Recently my family and I went to a graduation party for a longtime friend. The party happened to be at an Asian restaurant, which, needless to say, made the vegan side of me slightly anxious. When we arrived, I scooped up the menu for the buffet and scanned it nervously.
Immediately, I relaxed. Papaya salad, the menu read, no meat.
Relieved, I sat down with some friends and waited for the salad to make an appearance. Within ten minutes, there it was: Bright green and orange strips of fruit and veggies, nestled atop iceberg lettuce. Not exactly filling, but at least I wouldn’t have to be that crazy vegan girl again, hiding in a corner with my glass of water. I grabbed a big plate and sat down.
Mmm. Slightly sweet and slightly salty. Who knew papayas could make something so satisfying? I crunched down the first bite.
Suddenly, my friend’s mom leaned over.
“Can I try a bite of that?”
I held my plate out and she grabbed a strip of papaya. Crunch. Her eyes widened. She looked at me, her expression something between frightened and amused.
“That’s got fish sauce.”
“What?” I stared down at my plate, horrified.
“I can taste it,” she insisted. “You don’t taste the fish in there?”
“No!” The truth is, I can’t remember the last time I had fish. The taste wasn’t even in my memory anymore.
“Hang on, I’ll ask.” She got up and reappeared a moment later with the news: It was, indeed, fish sauce.
Again, I didn’t want to look like the crazy vegan, so I tried not to do what I felt like doing: Throw down my plate and cry. I managed to make it to my mother’s table.
“Fish sauce,” I blubbered, pointing to her plate of salad. Her eyes widened with concern.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m pretty sure fish sauce doesn’t even have fish in it. You know, like duck sauce? It’s just a topping.”
She was wrong. When we got home, a quick Google search proved that not only does fish sauce definitely have fish in it, it basically couldn’t be worse. Just listen to this Wikipedia quote:
Some are made from only a single species, while others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish. Most fish sauces are made from whole fish but there are a few made from only the blood or viscera.
Ugh! By then I was done crying, but I still felt disgusting.
I think that’s understandable. If you’re an ethical vegan like me, then accidentally eating fish sauce (or any meat) is going to hurt you a lot more than if you’re only avoiding meat for health. But once the initial shock is over, here are some things to keep in mind:
- You didn’t do it on purpose. It’s not like I saw a fish and stuffed it into a barrel with salt and water and let it ferment. I didn’t even take the bottle and squirt some fish sauce onto my salad. It was an accident.
- It’s one incident. Before my switch to veganism, I ate animal products multiple times a day. Eating a tiny bite of fish sauce – once – in three months of vegan eating is not going to impact the environment, animals or my body in any significant way.
- You can just get back on track. Hopefully, one bite of bacon won’t send you into a carnivorous frenzy. After eating fish sauce, I just drank a ton of water and woke up the next day with a banana smoothie already in mind.
And that’s all you can do. Move on.
Have you had any experiences similar to the Fish Sauce Incident of ’17? I’d love to hear about them.
Stay happy and healthy!
~Shyla and Fargo