Sustainability

Seven Questions For...Casson Trenor, Author, Activist, Environmental Hero

In this 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish event, I've begun a series of interviews called "Seven Questions for..." in order to introduce you to some of the top voices in the movement.

The second installment in the series "Seven Questions for..." introduces you to Casson Trenor.

 

 

Casson and his restaurant partners Kin Lui and Raymond Ho were nominated as the 2009 Time Magazine Heroes of the Environment for their opening of the first sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki Sushi Bar. When he’s not working with the Tataki crew, he’s Senior Markets Campaigner for Greenpeace. He’s also the author of Sustainable Sushi and publishes the blog SustainableSushi.net.

 

I caught up with my friend and colleague Casson Trenor while he was in Boulder. Even though he was en route to his first cup of coffee on an early Saturday morning, he was sharp as ever.

 

1) How did you first become aware that your food choices make a difference?


Excellent question! Do you know I’ve never been asked that before? To be totally honest I’m not yet sure they totally do. One of the big reasons that I support Greenpeace and work for them is that it’s not really about the individual choices. I’m not totally sure that Joe Schmo really has an effect on the industry.


I think the impact comes from the guys that buy tens of thousands of lbs of seafood. At the buyer level, those are the ones whose decisions need to change. Conversely, as someone that has the responsibility of running a restaurant, and extrapolating the things I learn and talk about - I see that the choices I make at the restaurant level, those are ones within my responsibility. I we’re serving only sustainable seafood then the customer doesn’t have to worry about it.

 

2) What advice do you have for people just beginning to figure out sustainable seafood? Why should someone whose never thought about this bother?

 

This is a question I get all the time - depending on audience I get all the time.. someone who’s never thought about it before? If someone approaches me and says “hey I care, I want to make a difference” I answer one way. I don’t think that person is that common? There’s not that many people out there.  It’s often more common that people are concerned about health, family, human health.


I guess, I’d say that I am not in the business of creating more environmentalists or converting more individual evangelists, but I am all about influencing the level of buyers whose impact is the step before the individual. The buyers for the supermarkets, for example.

 

3) How do you feel about Community Supported Fisheries?


All fisheries are community supported you have to look at the other side of the water community. The overall ecology which allows the fish to exist at levels that enable us to keep fishing. It’s community sustainability.  Community is like a web, like pick-up sticks, the fish, the fishermen, the people, the community - they’re interdependent.


If the CSF programs shorten the distance between boat and throat, that’s good. The problem is that the industry hinges on trust. Always has, always will. Most of the population doesn't have the time or ability to vet or check that the fish caught and sold is traceable to a sustainable source, a healthy fishery.  They may become trusted, but trustworthy is the question. We need to answer, to address the accountability, the traceability.

 

 

4) What do you think about efforts of retailers to improve their sustainable offerings?

Great - I think it’s great and we’ve seen a lot of positive change in recent times, directly with corporations. What I deal with in the corporate realm, it is progressing. We’ve seen incredible things in past year: Wegman’s issues the statement, Target discontinues farmed salmon...all incredibly good stuff.

 

 

 

5) What’s going on with bluefin tuna? Any good news on the global scale?

I wish. The Conservation Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, we had people there and we were hoping to get some solid plan to protect remnants of Biodiversity. We had hoped for a declaration of 40% protected marine reserves in the world’s oceans. What came out was a soft 10%. It remains to see how even this tiny amount will be implemented. It goes back to enforcement and accountability.

 

6) What’s your feeling about MSC certification?


Speaking as someone familiar with the perspective of Greenpeace: Seafood sustainability is vast. There’s room for all different pieces, and need for all pieces: wallet cards, certifications. etc. In its current form, I don’t feel that there’s acceptable certification for now. What would make it acceptable?


Groups are turning to it but Greenpeace has severe concerns about how it works and to whom it answers.


In our “Carting Away the Oceans” project MSC adherents selling red-list species - it makes no difference if they’re selling Chilean Sea bass with or without the MSC certification. Either store, the one selling Chilean Sea Bass with MSC certification and the one selling it without, both lose the same amount of points.

 

 

7)  How is your latest restaurant? Tataki South? (Tataki South - bigger South 29 30th in SF on Church)

 

We’re pushing the envelope, eschewing the sushi-only focus (of the original Tataki Sushi Bar). With a full kitchen, we’re able to do cooked food. We’ll expand the menu. We’re aiming for fully local, sustainable vegetables, now at around 80% local. Moving to 100% is the goal. Fish is #1 priority but we’ll be expanding the offerings to local meats, too.

 

 

 

  • Hajime Sato of Mashiko Sushi Bar & Casson are off to Hokkaido (my Grandmother’s birthplace and home to some of the most amazing kombu and seafood) doing a 10 day modern sushi investigation. I hope to get a recipe for our round up before he goes. Stay tuned.

 

 

Boston's First 100% Sustainable Seafood Restaurant

Did you know that Boston is home to the first 100% Sustainable Seafood Restaurant? Did you know Turner Fisheries has been on this path since a year ago October 1st? About time we investigate and take proper note of this new high water mark, eh.

Chef Armand Toutaint was one of the first and most enthusiastic replies when I began outreach for the Teach a Chef to Fish workshops last year. He was on my short list for folks to call this year to participate in Teach a Man to Fish. Lucky for me, his people got to me first. I had noticed many good choices on the menu when I stopped in with a visiting friend a few months back and then began to notice the ads popping up here and there.

Island Creek Oysters grilled with Maitake mushrooms, Riesling creme.

Grilled Mahi Mahi over lobster brown butter rice pilaf.

Taylor Bay Scallops, Littlenecks over pappardelle with a smoked tomato, vodka sauce.

Full disclosure: This was an invitation to dinner and Doc came along. Let me address the doubters first by saying, I was already a fan of this restaurant, and was so when I was paying, too. This hosted dinner afforded me the opportunity to share an interview with the chef about his sustainable seafood menu and also the chance to report first-hand on more dishes than I would have been able to purchase on my own. The chowder is legendary and the first New England Clam Chowder that Doc had when he investigated moving here in 1993. It sets the bar for what clam chowder should be, for him and for many others. I used to come here in the old days to watch a neighbor perform, who knows, maybe we were here at the same time and didn't know it.

 

Interview with Chef Armand Toutaint, Turner Fisheries

 

What has been the biggest challenge?


"100%" is the biggest challenge. I'd say we're almost where I want us to be, but it's always a struggle. I'm comfortable saying we're at 100% though I'd like better traceability on some of the items but the market is not there yet.


 

[ed. note: the issue Chef Toutaint raises here is really important. It raises so many of the challenges in this arena. What is "sustainable" - who provides the best science to back the claim? Who shares the science? Who provides traceability to the source or documents the catch method? Which fisheries are in good health and who is monitoring them? Throughout our discussion, over the course of this meal, it became clear to me how carefully Chef Toutaint considers each of these aspects of the decision he makes in building his menu and sourcing his seafood. This is truly a model for other restaurants and chefs to follow.]


Honestly, it was easy to sell up in the hotel (Starwood) property, it's been a part of their values so they signed on right away. Harder to sell "out" Boston is a very traditional town. Much tougher sell outward, to customers. For example, I don't use the cheaper imported shrimp. They want to know why this shrimp is so expensive?

 

What do you rely on for guidance?

 

Primarily, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

 

What about the in house training/or selling the concept in-house?

Some have embraced it more. In general, people are on board and getting more so. We're doing more than just seafood. We compost. We have an in-house filtration system and are eliminating bottled water. We're finding more and more sustainable breweries and wineries that are organic or biodynamic.


 

What has been a success story or a surprise in this transition?

During our transition, the British site, Fish2Fork rated us one of the ten best restaurants for sustainable seafood. We were pleasantly surprised and asked what we could do to improve our score. We worked to understand what went into the 2.5 fish rating and also to learn how to improve. We went up to 3.5.


Haven't done the Green Chefs/ Blue Ocean training since it was first launched, took it before Teach a Chef to Fish last year.

 

Where are you sourcing your seafood?

We try to use our local purveyors as much as possible and have one in particular, Louis Seafood, who really got it and stepped up. Now he's using what we're learning together to upsell to others. He has good traceability. Also we do use Cleanfish and MSC fish.

 

How did you get started on this ?

Well, it has been an interest of mine and recently caught eye as a differentiator. Especially from seafood restaurants in town, like Legal Seafood. Wish it were easier to find more purveyors offering traceable, sustainable seafood.

 

 

Any dishes that you wanted to keep but had to re-tool?

In some we could easily substitute a more sustainable product, like Laughing Bird shrimp for the standard SE Asian imports. Some things we could never take off the menu, like the number 1 seller: Seafood Risotto. We simply swapped out the components with more sustainable options .

Oysters are a great, sustainable offering and we carry a few all the time. We get Golden Trout from Wyoming.

We've even added a vegan offering that gets as much care as other dishes. Our favorite chowder is gluten-free as long as you don't use the oyster crackers.


Vegan "Cioppino" heirloom potatos, Fall squash, peppers, tofu.

 

 

How do you see the progress at the one year mark?

We're already seeing business results. I wish we could push it even further, like Miya's Sushi in New Haven with his invasive species dinners and such. We have to recognize our customers are more traditional, but we're seeing enthusiasm grow.


We explain that we're using fully traceable line-caught ahi. We're sourcing other things on the menu from sustainable sources, too. Our salmon is Alaskan in season and Loch Duart the rest of the year. Only carrying swordfish when we can get traceable sustainably caught from Canada but that's only 10% of the catch and there's a definite season (ending right about now.)

 

~ ~ ~

 

Thanks Chef for dinner and thanks for all you do. With the focus progress and continuous learning, you are earning your stripes every day. True 100% sustainability may be possible soon, we bet you'll get there! These issues are complex but you demonstrate it's not impossible.

 

Now Boston, go give our sustainable star some love!

 

 

Seven Questions for Barton Seaver - Chef, Activist, National Geographic Fellow

As part of Teach a Man to Fish (TM2F), I’m interviewing some of my favorite chef/activists and asking a series of “Seven Questions.”

In this way I hope to introduce new readers, as well as long-time fans, to some leading voices at the intersection of gourmet and sustainable food; the street where I live. 

I was thrilled to catch up with Barton Seaver the day his Cookwise program premiered on the National Geographic Ocean website. Just the day before we spoke, his TED Talk aired and folks have already been asking me what I think about this business of “restorative” seafood, as he calls it. Barton shared these thoughts with the audience at the International Boston Seafood Show on my Teach a Chef to Fish panel this Spring.

I’m sure there are skeptics, but I find his way of thinking about things very common-sense based. It’s why I shared info about Kim O’Donnel’s Meatless book (The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook) at my Sustainable Meats class. Simply put, Barton makes the point that the best thing we can do to save the oceans is to eat less seafood. I often tell people that one of the best moves they can make toward health, toward saving the planet, toward greater enjoyment of more diverse food groups is to eat less meat. When you eat it, eat better quality, more sustainably raised meat.

Today though, we talk of seafood. This is my fourth year of running Teach a Man to Fish and Barton’s been with us from the start!



Seven Questions for Barton Seaver:

Me: TM2F is in its fourth year, I was struck by the number of questions people had for me at a recent luncheon. It was completely unrelated to sustainability or seafood. It seems that there’s been an increase overall, in awareness, but people are struggling perhaps more than ever with where to find answers.

Do you find that to be so?


Barton: Sure, becoming even more so. Info is becoming a more valuable commodity. “Sustainability” “Green” -- these terms are all becoming meaningless...It’s really a case of “buyer beware” One of the things people seem to want is some sort of romance, sense of culture with their food, their food stories. Monsanto and WalMart are not romantic. This opens the door for local seafood vendors and purveyors, some of whom are less transparent than they should be. Raises the stakes for consumers.

Monterey Bay and other groups are looking at long-term strategies, sustainable seafood has sort of reached a tipping point. There’s been an evolution of people’s understanding. First it was critical that people understood there is a problem. Second, they needed to understand solutions exist. And now, we’re at the point where people need to understand the context. There’s a sort of diaspora of messaging, people need help understanding the nuances.

Me: How did you first become aware that your food choices make a difference?

Barton: It was through starting relationships with farmers in my local area and realizing that food dollars support human ecosystem. And through that system we heavily impact our environments human names and faces that brought the environmental issues home.

Me: What advice do you have for people just beginning to figure out sustainable seafood?

Barton: First: understand that it’s a giant problem. Solutions exist and they’re easier than you think. The cheapest and the easiest, the best thing you can do is eat vegetables and eat more plant-based food and diversified selection of proteins in smaller amounts.


Me: How do you feel about Community Supported Fisheries?

Barton: CSFs are good in that they are reducing the time between producer and consumer. They are an effective step toward a better ability to manage resources, but just because relationships are more personal you cannot forget the science. You must take into account the science and protect the resources.

An unspoken issue is the amount of waste in both aquaculture and wild fisheries. Bio average may be 35% of every fish is waste. It takes the same primary productivity to fish an eye ball as fillet, but we waste guts, fins, gills, etc. Of the remaining percent, another 30% of all remaining seafood ends up as waste.

So that model (how we fish and how well we fully utilize it) we need to change that, we drastically need to change that.

Me: What are your thoughts about MSC (Marine St ewardship Council) certifications?

Barton: MSC has been pushed on a pedestal it was not intended for.  It’s a very useful and credible tool. In and of itself it is not a solution, and it was never meant to be that. The  fisheries they’ve recently certified, I don’t begrudge them that. They are open and transparent. Traceability is there.

It’s a tool that too much is expected of. You know a hammer in one man’s hand builds a house, in a another tears it down. How can we best support it with other tools.

I’ve read the paper that Jeremy Jackson Daniel Pauly wrote and am okay with nearly  everything that’s in it. I don’t agree with how people have spun it.

 




Me: Who do you trust for accurate info on the safety of Gulf Seafood?

Barton: I understand and want to support the people who make their livelihood off the Gulf but it’s difficult. You have commercial interests telling you it’s okay (to eat the seafood) and persons with commercial interest saying “I’m not feeding it to my kids.”

News that’s coming out of gulf, it’s very difficult an accurate picture.

Do I think we should be sniff-testing seafood? Yeah, and if it smells like oil you dont need to spend any more $ than that on testing. But if it doesn’t, you probably do won’t to rely on just that test.

But this is all very tough. None of this means we should be opening quotas, and allowing more and larger fishing areas. It’s a wickedly complex area and gets elucidated by most media as “yes this is complex, but can I just get a sound byte for my readers?


Me: Tell me about some of your projects, you’ve got a lot going on.

Barton: Have you seen the National Geographic Seafood Footprint Decision Tool?

 

Click here to go to the Decisions Guide!

 

 

Really proud of the work there. And today, the Cook-wise segment launches. Love to hear your thoughts on the Ted Talk too. My (edited) chat came out just the other day.

 

 

.

 

 

  • Barton's book, For Cod and Country is coming in Spring 2011.

 

 

  • We're delighted to share three recipes from Barton Seaver,here to kick off our Teach a Man to Fish recipe round up.

 


 

I don't cook but I want to join TM2F...

Teach a Man to Fish (TM2F) is on - 4th Annual, baby!

You want to bring something to the virtual potluck and contribute to the groovy sustainable seafood teach-in, but maybe you don't cook. If you're like my friend Rich, the Passionate Foodie, you may be wondering how you might participate.

Heck, I can't even turn out dishes like Executive Chef Joseph Margate's Kingfish Sashimi:

But, you know what? There are very straightforward dishes, too. Dishes that even newbie home cooks can do. Check the prior years' round ups (see sidebar for inspiration)

Perhaps you are even intimidated to try this simple, delicious "Hempalicious Halibut with Pomegranate" from the Haphazard Gourmet Girls (ObamaFoodorama's Eddie Gehman)

 

Fear not - you, too, can join the party!

Pull up a glass of wine and let me tell you how...

 

If you're like Rich, you eat out a good deal. Sometimes, you even eat at places that are not named "Troquet."

(Hey, I'm not knocking it, I love Troquet. See: Troquet Restaurant Boston Perfects Pairings)

 

Say you want to help raise awareness for sustainable seafood, and I know you do, but you don't cook.

Here are some things you can do to participate in Teach a Man to Fish, even if you only venture into the kitchen for ice to refresh your cocktail:

 

  1. Follow Rich's lead and write to your favorite cooking show. Ask them to make a commitment to using only sustainable seafood. Rich created a stir when he called out Iron Chef and Alton Brown for using bluefin tuna. They no longer do. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers some tools and guidance here: What You Can Do.
  2. Drop me an entry that includes your favorite dish or dishes featuring sustainable seafood that you've had in restaurants. Tell us about the dish and why it's sustainable.
  3. Send me an entry that includes a dish you love that uses a fish that is NOT sustainable but tell us what a good substitute might be, then send the email to the chef suggesting a sustainable substitution.

 

 

Remember this is a fun way to learn together, to learn and to teach by sharing what we're learning. Bottom line is that it must also taste good. This restaurant scan gives non-cooks a way to spread the word that people do want sustainable seafood choices!

Now make that ressie and let us know what you're eating! I'm going to see if Open Table has a list of restaurants which feature sustainable seafood- update soon.

 

  • Please see the Sidebar Teach a Man to Fish for more links like this Resource Guide.

 

TM2F Links for you & Quizzes, too!

People often say to me "you're an expert on sustainable seafood, should I buy? (fill in the blank)" Should I eat  (fill in the blank) ?"

I quickly reset expectations. I'm no expert, not really. I'm just a regular person, inspired as a child by Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic, committed as an adult to learning more. me and a penguin

Committed to continuously learning and to sharing the learning - not necessarily the answers - with as many people as I can. I may have some answers today, and I may be fairly confident in their accuracy. I can point you to resources to check, tools you can use and experts more knowledgeable than I, that you can consult with.

We cannot know what tomorrow's science will tell us. We can only be sure it will likely change some of what we know today to be true.

My goal is to create a framework and an enthusiasm to engage in lifelong learning around these issues.

Some Blue Links

Antarctica Icebergs

In the spirit of transparency and to encourage one and all, I'll tell you there are two simple quizzes on the National Geographic Ocean site. One quiz tests you on your knowledge of the health of the oceans and another on seafood. (Do we call all food from farms "landfood?" Hmmm..maybe time to get more specific there, too.) I'll tell you I did not score perfectly on either. Always room to improve!

As recipes and new tools start to roll in I'm beginning the round up for the 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish Recipe Round Up and Resource Guide.

 

To get your wheels turning, here are a few links worth clicking through.

 

 

 

What about our impact on the Marine Food Chain? (Great video, appropriate for kids and interactive maps.)

 

Now I'm off to bed. Tell me what your score on the Ocean quiz was - what'd you learn?

Industrial fishing is estimated to have wiped out what percent of large predatory fish?

10%?

20%?

60%?

90%?

Keep on truckin' -- or sunbathing...

 

Teach a Man to Fish - Fact Sheet


An example of what one woman, armed with a little determination and a lot of caffeine can do.

 

2007

  • I launched Teach a Man to Fish in October 2007.
  • First event on The Leather District Gourmet blog included over 2 dozen recipes, Barton Seaver, Peter Pahk, two videos.
  • Recognized by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, invited to Sustainability Institute and Cooking for Solutions in acknowledgement of effort.

2008

  • In 2008 TAMTF netted 43 recipes from 10 countries, 10 states in the US; nine professional chefs - including Rick Moonen returning; Barton Seaver, Dory Ford of Portola at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; Peter Pahk, Stuart Brioza, Chef Kin Wai Lui of Tataki -the first sustainable sushi restaurant.
  • Award-winning food writers, and a sushi concierge also participated.
  • Two additional videos added to resource guide.
  • First annual Flying Fish Award to Lia Huber for Five-step Action Plan for Talking to your Fishmonger
  • Included in Utne Reader’s Special Online Project: Sustainable Seafood

 

2009

  • Noted in Sustainable Ocean Project
  • Participants included Chocolate & Zucchini blogger Clotilde Dusoulier, Matt Wright, Rebecca Katz double IACP winner; two top chef contestants, author Langdon Cook, and more.
  • The second annual Flying Fish Award - "for going above and beyond" went to Casson Trenor, recognized by Time Magazine along with his partners, Chefs Kin Lui and Raymond Ho, he started the Sustainable Sushi trend.
  • Barton Seaver won Esquire's Chef of the Year award for making sustainability center of the plate. He also became a fellow at the Blue Ocean Institute which co-developed the new chef tutorial along with our own Chefs Collaborative.
  • Sponsors included: FishChoice.com, Alaska Seafood Marketing Inst., Australis Barramundi

 

Workshops Launched

  • 2009 was also the year I launched Teach a Chef to Fish workshops. These events reached chefs in Boston and in Chicago, included a cooking demo by Radhika Desai (Top Chef Season 5), and participation of ACF members and Shedd Aquarium staff.

Presentations

  • Presented at the International Boston Seafood Show based on the Teach a Chef to Fish workshop.
  • I participated in a panel discussion at the Slow Food Boston screening of The End of the Line, along with Niaz Dorry of NAMA Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Cape and Fresh Catch and Jason Clermont of the New England Aquarium.

 

 

2010

Presentations

  • Presented at Tufts Friedman School’s  Farm, Fish and Fowl: Exploring Sustainability Alumni event

Teach a Man to Fish 2010 FAQs

Who needs sleep? I've got coffee. And I'm so excited about Teach a Man to Fish this year (as opposed to the past years when I was only moderately jazzed. Yeah, right.) Refraining from the bad writer's crutch of too many exclamation points, I'll endeavor to share my enthusiasm and answer the questions you may have about what this is and how to participate.

 

What is "Teach a Man to Fish"?

It's a blog event. You don't have to get dressed up or worry about getting a sitter or finding parking. Think of it as a virtual potluck where folks share photos and recipes -- and it's all about sustainable seafood.

 

Why do it?

I want to:

  • raise awareness of sustainable seafood issues.
  • share resources and wisdom gathered from all of you, from my research, from my chef buddies and conservation friends.
  • create a dialog.
  • drive traffic to your sites and show others what great stuff you're doing.

 

When does it happen and for how long?

I always start it in October. It's National Seafood month and the first year, I reclaimed it as National Sustainable Seafood month. We will run through November 15.

 

What do I do to enter?

  • Share a recipe you already use and make it with sustainable seafood. Or create a new one highlighting a sustainable seafood choice. (Obviously, I wouldn't recommend that bundt cake recipe you've been wanting to try, but how about that seared bluefin tuna you used to love? What might you use in place of that endangered majestic fish?)
  • Share what you learned when finding the seafood to use. Recipes are nice, I love recipes with stories more! (a blurb for me, linked to a larger post for your blog is best, SEO and traffic-wise)
  • Take a photo and send me the recipe, story, and photo (no larger than 300x400 jpg, pls).
  • Include a link to your blog or website and I'll include the recipe, any additional resources I can find, and link back to your blog.

 

 

Who else participates?

We've had some fabulous folks right from the start:

Barton Seaver, Rick Moonen, some Top Chef contestants, home cooks and award-winning food writers like Carolyn Jung of the Food Gal! Bloggers (look for new and famous faces in our last round up!) from around the world -- 10 states, 10 countries -- particpate. Each year more people join in and I love the stories of discovery, the recipes, the gorgeous photos.

 

What if I don't know anything about sustainable seafood?

 

  • PERFECT. This is a big party, a virtual potluck, a teach-in. I want all of us to learn together!
  • Take a look at the prior year's roundups. (see sidebar) You'll get lots of inspiration there. The resource guide has a video for kids, maybe you want to involve them? There are a ton of recipes you can use to introduce your family to a new sustainable seafood meal.
  • If you're a vegan and don't eat seafood? Tell your pescatarian friends. You do want others who eat fish to choose them wisely, don't you? (We even have veg alternatives like Kian Lam Kho's Mock Shark Fin Soup)
  • The resources I have gathered include many aquarium and conservation sites, cook books, videos and more.

 

 

See this Teach a Man to Fish Fact Sheet for a bullet list of facts on the event from year to year.

Swordfish and Sustainability

So you want to join in Teach a Man to Fish but you're needing a little inspiration? Or maybe you don't want to be the first one to ask a question?

Here are a few recipes for inspiration and a few questions to get you thinking ...

Swordfish Provençal

Striper with Fines Herbes

Sustainable Seafood Delivered

Sustainable Sushi Comes East

 

 

 

Whole Foods Sustainable Seafood Labeling - Pro or Con?

One hears backlash against wallet cards and sustainability rankings lately. I'm tired of the naysayers! Here's why and some good news from Whole Foods.

How to Make the Best Seafood Choices

Whole Foods is adopting a labeling scheme for their seafood and has "pledged to eliminate all red-list seafood by Earth Day 2013."  This news is sure to make waves. I say "BRING IT ON!"

I'm a big fan of the Seafood Watch wallet cards, of FishPhone of labeling like this:

 

 

Click on the image for more info.

For or Against Wallet Cards?

 

Too often people want to make the argument that these tools are "too simplistic" or paint the issue with too broad a brush. I disagree.

It's just not that simple. We cannot pretend that everyone is in the same place with respect to knowledge of sustainable seafood issues. In fact, at one recent event where was a panelist, I took exception to the assertion that these "wallet cards are crap" I made the argument that I believe these rankings and tools are useful for the following reasons:

 

  1. They are science-based, and transparent. You can click on links at the Seafood Watch website, for example and get the reports that back up the ranking or explain them more fully.
  2. These tools, like wallet cards, are a simple way to help people make baby steps in the right direction.
  3. The wallet cards, especially, stimulate discussion. Between a fishmonger and a customer, between a writer and an advocate, between any two people, the card can provide a way to start the ball rolling.

 

 

The other panelist and I agreed to disagree.

During the audience Q&A two of the first hands up were from people who took out their wallet cards and said "I"m kind of new to this sustainable seafood thing..."

This is exactly my point. Is a wallet card "THE" answer? No, of course not. Are the people who designed them evil incarnate? Of course not.

Simplicity loves a villain. The reality is that we all need help, we all can use tools and resources and what we can learn from each other, in our quest to make better food choices.

Do I think Whole Foods labeling scheme will save our oceans? No, but it's certainly a step in the right direction and we need more of us taking those!

Join me and chefs like Rick Moonen, along with other chefs, food writers, home cooks and conservation buddies in the 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish sustainable seafood blog event. Think of it as a virtual potluck where we all share stories and recipes about what we're learning and how we're enjoying sustainable seafood. I can't wait to see what I'll learn from you all this year!

 

Celebrate, Enjoy, Sensual Sustainability

I'm going to make my friend Kian Lam blush now, but he epitomizes something my friend Meg coined "sensual sustainability." Anyway, red is an auspicious color!

Too often, as we try to navigate the new rules for being a responsible gourmet, we get caught up in "can't" "shouldn't" and "won't" but we forget to enjoy food and to celebrate meals. It's not an either/or proposition, folks! We can enjoy sensible, sensual, and sustainable meals. It just takes a little help from our friends.

So I'm kicking off this year's Teach a Man to Fish sustainable seafood event with a bowl of Mock Shark Fin Soup. Chinese celebrate major events like weddings with a meal that includes, traditionally, shark fin soup. It's delicious, until you understand what's sacrificed. I cannot enjoy it anymore knowing one of the world's most majestic perfectly evolved species are being decimated unnecessarily and cruelly for my soup. It's soup!

Well, here's a solution: we can enjoy delicious Mock Shark Fin Soup with a clean conscience. As I always say, guilt does not make good gravy. Kian wrote a beautiful piece this Summer and flagged it for me to join our virtual pot-luck. I can think of no better opening course!

Kian Lam Kho: Banning Shark Fins from Shark Fin Soup. Kian Lam was inspired by Hawaii's banning of shark-finning. As a former daughter of the islands, I am proud. Please read Kian's post, learn more about shark finning and the ban and find his recipe at the beautiful Red Cook blog. If you're in the NYC area look out for his classes at the ICE or other venues.

 

photo: Kian Lam Kho, Red Cook

The linked post includes video clips of shark finning results - horrific. And a PSA by Yao Ming!


4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish Sustainable Seafood Event

Here it is October 11 and we're finally kicking off our 4th annual sustainable seafood recipe round-up and teach-in. Coming off a heady few days at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit (more on that soon), I can tell you that sustainable seafood continues to be front and center for many chefs, as it is for the rest of us.

Three years ago, I started Teach a Man to Fish to accomplish a few simple things:

  1. to raise awareness about sustainable seafood issues
  2. to share recipes and stories about cooking with sustainable seafood
  3. to share resources, to learn where to find it, and learn what's new in the field.

Who can participate?

Everyone! Anyone! We've got top chefs, Top Chefs, conservationists, award-winning writers, home cooks and food bloggers.

How do I join in?

Send me a recipe using sustainable seafood and a brief story about it.

Maybe you saw Dr. Oz talk about Barramundi and the benefits of eating this heart healthy fish and tried it for the first time yourself?

Along with the recipe and blurb, send a photo (no larger than 300 x 400 pixels jpg please) and a link to your blog. That's it! Many folks send a recipe and photo then post a longer post on their own blog. That's fine, too (just no duplicate posts.)

Maybe you wanted to learn what makes some shrimp more sustainable than others. Perhaps you read how some shrimp is caught with equipment that results in up to 9 lbs of "by-catch" (the wasted, unintended catch) to harvest only 1 lb of shrimp? And finally, you found a good source for shrimp, harvested with by-catch reduction equipment? Or maybe you chose Maine sweet shrimp? Or perhaps you discovered the new sustainable seafood on-line source, ILoveBlueSea.com?

What about Seasonality and Seafood?

 

Why participate in Teach a Man to Fish?

1. Fame and fortune: Rub virtual elbows with some of your favorite bloggers and chefs! Drive new traffic to your site and discover some new ones to follow yourself.

2. Question, learn, share: What makes some aquaculture good and others bad? Can we trust MSC certified labels? Have a new source for sustainable seafood to share? What are CSFs or Community Supported Fisheries and how do they differ?

3. Choosing better seafood isn't always easy. Taking baby steps together, makes it easier. Sharing a recipe, a story and a photo - couldn't be easier!

 

For my part, I'll post regularly during the next four weeks featuring news in the field of sustainable seafood. I'll get updates from authors, I'll check-in with chefs, and I'll see what's new in terms of resources. I'm going to try to roll up the entries each weekend and post on Mondays, I'll post recipes with links to resources and blogs.

Stay tuned and watch Facebook and Twitter for announcements - some exciting things are in the works!

 

Workshops for Chefs Return!

Last year I held workshops for chefs, Teach a Chef to Fish introduced professionals to new tools and resources designed for them. This year, rather than ask folks to leave the kitchen, I'm bringing it to you.

 

  • Learn what the basic issues are when selecting seafood for your menu.
  • Walk through self-study tool developed by Chefs Collaborative and Blue Ocean Institute.
  • Learn about other new resources and tools.

 

Email me to schedule an in-house training for you and your staff.

Seasonality and Seafood

Striper in Massachusetts is fantastic. It conjures up Summer. For many fishermen, cooks, and diners who appreciate this versatile fish, Striper is Summer. I was preparing some recently, and working with the fines herbes to make a compound butter to finish the fish.

Chives, Tarragon, Parsley, Chervil - Fines Herbes

Chervil is a lovely delicate herb that is well-suited to fish, and it's just coming to the end of its season as the Striper is coming into its own. This was a happy occasion when we had access to both. The planning of this meal got me going on topic of seasonality. (See Seasonal Striper)

Striper or Rockfish as it's known in Maryland

Striper roasted and finished with fines herbes

 

The Quest for a Seasonal Seafood Guide

As my friend Braddock Spear (Sustainable Ocean Project) points out, the question of seasonality in fish is a complex and layered - one has to take into account the life cycle, breeding, spawning. Which of us individually can take all these factors into account? Gearing up for Teach a Man to Fish and enjoying our lovely striper, I began to ask around. Seasonality and fish is a complex question. One factor that clouds our understanding of true seasonality in seafood is the year-round marketing and availability. This lulls us into thinking we can (and should) have any fish we want, any time of year. In fact, sometimes frozen seafood is a better choice but whether fresh or frozen we should try to trace the fishing method so we can be assured the fish was caught in the right way and time. Aquaculture, even responsibly done, hides the true nature of wild fish and their seasons, too.

Still, there is an appeal to finding more information about seasonality because it can help us choose more responsibly when we make our seafood selections. Just as your tomatoes in January carry a large environmental cost (and little flavor) so too does fish caught out of season (or caught in season, in another hemisphere and transported to us) carry a cost. While this issue is layered, and tricky to decipher, it seemed worth a little effort.

I checked with my friends at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, I checked in with my "fish girls" an informal sustainable seafood lunch group that meets about quarterly to share what we've been working on or learning in this arena. I checked with Chef friends and cookbook authors and many interesting answers came back. From "it's impossible and we should just be eating less fish" to "let me know what you find, we need this!" Many more of the responses were in the "we need this" camp.

With many thanks to all who pointed me in the right directions, here then, is an aggregated list of resources to help you choose more seasonally appropriate seafood.

 

The Institute for Fisheries Research is San Francisco based conservation organization:

Maryland Seafood & Aquaculture:

Gourmet Sleuth is a new site to me, and one you can bet I have bookmarked now! This is where I found both West Coast and East Coast availability charts:

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute: This site has a wealth of information, recipes, and information. (See my posts on the Seasonal Salmon we enjoyed this Spring and Summer.) The ASMI site also includes an availability chart for Alaska:

This site Seasonal Cornucopia includes a terrific resource guide, though it's not specifically geared to seasonality in seafood, there are links to resources on both topics:

And we now have two online sustainable seafood shops; one for chefs and one for consumers:

 

We'll be addressing these and other issues in our annual Teach a Man to Fish blog event in October. By-catch, over-fishing, illegal/unregulated/ underreported, habitat destruction, aquaculture, CSFs, MSC certification, new books on the topic, newsworthy trends and restaurant/chef news, and more will be covered.

 

What's your favorite seasonal fish? How do you prepare it?

Print or forward the guides that work for you!

Do you have another resource to share?

Teach a Man to Fish 2010 - Topics

 

TAMTF Kids resources

Nat geo; Portland kiosk thing;

http://chge.med.harvard.edu/programs/healthyoceans/once_upon_a_tide/education/recipes.htm

MSC certifications - hurting themselves in rush to become more commercially viable?

 

National Geographic's excellent resource : http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/

 

News: Gloucester/whole foods

 

Books: Four Fish, Bottomfeeder,

Farm, Fish & Fowl: Exploring Sustainability

 

 

Here are my slides from this afternoon's panel discussion at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Along with the Tufts University Alumni Association, the Food for Thought: Tufts Food, Wine and Culture Series has included famous alumni like Dan Barber. Tonight's panel discussion on Sustainability was a thought-provoking and fun event. We were billed as "leaders from the restaurant industry and local farms" who (would) explore the challenges and opportunities of bringing sustainable practices to what we eat."

For my part, I was delighted to participate and scribbled notes while my co-presenters spoke. Peter McCarthy spoke of his commitment to whole animal utilization, to Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds (and bunnies and pigs) as well as his progress toward LEEDS certification at EVOO.

Jennifer was entertaining and managed to cover a lot of information on the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. What a terrific program they have at this school!

Panelists:

  • Jacqueline Church, an independent food, wine & spirits writer whose work often focuses on “sensible sustainability” issues
  • Peter McCarthy, Chef/Owner at EVOO restaurant in Cambridge, MA
  • Jennifer Hashley, director of the Tufts Friedman School's New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and Co-owner of Jen and Pete's Backyard Birds
  • Moderator:
    Dr. Timothy Griffin, faculty member and director of the Tufts Friedman School's Agriculture, Food and Environment program

    A cocktail reception for event participants will featured hors d'ouevres from restaurants EVOO and the Beacon Hill Bistro, among other venues that offer locally grown food.

    I promised to share my slides. So here they are:

     

     

    I look forward to continuing the discussion started this evening, and I really enjoyed the lively chats with many of the attendees during the reception.

    Please email me or drop a comment here if you want more info on the slides, the books we discussed or if you have any further questions!

    All photos are mine except for the gorgeous fish dish on slide three, that's Matt Wright's entry into last year's Teach a Man to Fish event, and the NASA photo on the Issues to Watch slide.