Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eating Green


Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood
by Taras Grescoe

Packed with useful, interesting, and thought-provoking information, Bottomfeeder is like The Omnivore's Dilemma of the oceans. Although I have not read Fast Food Nation, I can also see some parallels with that book and Bottomfeeder, as both are intended to help consumers make better food choices for the sake of their own health. Bottomfeeder also encourages us to choose our seafood with the long term health of the oceans and the entire planet in mind. If you love seafood, as I do, this is an important book to read, because it tells us very specifically how we can still enjoy seafood AND take care of the oceans. However, doing both these things simultaneously is only possible if we are willing to make a few sacrifices and not insist on eating whatever we want whenever we want it.

Bottomfeeder is a fascinating read - we get inside looks at the fisheries industry, high-end and low-end restaurants and their philosphies and practices of seafood, and the logistics/mechanics of fishing itself. We learn about healthy, ecologically sound fishing practices that do not decimate the populations of the fish, as well as terrible practices that kill not only a few fish for eating, but mess up the habitats of the fish and prevent them (and other species from reproducing. After reading this book, I have hope for the future of oceans and marine life, for Grescoe gives us tons of good information and a great list of resources that we can turn to so that we can learn even more. Grescoe himself carried a small credit-card sized card in his wallet that lists fish that are fished sustainably and whose populations are not currently endangered. Just being armed with that information can help people make better choices.


One thing I noticed is that there are not across the board rules for eating seafood ethically. For example, some fish farming ("aquaculture") is a good thing. Oysters, clams, and mussels' respiration process involves filtering water through their own systems, so farming those shellfish actually helps to clean our oceans and increases the population at the same time. Farmed shrimp and salmon, however, are another story. Bottomfeeder contains hideous descriptions of the bacteria that plague these farmed fish, the chemicals and synthetic hormones used in raising them, and the damage that the farmed species do to the wild populations when they accidentally get intermingled. Grescoe's description of sea lice (GROSS!) on farmed salmon is enough by itself to turn the reader off the stuff (I haven't had any since I read the book, and have no plans to).


As far as the books title goes, "Bottomfeeder," refers to the fish who are realtively low on the food chain. Apparently, it is better for us to eat from the bottom of the chain, because the more of the big predators that we eat (shark and swordfish, for example, as well as bluefin tuna), the more havoc it plays on the populations of the smaller fish. When one link of the chain gets to be too populated or not populated enough, all links are affected. So, we should be bottomfeeders and know which fish are plentiful, fished sustainably, AND tasty. Bottomfeeder is a good reminder of the connectedness of all creation, and our responsibility to be good stewards of the oceans and the whole planet. The choices we make DO matter, and while the fish populations are precarious, the situation is far from hopeless.


Reverent Reader

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