Many thanks to the slow foodies who joined us at Snail-award-winning Chaia Tacos our happy hour meet and greet! Over tasty, seasonal tacos and drinks, a dozen potential new board members chatted with current and former Slow Food DC board members about board priorities, areas for growth, and potential ways to get more involved with our local slow food chapter. Hoping to see many of you at upcoming events (and some of you at future board meetings)!
At 6pm on a chilly Friday evening earlier this month, eight adventurous local foodies wandered into New Columbia Distillers‘ Ivy City location to help bottle the latest batch of Green Hat gin. As I hung my coat on the rack, Ian and Travers handed me my first gin & tonic. I could tell it was going to be a good night. Travers welcomed the group, got us signed in, and as we sipped on our cocktails (the first step in the process) he explained how to affix the labels onto bottles (the second step of the bottling process)….
After quite a few cases of bottles were labeled, it was time to explain the various stations.
Though step three of the process was pretty fun — blowing out the bottles with an air blaster to remove any cardboard residue from the boxes — my favorite part was step four: filling bottles using the gin udder. I am clearly not the only one who loved this part:
Every few cases, members of the group rotated through the next few stations: capping, adding the top label, recording the batch and alcohol level, heat sealing, and boxing.
It was hard work, but fun… and Ian made sure we didn’t go thirsty in the process, bringing around various batches of cocktails made with their in-house stock of gin, rye whiskey, and other tasty ingredients. You can’t label things correctly if you’re parched!
Our evening ended with a tasting and tour of the facility. We learned about the history of bootlegging in DC, the true story of The Man in the Green Hat after which the distillery is named, the challenges of local grain sourcing (and ultimate success finding local farm. And of course we learned about the gin making process: make beer -> turn it into vodka -> add botanicals to make it gin! Who knew? I do now. And had a chance to sample all of Green Hat’s offerings and purchase them at wholesale prices. Not a bad way to knock out some holiday shopping and support a local business, eh?
You have to be in the know to help at the small-group bottling parties, but you can stop by your local liquor store (or a number of farmers markets around town) to pick up a bottle. Or better yet, swing by the Green Hat bar in Ivy City:
- Free Tours Saturday only at 1:30, 3:00 & 4:30pm
- Cocktail Bar & Gin Garden Saturdays 1-8pm, Sunday 2-6pm
- No Reservations Required
When asked, many in our region would acknowledge that fish and shellfish play significant roles in the mid-Atlantic food system. But this industry is often overshadowed by the also critical issues faced by agricultural producers. In order to raise the profile of sustainable fish and seafood, as well as those who work in the industry, Slow Food DC is one of just a few Slow Food chapters with a designated Slow Fish Liaison.
Board member Lauren Parnell is an enthusiastic advocate for eating local fish and shellfish, educating consumers about how to make ethical seafood choices, and supporting coastal communities and livelihoods. As our Slow Fish liaison, she helps our chapter apply a seafood lens to all activities, gives educational talks for consumers, and fosters our relationships with small-scale fishers around the region.
In early October, Lauren traveled to Portland, Oregon to attend the Local Seafood Summit, a gathering that celebrates the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of small-scale and community-based seafood businesses committed to strengthening their local, regional, and national food systems. The summit was hosted by The Local Catch Network, a community-of-practice made up of fisherman, organizers, researchers, and consumers from across North America that are committed to providing local, healthful, low-impact, and economically sustainable seafood via community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct marketing arrangements.
At the summit, Lauren led a workshop on Disaster Resilience, drawing on her professional experience in emergency management. Disaster resilience is a critical topic for fishing communities who are on the frontlines of climate change. Extreme weather events, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification are adversely impacting fish and shellfish populations and pose increasing challenges for those who make their living on the water. Small seafood businesses, like the ones Slow Food loves to support, are particularly vulnerable. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40% of small businesses do not re-open after a disaster, 25% more fail within a year. Lauren’s workshop discussed recent disaster data and trends across coastal regions of the U.S. and identified best practices to increase the chances small fishers and seafood sellers are able to weather disaster-related business disruptions.
After the summit, Lauren and 15 other attendees joined well-known sustainable seafood advocate and owner of Forever Wild Salmon Kevin Scribner for a two-day tour of the Washington and Oregon coasts. They covered a lot of ground, visiting the new waterfront development area in Vancouver, WA, the historic working waterfronts in Garibaldi, OR, and an oyster hatchery in Netart’s Bay, OR.
Lauren recently joined the Planning Committee for the next Slow Fish gathering that will take place in Durham, New Hampshire March 19-22, 2020. This event is open to fishers, eaters, chefs, community organizers, and anyone else interested in joining a values- based community and learning more about sustainable seafood. We hope some of you will join us there!
In the meantime, you can get more involved in the Slow Fish virtual community by following the Slow Fish North America page on Facebook.
Thanks to all who joined us Saturday, October 26 for to celebrate World Food Day. In particular, many thanks to Brian at Busboys and Poets‘ Anacostia location for arranging the beautiful space and delicious snack platters. And an extra special thanks to our friendly and educational tabling partners from DC Greens, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and Dine Diaspora. We all had some great conversations over Dine Diaspora’s origins of spices game, giveaway goodies like DC Greens’ DC food justice pins and grow-your-own-basil kits from FAO, and poster materials.
In case you missed our in-person poster making party and gallery walk, it’s not too late to enter the global FAO World Food Day poster competition. The competition is open to poster artists aged 5 to 19. Official rules and requirements, and the link to upload your entry, can be found here. The deadline for submissions is November 8, 2019.
Snail of Approval winner One Eight Distilling is DC’s second distillery and although they have a full line-up of popular products, they’ve developed somewhat of a cult following for their Ivy City gin. To find out why, we teamed with One Eight’s Marketing and Event Manager Cara Webster for a workshop on the magical ingredients that make this gin is so popular.
Gin is essentially vodka with the additional of botanicals, which makes the quality of both the base spirit and the flavoring components extremely important. In order for gin to be classified as gin, juniper berries must be the main flavoring agent but after that, just about anything is fair game to create a flavor profile that is unique to the distiller. For One Eight, this includes botanicals such as allspice, fennel, lemongrass, orange peel, coriander, and Grains of Paradise, with each lending a particular fruity, spicy, or sweet note to the final product.
To understand how impactful each botanical can be, participants smelled and tasted a distillate of each of these botanicals – essentially a super contracted essence of the botanical’s flavor. Then everyone could choose which flavor elements they liked best to create their own personal brand of gin – as long as it included some juniper!
With our signature blends in hand, we were invited to make our own gin and tonics with an assortment of fruits and herbs to accent our creations. Certainly a fun way to play with flavor profiles and to discover new ways to enjoy one of DC’s favorite products. Keep an eye out for future special releases from One Eight Distilling, and for workshops on their other products!
This event was part of Slow Food DC’s Summer of Sustainable Beverages series.
It’s estimated that 40 percent of food in the United States ends up in the dumpster every year. Think about that number for a moment – 40 percent. Almost half of our food supply. And this is often food that could have been used, but was discarded due to cosmetic blemishes or perhaps, poor refrigerator management. (Yup, guilty over here.)
But there’s a movement underway in DC to draw attention to this problem, and to demonstrate that “ugly” food can still be delicious – RescueDish.
RescueDish is a part of the DC Food Recovery Working Group, a consortium of people in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who care deeply about reducing food waste. To raise the profile of their efforts, RescueDish week spotlights chefs and brands using underutilized (or what would have been wasted) ingredients to create drool-worthy dishes, while also limiting food waste in restaurant operations. Slow Food DC was thrilled to join Rescue Dish, The Accokeek Foundation, Snail winner Common Good City Farm, and Rooftop Roots at ANXO July 10 for a Sustainability Supper to kick off the week.
ANXO’s Executive Chef Alex Vallcorba put together a special menu utilizing “ugly” produce that wasn’t acceptable for grocery stores, foraged ingredients, as well as portions of other ingredients that are often put to waste by most restaurants. This included a beautiful smoked carrot steak dish that utilized the entire carrot – even the tops! The menu also featured ANXO ciders made from foraged apples, and cocktails crafted with house-made syrups concocted from foraged ingredients.
Wanting to emphasize the importance of preserving our diverse food heritage, Vice Chair Reana Kovalcik explained that the dish featuring Carolina Gold Rice is included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of foods that are culturally and historically significant to our region.
Common Good City Farm donated slightly misshapen tomatoes that were made into a delicious gazpacho. Amazingly, no one could tell that the tomatoes would not have been considered attractive enough to sell at market.
Almost a dozen DC-area restaurants participated in this year’s RescueDish week, including Snail of Approval winners Chaia Tacos, Blue Duck Tavern, Urbana Dining & Drinks, and Equinox. By celebrating dishes that demonstrate root-to-leaf and nose-to-tail creativity, RescueDish aims to inspire all eaters and chefs to see delicious opportunity, where they used to see waste.
So the next time you see some “ugly” produce, maybe give it another look and a chance to beautify your plate and nourish your soul.
This past Friday, over a delicious snifter of local brown ale, I joined a dozen other DC-area foodies for a crash course on how to become a more informed, ethical seafood consumer. First, Hellbender‘s operations manager, Bill Mitchell, welcomed the group to the Snail of Approval winning Fort Totten area brewery and spoke about the brewery’s sustainability efforts and partnerships (including hosting educational talks like the one that was about to begin). Then, SFDC board member and local seafood expert, Lauren Parnell launched into a fascinating introduction to the world of sustainable fish….
To be honest, things started out pretty bleak. If you think choosing ethically raised chicken eggs is confusing — should you seek out organic? cage-free? free-range? pastured?? — it pales in comparison to how complicated it is to truly know that you are choosing fish and shellfish that have been responsibly harvested. Even a basic question like “should I choose wild or farmed seafood” has various qualifying criteria that encompass social, environmental, and economic factors. I had read that wild Atlantic salmon was good… but it turns out there is no such thing as wild Atlantic salmon available in the U.S. I thought farmed shrimp were bad… but it depends on where and how they are farmed. Should I just stop eating seafood altogether?? I began to contemplate ordering another beer….
As we nibbled on smoked salmon and a tasty salmon spread supplied by Snail of Approval-winning Cold Country Salmon, Lauren talked us through the basics. Though wild-caught species seem like a clear choice, some are overfished or caught using methods that harm other species and destroy the delicate aquatic environment. Farmed seafood is not necessarily bad, and especially species farmed in American waters are a good choice, as the U.S. has some of the best fishing regulations in the world. But the best thing you can do to make sure you are eating the most sustainable seafood choice possible is to educate yourself: ask questions!
Before we headed over to sample delicious raw oysters from local purveyor Sapidus Farms, Lauren gave us some specific tips for choosing well-raised fish:
- Know your fish varieties and your fisherman — we do this with meat, don’t we?
- Ask questions of local retailers and restaurants — if they don’t have a good answer, don’t buy it. And the more often consumers ask for sustainably raised seafood, the more suppliers will seek it out!
- Eat locally as much as possible — support your local fishing economy. In this global economy, and considering comparatively strong regulations in our country, when in doubt, choose American.
- Eat a variety of species — not just salmon, tuna, and cod. There are so many tasty fish and shellfish out there!
- Eat lower on the food chain — you can never go wrong eating some of the abundance of our Chesapeake Bay oysters, clams, and mussels.
- Value quality over quantity — a 4 oz. portion is plenty of protein for a serving of fish. You can feed five people high-quality, wild-caught Pacific salmon for $20/pound, for instance. Consider that “cheap” fish also likely involves a company that disregards the health of the ocean and probably doesn’t pay/treat its workers well.
- Frozen seafood is okay — many fishing boats have high-tech flash freezers that will keep fish as fresh as (or fresher than) fish that’s been shipped fresh to the retailer.
- Use a guide — I have for a long time liked the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s guide, though note that it only lists the most commonly consumed species.
- Look for eco-labels — an imperfect barometer, kind of like buying vegetables that are “certified organic,” but it’s something you can go by when the fisherman or processor isn’t around to ask questions to directly. Lauren recommended the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label as consistently reliable.
She did say there was a low probability that oysters would be overeaten, right? Oh, goodie, those VA oysters from Sapidus looked delicious….
Many of us want to be more thoughtful food and beverage consumers, but what does that mean in terms of wine? On Sunday, June 23, Slow Food DC supporters gathered at DC’s only natural wine bar Dio – owned by Stacey Khoury-Diaz – for an in-depth look at what “sustainable” practices mean in the wine industry from winemaker and owner Jason Murray of Arterra Wines in Delaplane, VA.
We want to feel good about purchasing products that are labeled “sustainable” or “organic” but in reality, the resources and practices that go into these products don’t always match our perception of what those terms mean.
Like any business, winemakers seek efficiency in their production processes to reduce costs and as a result, they may employ practices that in the consumer’s mind, would not be considered “sustainable,” but are still allowed under current regulations.
This could mean using non-reusable plastic sheeting in the vineyard for more effective watering. It could mean spraying the grapes with a copper solution to control fungi that might destroy the crops. It could also mean introducing mechanization in the vineyards to more efficiently manage many acres of grapes, at the expense of local jobs. Jason challenged us to consider whether any of these practices would be considered “sustainable” in our minds, and to consider the long-term impact of overall vineyard practices on the environment and our health.
Jason also questioned the value of certain certifications, pointing out that many top producers in the Europe and the United States are practicing organic but don’t advertise this fact, because some consumers associate the label with lower quality wines. Additionally, attaining these certifications can be too time consuming and expensive for smaller producers. It’s even more confusing for consumers when large, commercial producers use terms like “organic” or “sustainable” to broaden their appeal, rather than because they’ve invested in long-term sustainability.
Consumers are generally less critical of what goes into wine production because the assumption is, wine is just made of grapes. In the United States, winemakers are not required to list the ingredients or nutritional values on their labels because wine is classified as an agricultural product and not as a food or beverage, regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But in many instances, winemakers can legally use certain additives to correct challenges in the vineyard or the winemaking process.
Jason emphasized that in order to make truly sustainable products, a winemaker must grow and use grapes that are suited for the local climate and soil of the region. This helps the winemaker avoid having to take corrective measures during the winemaking process, such as augmenting grapes that haven’t fully ripened.
For Arterra Wines, it’s vital to have the conversation about what is working for agriculture in our climate and what is not. Even if producers are not able to produce a quality, consistent wine with full organic methods right from the start, that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to try. From Jason’s perspective, the point is to have confidence and transparency in production methods, and to produce clean wines; as noted above, it’s not always a guarantee that a wine is clean just because it has organic label.
But there is also a marketing challenge for winemakers – if Cabernet Sauvignon is popular, will customers recognize and purchase a wine made less well-known grapes, such as Viognier,which grows well in Virginia? Producers must also consider the stiff competition that comes from large producers benefiting from economies of scale. Because they produce more, they can sell their wine at a much lower price, sometimes falsely co-opting terms like “sustainable” or “organic.”
Conscientious consumers should remember that the many resources needed to produce a bottle of wine are magnified for a small producer, which ultimately, affects the price we pay at the store. Labor costs for hand-managing vineyards instead using machines, for example, will exponentially raise costs but also, provide livelihoods and support a more diverse local economy. In the United States, farming has one of the highest poverty rates of any profession and helping farmers succeed economically may not always match what consumers can afford.
To illustrate his points, Jason guided us through a tasting of five sustainably produced wines from Maryland (Old Westminster Winery), New York (Liten Buffel), California (Amplify Wines), and Virginia (Arterra Wines).
For his own wines, Jason explained that his goal is to make clean and distinctive Virginia wines that represent the unique character of the region. This means planting grape varieties that grow well in this region’s climate, such as Petit Verdot and Viognier, as well as using native yeasts.
Until we can have more confidence in labeling terms, the best way to know what really goes into your wine is to get to know your local producers, and to find out what practices are used in the vineyard and in the winemaking process. Websites are handy but also, a good old-fashioned phone call can do the trick! And if you have the time, a day-trip to one of Virginia’s or Maryland’s wineries is a great way to get some additional knowledge.
We want to extend a huge thank you to Jason and Stacey for hosting this discussion and tasting, which we hope is just the start of this conversation! Join us for our next “Summer of Sustainable Beverages” event on July 28 with Snail of Approval winner One Eight Distilling.
Looking for some good, clean, and fair-related reading this summer? Check out these great reads from the shelves of the Slow Food DC board! Find them out of the library, borrow from a friend, buy used, or from a local independent bookstore. Happy summer reading and happy summer eating!
Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good, Clean, and Fair by Carlo Petrini
The founder of the Slow Food movement believes eaters can take back control by engaging in the opposite of fast food. He outlines three central principles (Good, Clean, and Fair) of the movement: that food must be sustainably produced in ways that are sensitive to the environment; those who produce the food must be fairly treated; and the food must be healthful and delicious.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
“What should we eat?” has become an increasingly complex question to navigate. Pollan’s seminal writing launched a national conversation about what we eat and the consequences everyday food choices have on our bodies and the natural world. Often cited as a gateway book to activism and advocacy on sustainable food, this book will change the way you think about food.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Set in Southwestern Virginia, Kingsolver and her family abandon the industrial supply chain for a year, vowing to eat only food they grow themselves or is raised nearby. This is an approachable book for anyone new to farmers markets and food issue. Also makes a great gift!
American Catch: The Fight For Our Local Seafood by Paul Greenberg
The United States imports over five billion pounds of seafood, and over ninety percent of the fish we eat is foreign. Through vignettes about Gulf Shrimp, Alaskan Salmon, and New York Oysters, this very readable book that tells the surprising story of how and why Americans stopped eating from our own waters.
Tomatoland: From Harvest of Shame to Harvest of Hope by Barry Estabrook
From pesticide poisoning to wage theft to modern day slavery, farm and field work is among the most dangerous, lowest page work in America. This inspiring book reveals how a group of migrant tomato pickers in Florida organized to liberate themselves from exploitation, convinced the world’s largest restaurant chains and food retailers to join forces to create a model for labor justice, and are spreading their techniques to workers around the country and the world.
Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter
This book is an excellent primer on the corporate control of agriculture and food. It takes aim at the ever-growing consolidation and corporatization of food production, which prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store.
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
Recently showcased on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Dan Barber’s visionary and optimistic book calls for a way of thinking about food that will heal the land and taste good, too. Rejecting the “detrimental cooking of our past, and the misguided dining of our present,” he points to a future “third plate”: a new form of American eating where good farming and good food intersect. Barber sees a future national cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.
American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan
McMillan went undercover in various food jobs to uncover what working conditions are really like but also how much workers’ struggle to live (and eat) off the low wages they earn. Reporting from California fields, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s, McMillan examines the reality of our country’s food industry.
The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker
Since the 1940’s, with the rise of industrialized food production, taste has gradually been diluted in most mainstream foods. Schatzker links this as key factor driving the obesity epidemic. For decades we’ve been trying to pin the blame somewhere—fat, carbs, sugar, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup. But really it’s a loss of flavor that’s driving us to overeat, and its fueling a billion dollar flavor industry.
Black Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman and Karen Washington
In 1920, 14 percent of all land-owning U.S. farmers were black. Today, less than 2 percent of farms are. This is a comprehensive “how to” guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture. It describes practical techniques from whole farm planning, soil fertility, seed selection, and agroecology, to using whole foods in culturally appropriate recipes, sharing stories of ancestors, and tools for healing from the trauma associated with slavery and economic exploitation on the land.
Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper by Art Cullen
While not a food book per se, Cullen is deeply informative about the economic decline in rural America, the role of Big Ag and Big Meatpacking, and the growth and revitalization immigrants can bring to the communities they live and work in. Politics, agriculture, the environment, and immigration are all themes in this chronicle of a resilient newspaper, as much a survivor as the town it serves.
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson
From childhood onward, we learn how big a “portion” is and how sweet is too sweet. Whether to enjoy green vegetables—or not. In First Bite, Wilson explores how our food habits are shaped by family and culture, memory and gender, hunger and love, as well as the origins of our tastes, and even how we can change our palates to lead healthier, happier lives. Entertaining and packed with food wisdom, this book belongs on the shelves of all food lovers. (Highly recommend for parents by our resident food education expert!)
In part one of this series on sustainable seafood, we discussed how the good food movement has made significant strides in raising awareness about sustainability issues surrounding land-based food, but we’re still waiting for similar progress in the realm of fish and seafood.
Since it’s tough to navigate without any sustainable guideposts, below I outline nine practical tips for consumers to make more informed, ethical seafood choices – whether at the fish market, the grocery counter, or a restaurant.
1) Know Your Fish, Know Your Fishers: You probably already know that buying your produce and/or meat from the farmer’s market allows you to develop relationships with producers, as well as build trust about the quality, safety, and value of the food you’re purchasing. The same principles apply to fish and shellfish: the most reliable way to ensure you’re getting high quality fish, caught using sustainable methods, is to buy directly from the person who caught it. You can do this by participating in a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) or purchasing at a fish market that sources exclusively from local/regional boats. The short supply chain of direct-to-consumer sales reduces the risk of fraud and mislabeling that is endemic in the long and complex industrial seafood supply chain.
2) Ask Questions at Retailers and Restaurants: As ethical consumers, we care about where our food comes from and how it is produced. This gives us a responsibility to ask questions about our food and based on the information provided, decide whether or not to make a purchase. The essential questions to ask are: What species of fish is this? Was it caught wild or farm raised? and Where is it from? A retailer or restaurant that takes pride in their sourcing will be able to provide this information. Hesitation, vague or incomplete answers should be a red flag to the consumer. This applies whether we’re at a fish market, a grocery store, or in a restaurant.
I encourage you to also consider asking What type of fishing gear or aquaculture method were used? Who caught this fish? and Were they paid fair wages and treated fairly? The responses to these questions provide even more clues about how much a fishmonger or chef knows about their supply chain and, perhaps more importantly, signals a growing consumer desire for transparency.
3) Eat Seasonal and Regional, or at least USA: As is true for land-based food, the most sustainable seafood choice is usually to eat what’s in season in your area, harvested from local waters or the broader region. In the DC metro area, we are fortunate to be just 50 miles from the Chesapeake Bay and at the mid-point of the east coast, with many fisheries just a few hours north and south. Typical species from our region include: Blue Crab, Oysters, Clams, Perch, Croaker, Drum, Flounder, and Rockfish (also called Striped Bass or Striper). From the northeast, we can also get Lobster, Scallops, Mussels, Dogfish, Haddock, Hake, Quahogs, and Mackerel. From the southeast, we can get Mahi Mahi, Grouper, cobia, Monkfish, Amberjack, Swordfish, Sheepshead, Yellowfin Tuna, and several types of Shrimp.
If you want to keep it SUPER simple, just abide by one seafood rule: always eat fish and seafood from the United States, never imported. The United States has some of the best marine fisheries standards in the world, thanks to the Magnuson Stevens Act. Imported seafood is not held to the same catch limits, environmental protections, or labor regulations. Eating only U.S.-sourced products will help you steer clear of many of the sustainability issues around seafood.
4) Eat a Greater Variety of Species: On average, Americans eat 16.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person per year, mostly from just a few species – Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, and Tilapia – even though there are more than 100 species harvested from U.S. waters. Such narrow consumption puts intense pressure on those few popular species, which can result in overfishing and potentially, population collapse, as happened with Bluefin Tuna. Fisherman won’t catch what they can’t sell, so the power really lies with you and other consumers to diversify demand. The ethical choice is to expand your palate, try something different, and help create a market for a diverse range of fish.
5) Eat Lower on the Food Chain: As we move up the food chain, ten times more energy is consumed at each level between plant and carnivore (also referred to as the trophic scale). This means that predators at the top of the chain, such as Tuna and Swordfish, consume huge amounts of smaller fish to grow their body mass. Even medium sized Salmon are still voracious carnivores; the feed to food ratio for farm-raised Salmon can be as high as 14:1, meaning 14 pounds of smaller fish feed every one pound of Salmon filet sold to consumers. Given the intense amount of energy required to sustain large, carnivorous fish, a responsible consumer should choose smaller species lower on the food chain. Anchovies and Sardines are great choices. Filter feeder, such as Crab, Oysters, Clams, and Mussels, are even better.
6) Pay for Higher Quality, Eat Less Quantity: You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating: cheap food is not cheap. That is, the true costs to society and the environment of cheap food are not reflected in the sticker price but instead, transferred indirectly to other actors in the system. We’ll use salmon as an example: farm-raised salmon from Chile costs $8.99/lb, whereas wild Alaskan Salmon goes for $19.99/lb. What’s the difference?
Wild Alaskan Salmon is harvested using environmentally sound methods in coastal communities by fisherpeople who are paid fair wages. In contrast, farmed Chilean Salmon has drawn criticism for using more antibiotics than some factory-farmed beef, and for situating huge, multi-million animal operations in pristine glacier areas. In short, the price of the Salmon reflects the true value of the resource.
Similar comparisons can be made between Chesapeake Blue Crab at $32/lb (exacerbated by work visa shortages) and its imported competition from Southeast Asia, India, and South America at $12/lb. Shrimp harvested from North Carolina or Gulf Coast waters typically fetches $15/lb, whereas major industrial operations in Southeast Asia that degrade mangrove forests and are known to use slave labor, can sell their product for just $10/lb. The additional costs of lost coastal livelihoods in the United States, the negative impact on the environment, and deplorable labor conditions are not reflected in the lower retail prices.
Rather than purchasing the cheaper (but costly to society) product, the ethical choice is to buy higher quality, even if that means consuming less of it. My friend and fellow seafood advocate, Kevin Scribner of Salmon-Safe, likes to ask “why are we willing to spend $5 for a latte but we’re not willing to spend $5 per meal, per person for the highest quality fish in the world?!”*
7) Don’t Be Afraid of Frozen: The technology for freezing fish has drastically improved in recent years. Fresh catch can be immediately processed and frozen at very low temperatures, often right on the boat. Some consumers still think that buying frozen fish sacrifices flavor or quality – on the contrary! Buying frozen fish from trusted sources is a great way to get high quality fish at reasonable prices.
8) Get Familiar with Seafood Guides: Reliable information is essential for informed, ethical food choices. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guides is an industry leader and provides easy to use guides for each region, including one for navigating a sushi menu and an app for your phone. But even with these tools, you as a consumer must still gather key pieces of information about the fish (as outlined above): What species is this? Where is it from? and Was it farmed or caught wild? According to Seafood Watch, species marked Red should be avoided entirely, Yellow means a Good Alternative (but there are some concerns), and Green indicates a best choice.
For consumers interested in learning more about the fish species that are harvested in their region, NOAA FishWatch is a good source.
9) Look for Eco-Labels: Lastly, consumers can look for eco-labels, though these should be considered an indicator, rather a guarantee, of sustainability. Currently, there are at least seven sustainable seafood certification labels, each with varying standards and criteria. The Marine Stewardship Council, which focuses on wild caught fish, or its newer affiliate the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, which evaluates farmed fish operations, are both good resources. However, consumers should be aware that even grocery store chains are creating their own seafood labels with claims of sustainability. Many do not have independent verification methods, causing further confusion for consumers about credibility and which label they should look for. As an ethical consumer, it is better to know your source than depend on a label or certification.
Stay tuned for the third article in this series next month, for a list of seafood retailers and restaurants in the DC metro area that Slow Food DC believes are sourcing most sustainably.
By Lauren Parnell, SFDC Board Member and Slow Fish Liaison
* 16 oz. in a pound and 4 oz. per portion of fish => 4 portions x $5 each = $19.99, the market price for most wild Alaskan salmon.