Glad They Found Nemo, but Fish are Food!
By Wm. Jay Jackman, Ph.D., CAE
NAAE Executive Director
Pixar and Disney’s latest release,
Finding Nemo, has received rave reviews and is an
unqualified box office success. If you’ve not
yet experienced this fun simmer flick, you should.
It’s great entertainment and incredible animation.
It’s also food for thought for those of us in
As educators, we know all too well that many people
in our society have little to no understanding of
the food and fiber system that sustains us all. In
fact, one of the primary goals in the Strategic Plan
of Agricultural Education addresses this need:
All students are conversationally literate in agriculture,
food, fiber and natural resources systems.
Many in agricultural education attempt to address
the issue by hosting children’s ranchlands or
other activities intended to engage today’s
youngsters in discovering that hamburgers originate,
not at McDonald’s, but at Old MacDonald’s
Farm. Which brings us back to Nemo.
As this hapless little fish’s father, Marlin,
and his intrepid friend, Dory, make their way across
the wide-open ocean to rescue Nemo, they are confronted
by three sharks that just happen to be in a self-help
group, trying to transform themselves into vegetarians.
A parody of a self-help meeting ensues, wherein the
sharks repeat their mantra, “Fish aren’t
food, they are our friends.” Despite an accident
that sends one of the sharks into a feeding frenzy,
Dory and Marlin escape with their lives and continue
on their quest to find Nemo.
One of the Pixar animation team’s great strengths
is its ability to humanize animals and inanimate objects
alike (think Buzz and Woody from “Toy Story,”
or Flick in “A Bug’s Life”). Humanizing
animals is nothing new in animation—the technique
is at least as old as Bambi. However, when Bambi was
released, our society had a much better understanding
of the food system. Today’s children, on average,
are much further removed from the food and fiber system,
and could well walk out of the theater thinking that
fish really aren’t supposed to be food. Who
would want to eat a cute little Nemo?
When you host a children’s barnyard or petting
zoo, it is easy for the children to come away thinking
about the cute little animals and how it might be
great to have a pet piglet. However, we owe it to
ourselves and our industry to make sure the youngsters
walk away knowing that the cute little piglet will
one day be served up as ham and bacon. Agricultural
literacy needs to be woven in to these activities
so we don’t accidentally communicate the wrong
Sending mixed messages is easy to do, and sometimes
difficult to guard against. McDonald’s is one
of the biggest message senders on the planet and,
incidentally, they are in the midst of a marketing
campaign featuring Nemo. Do you think they’ve
taken the fish sandwich off the menu in honor of the
“fish aren’t food, they are our friends”
mantra? Perhaps next time you visit the Golden Arches,
you should consider asking for “Nemo Sandwich.”
||After leaving the theater where
Andrew, my 9-year-old cousin, and I saw Finding
Nemo, Andrew drew this masterpiece verifying,
in spite of the sharks' message in the movie,
that indeed Fish ARE Food!