It’s been nearly two weeks since Netflix’s Seaspiracy has come out and discussions about it on my social media feed don’t seem to have slowed down. Former co-workers and long-distance acquaintances who once bristled at my plant-based work lunches are now having in-depth conversations about overfishing, bycatch, and the global industrial fishing industry’s overall impact on the planet. Everyone is in on the conversation, and it feels good to see it.
LA-influencer Trisha Paytas is one of the thousands who have watched the somewhat controversial doc. On Easter morning, she posted a vlog recorded poolside at her spacious new five-bedroom, eight-bathroom home in Ventura County. It starts off not so different from her typical check-ins with her 1.44 million subscribers on YouTube; she wishes everyone a happy holiday and she gives a little life update all while her fiancé, photographer Moses Hacmon chills in the pool beside her.
After talking about her updated haircare routine (no extensions, lots of curl-boosting products) Paytas brings up Seaspiracy—and how the film, produced by Kip Andersen of What the Health fame—has got her thinking about how her individual choices impact the oceans and, more importantly, she speculates on what changes she can make to her lifestyle to do better by the planet.
“Seaspiracy was so interesting ‘cause, well, one, I still don’t think we should be using plastic straws,” Paytas said, downloading her thoughts in real-time. “They were kind of making it seem like ‘well, it doesn’t matter if we use plastic straws,’ like it’s the fishermen’s equipment that makes the ocean polluted and kills off these animals because it’s the plastic in there.”
“Which is interesting, because then what do you do?” Paytas then asked, turning to her fiancé. “I guess the solution is to stop eating sushi,” she added.
Hacmon adds to the conversation, likening the industrial fishing industry to factory farming, stating that it’s the technique used to obtain meat that harms the planet. “They’re the people who abuse the cows, give them antibiotics, and make it worse,” he says, to which Paytas replies: “So, we should stop eating meat, then, too.”
Do celebrities really influence people to go vegan?
So, why should we care if an influencer is talking about a climate documentary or maybe considering changing their diet and consumer practices? Leaving opinions about the effects of celebrity and influencer culture on our overall society at the door, these conversations are important for everyone to have because, well, we all share this planet. And in theory, we should all also care about what happens to it and how humanity’s choices have affected it. The facts presented in Seaspiracy are now occupying minds that may have never considered where seafood comes from or what it’s doing to the environment, people, and marine life.
It’s true that it’s not your co-worker’s fault that the tuna they use for their lunch is linked to bycatch and human rights issues. The blame largely lies with capitalism and how we have allowed it to run amok with the planet’s resources in the name of constant growth and profit. But, many of us as consumers have the privilege to choose to spend our money on other things. For example, you can try a mashed chickpea salad instead of tuna. It’s cheap, it tastes good, and I don’t think you’ll miss tuna. (Full disclosure, as I write this I have a Pyrex full of chickpea salad in my fridge for my lunches this week.)
For those who are not already plant-based, or are perhaps just discovering some of the humane and environmental consequences of fish and industrial farming there’s good news. You don’t have to go vegan overnight. You don’t even have to go fully vegan to make a difference. And if you do, don’t measure yourself against the cycle of what people are eating in “What I Eat In a Day” videos or even your best friend’s progress. Food is incredibly personal and no one’s diet is going to look the same even if both of those diets were influenced by the same documentary.
I myself was a teenage vegetarian who went back to eating meat in college. I eventually settled on a plant-based diet amid some diet-culture-influenced health kick, which then evolved into being vegan for the planet, animals, and other social issues. My brother has a similar story. We both went vegan at the same time and for the same reason, but our diets look completely different. (I make a lot of bean-based batch recipes while he loves cooking Korean food.) And remember: You don’t have to be perfect, either. The pressure is certainly there. But, we owe it to ourselves to be forgiving toward our mistakes as we try to do a little better every single day.
There are days where I forget to bring a reusable coffee cup even though I know what plastic is doing to the planet. And I don’t always buy organic sugar (in the U.S., white sugar is typically processed with bone char, a by-product of the meat industry), especially if the grocery store doesn’t have any other option.
This isn’t to give myself a pat on the back, but rather to illustrate that perfection just doesn’t exist.
The power of incremental change
Getting to the point of action can take time, however. But the journey is important. Consider the influence that Paytas has, with 1.44 million YouTube subscribers, 859,700 Twitter followers, and 481,000 fans on Instagram. (And let’s consider that her original account is currently frozen, so she had to start over from scratch.)
Paytas’ diet notwithstanding (At the beginning of the video, she talks about cooking chicken wings and mac and cheese later in the day), Seaspiracy has clearly sparked introspection with regards to what she eats. “I’m really trying to educate myself,” she says at the end of the video.
Without education, there can be no progress. Mainstream media fails to cover the realities of ghost nets and bycatch—serious issues affecting the oceans. Nor does it regularly talk about how meat consumption plays a role in ocean acidification and causes dead zones—areas of the ocean that have become devoid of life—which in turn contribute to the ongoing global climate crisis. So it’s no surprise that Seaspiracy has left so many, well, surprised. This may be the first time they’ve been presented with this information; the first time they’ve had to consider how their dietary choices impact the planet. It’s a lot to take in. And there’s no guarantee that change will happen overnight. But, discussions about making changes are happening and will likely continue to happen.
Whether or not Paytas fully embraces a vegan lifestyle or cuts back on her meat consumption isn’t the point. It’s the conversation that matters. And thankfully, more people in the public eye are joining in. Kourtney Kardashian wrote in her Instagram Story: “I haven’t eaten meat in a few months at all but was eating a little fish. But after watching this…”
Midsommar and Little Women star Florence Pugh called the film “eye-opening” on her Instagram Story, adding “To help our oceans… First step is watch this doc.”
Screenwriter and member of The Try Guys, Zach Kornfeld, tweeted that “This movie straight up messed me up. Will change how you think about eating fish… If you ever want to eat it again.”
Samantha Akkineni is an award-winning Indian actress with 16.1 million followers on Instagram. She wrote on her Story while watching Seaspiracy: “I am ashamed that I used to eat tuna… @seaspiracy Feeling sick watching this…”
And, perhaps more importantly, it’s so much more than just celebrities talking about this, and talking about potentially changing their eating habits. If they choose to give up fish harvested by the industrial seafood complex, that’s worthy of celebration.
If they choose to take it a step further, great! But pushing for perfection shouldn’t be the goal. Perfection is a myth and our choices, including those made by celebrities and influencers, for any given thing, will constantly change and evolve as we learn new information. And, hey—people are influenced by what celebrities do. We imitate their hairstyles, we aspire to their lifestyles, and we pay close attention to the choices that they make.
Paytas, who has captured a huge audience through her influencer videos, is being honest about her feelings on eating animal products in her post-Seaspiracy life. Maybe that will lead to her swapping shrimp for a plant-based alternative. Maybe she’ll go a step further, and cut down on meat as well. Whatever conclusion she arrives at, small, incremental changes are something to celebrate and I aspire to welcome them with the same enthusiasm I would have if one of my close friends said that they were thinking of eating fewer animal products. Nobody is perfect, but we can and should support each other and the steps we take along the way.