Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fish Food for Thought

When a relationship between two people doesn't work out, there used to be the consolatory saying, "there are plenty of other fish in the sea." But this is no longer the case, because with fish populations depleted from our oceans, there aren't other fish in the sea. What, then, is a fish lover like me to do?

I've always loved salmon. I don't remember the first time I tried it but I know that sometime after my mother and I read Andrew Weil's "8 Weeks to Optimum Health" when I was in high school, it became a staple in my diet. It didn't need to be dressed up too much, it's pink hue and rich, fatty flavor were enough to satisfy my simple taste. I thought I had it good. Then I moved to the Northwest.

When I drove from New York to Seattle just two summers ago, I spent a couple of weeks on the road, eating fairly well until I left Chicago. Relying on quick and easy foods, my vegetarian diet (read: cereal, rice cakes, peanut butter and larabars) was leaving me craving something heartier. I was in need of protein, and I really wanted fish, so when my friend Julie's family took me out to dinner the first night I arrived in Seattle I was excited to see wild salmon on the menu. But I barely recognized the dish when it arrived at my table. I'd never seen salmon that color - not a pale, pastel pink but a bright, bold almost orange-red fish that was completely delicious. For the next seven days I ate salmon every chance I could. When Seattleites would tell me they'd grown sick of salmon having been raised on it in some shape or form every night of the week I was incredulous and envious.

Last week I was cleaning my room while watching this year's TED talks, and came across Dan Barber's talk, "How I fell in love with a fish." He provides an entertaining overview of the realities of the fish farming business and the need and potential for building more sustainable practices. I was heartbroken. And if that wasn't enough of an eye-opener, the feature article in tomorrow's New York Times magazine, "Tuna's End," drives home the realities of the future of fish (in this case the bluefin tuna). As Paul Greenberg writes, "Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food."

From a nutritional standpoint fish are a boon to the health conscious: they are a great source of protein and essential fatty acids (ie. "good fats"). But over the years there many people have been reluctant to embrace fish due to growing concerns around mercury levels and farming practices. Yesterday I came across another reason for concern: the FDA is considering approval for genetically altered salmon. Add to the mix the depletion of entire aquatic species, and frankly that's a bit too much guilt to chew on. Responsible consumers can stay abreast of the latest updates through the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. One way to ensure the future of fish is to protect the health of our waters. Oxbow Farms, for example, has an oxbow lake that serves as an important salmon habitat and they are certified Salmon-Safe, maintaining fish-friendly farming practices. This just another reminder that we are all part of the same broader web of environmental interconnectedness.

Right now the only thing I can do is be mindful of these issues, limit my fish consumption to support fishing practices that I agree with and make sure to spread this information to others. And when I feel morally taxed by all these principles, I can kick back and play with a brainteaser: how to pronounce ghoti.

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