Friday, May 16, 2008
Today we're going on a field trip. That's right, no cooking, no recipes. But I am going to talk about food.
Today's subject is something near and dear to Crabby's heart, seafood. Crabby grew up on the East Coast about 20 miles south of Boston Massachusetts. Cape Cod was a 45 minute drive (if the traffic wasn't too bad), and it was a living marketplace for seafood. Clams, quahogs, little necks, sea scallops, bay scallops, bluefish, mackerel, cod, haddock, tuna, stripers, lobster, there was so much life in the ocean it seemed like you could walk across the water.
I can remember my uncle snorkeling among some rocks, then surfacing holding a 3 pound lobster. I remember being on a boat when the bluefish were running. There was no land in sight, yet for as far as the eye could see, the water seemed to be boiling from the fish.
Fish were everywhere.
When I was growing up, family friends would visit from other parts of the country and treat this bounty as exotic. You had to travel to one of the coasts to experience "real" seafood. The variety and quantity of fish now available across the country was unheard of 20 years ago. Sushi was some exotic, faintly nauseating dish from Japan; now you can buy it for lunch at Kroger.
Crablings, this is not some rant about Slow Food or Global Warming. This is a rant about common sense. A thousand years ago, the world population was about 300 million, by 1927 we'd hit 2 billion, 1974, 4 billion, now we're at 6 billion and climbing. Six billion people eating, breathing, pooping and peeing, has to affect the system.
We are tearing through our seafood supply at an alarming rate. Chilean Sea Bass, Atlantic Swordfish and Striped Bass have, at various times, been nearly wiped out. We're now promoting the wonders of skate wings, a fish that for years was considered little more than bait.
Responsible farming is helping. But farming is causing a couple of big problems. First, irresponsible farming has introduced diseases and parasites into wild fish. For example, sea lice attack salmon in overcrowded farms. When those areas are flushed by the tides, the lice, now existing in far greater numbers, are then introduced into the wild fish population. The lice are threatening local wild salmon populations with extinction.
The second issue with farming is less obvious. Diversity. Ten years ago when I visited my fishmonger there were literally dozens of choices. Now when I look at the fish case at Whole Foods, it's predominantly salmon and shrimp, (both widely farmed). Chilean Sea Bass is nearly gone. Tuna is under siege. Halibut seem to be getting smaller.
But you say, "Crabby, What can I do about it?".
I'm glad you asked. There are a number of resources on the internet that can help you identify which fish you should be eating and which you should be avoiding. The best source I've found is Seafood Watch under the auspices of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When you visit the site, you can download regional seafood guides that show you which fish are good choices and which ones are to be avoided (if you click the photo to the left you'll get a full sized version). You can also search for specific fish (e.g., swordfish), and find out where it stands on the list, as well as what toxins it's known to retain in its flesh.
The website provides printable, regional guides that you can take shopping. I've found no comparable guides for areas outside the United States, but the guidelines for the farmed fish are applicable worldwide. Also, with the search engine, you can look up your local favorite.
Crablings, I'm not going all Birkenstock on you. I'm doing this because I'm greedy; I love fish. I want you all to eat fish. But I also want my kids and my grandkids and their kids to be able to eat fish. I want a robust fish stock so that I can eat better. By making smart choices, and by getting our food providers to give us what we want, we can ensure a healthy and diverse fish population.
Alright, the air is getting a little thin on top of this soapbox. Next time another recipe. Until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook.
All images are courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch.