Sustainability is something that is moving beyond buzzwords and into kitchens everywhere. People are particularly conscious of over-fishing and want to choose the best fish for their diets and the planet.
There’s a lot of conflicting information about seafood. On the one hand, we’re told to “eat more fish” for our health, and on the other hand we’re over-fishing oceans and developing mercury poisoning. So what’s the best way to help ourselves and the planet?
Barton Seaver, has had an interesting career from chef to sustainability champion, and he spoke recently at the UMass/Amherst Chef Culinary Convention. He is currently the Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. He acknowledges the following issues when it comes to seafood.
- Diners are picky and only desire certain species of fish such as haddock or salmon.
- There is a lot of waste in fishing. “It costs fishermen more money to bring fish back to shore that isn’t in demand than it does to throw them back overboard dead.” We need to find more sustainable ways of fishing.
- Sustainable fishing often overlooks local options. “We’re sourcing sustainable fish from Norway when we’ve got a fishing dock three miles from our kitchen,” Seaver said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Solutions for Sustainable Seafood
Do we have enough to feed the planet? “We absolutely have enough food to feed 9 to 12 billion people,” he said. “But we don’t have enough food to feed the desires of 9 to 12 billion people.”
Seaver suggests two steps to move toward sustainability:
What’s the catch of the day? Seaver wants to focus on locally caught seafood to minimize waste and transportation impact. “There are 23 kinds of flaky white fish,” he said. “We need to sell the dish, not the fish.” By using what’s available, and crafting dishes around local stocks you can create demand for new species of fish and teach people about a full range of seafood options.
Blue farming. The development of columns of ocean set aside for aquaculture is expanding globally. Researchers are focused on sustainable ecosystems that combine elements such as kelp beds and say, sea scallops. If done properly the system can improve local waters instead of causing pollution. Since you’re only growing what’s needed you’re saving literally tons of waste.
“Fifty percent of all seafood is wasted before it nourishes an American,” said Seaver. “Sustainability is about sustaining people and ultimately the measure of our success is creating thriving humans.”
We couldn’t agree more Mr. Seaver, thanks for giving such a passionate talk. If you happen to read this, I can tell you your lecture was the one that stuck with the 300+ chefs the most. A lot of them are planning on changing menus when they get back to their kitchens.
I also wanted to give a shout out to a charity Seaver works closely with the DC Central Kitchen a facility that feeds up to 5,000 homeless per day and also trains ex-convicts to become chefs. Seaver showed a quick video that showed the great work this organization does.