginning of my travel bug. Soon, I will be setting off for New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for a year, and if I thought Europe was unfriendly to vegetarians, I knew there would only be challenges ahead. My frustrations led me to a thought I had never considered. What if I started eating fish?

I was being offered fish as my alternative option anyway, and it’s a staple of South Pacific cuisine as well. This might be the solution to all my food struggles. Yes, I would have to ease into it and determine how eating fish would affect my eating habits. Am I allergic to shellfish? What if I get mercury poisoning? What does fish even taste like?

fish, seafood, ice, mackerel
Erin Thomas

I was full of questions, and my only real answer was to give it a shot. My experiment began with mini salmon sandwiches at high tea in Prague. I apologize for the bougieness of that sentence. To be completely honest, it tasted like bread and cream cheese. The smoked salmon just gave me notes of the all-too-familiar lake smell paired with what I had imagined meat would taste like. I did it. I ate fish. I closely monitored my feelings both emotionally and physically following the experiment. No upset stomach. It was a success.

Erin Thomas

Over the next weeks of galavanting, I ate half of the fish dishes that my friend ordered which consisted of lots of salmon salads with the occasional treat of a tuna steak. After a few weeks of experimenting, I was ready to take on my first entree of fish. It was a shrimp scampi in Trogir, Croatia. Despite having to Google what scampi meant, I successfully conquered my first real fish experience.

pasta, fettuccine, shrimp, linguine, tagliatelle, sauce, asparagus, white wine
Erin Thomas

For the remainder of the trip, I went crazy. The world of pescaterianism was finally opened to me. Ordering at restaurants now meant I had options, and every meal was something new and exciting. I even had a mackerel that was served with scales and the head still on. A part of my identity had shifted, and these new experiences were exhilarating.

salad, cheese
Erin Thomas

I will add that there was consideration on the environmental sustainability side. I mean, PETA was the one who convince 8-year-old me to become a vegetarian in the first place. Over the years, my reasoning shifted as I began to think more about sustainability as a reason for not consuming meat.

I was also an avid fisherwoman growing up in addition to owning ridiculous amounts of pet fish as a child which built a profound appreciation for the creatures from a young age. When I worked at Whole Foods, I was trained to understand sustainable fishing practices and how to buy and sell fish responsibly. I knew that a lot went into it, and I wanted to continue my efforts to eat sustainably.

lobster, shellfish, crab, seafood, fish, crayfish
Erin Thomas

Being back in the states means not only cooking fish for myself, but also buying fish at American supermarkets. European standards are much higher for fishing practices, so I now have to make an effort to seek out sustainably fished seafood. Whole Foods provides a rating system which makes it really easy, while research is often required for other groceries and brands.

Having lived without meat or fish for 11 years, I have a deep sense of responsibility in how I now consume fish. As a foodie, it’s an exciting time to experience fish in a new way both culinarily and culturally. However, for me and I hope others see this, being a responsible consumer is just as important.