Locally Sourced: Sustainable Seafood?

By Joy Summers November 3, 2011
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Categories: Our Homes, Recipes & Cooking

Sustainable seafood in Minnesota seems like a ridiculous concept. For one: the unavoidable presence of the word “sea” as in, we don’t have one anywhere near us.  Second is taking on the “sustainable” tag.  The word “sustainable” is raging in popularity as organic or “low fat” once dominated the healthier-than-thou magazine article set.  A murky meaning full of good intentions, the label is getting slapped on many a food item, but we’re finding, with research, there is a likely way to eat seafood, even here, with a good conscience.

This summer National Geographic fellow and renowned chef Barton Seaver visited to promote his cookbook For Cod and Country, detailing recipes utilizing seafood and produce in a seasonal way that is kind to the environment. Seaver passionately speaks out about over-fishing oceans.  Brightly illustrated and crammed with gorgeous pictures of succulent meals, the book fits attractively into a kitchen as it does on a coffee table. Seaver also easily explains the reasons behind eating this way. He offers stunning tidbits from the alarming lack of conservation in our oceans to the shocking uses of fish for industrial uses, but not for food, like anchovies harvested solely for their scales to be put into lipstick.  His book is one step toward understanding how to cook delicious, healthy meals utilizing sustainable seafood.

The dilemma that immediately follows is, what constitutes sustainable?  The Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains the most widely respected list of what is and isn’t safe to eat, from mercury levels to harmful fishing practices. The same fish can be considered sustainable or a bad food choice depending on how it’s harvested.

Closer to home, the Minnesota Zoo is going a step further.  With their Fish Smart program, the zoo offers a smart phone app that can be downloaded and used when standing in the grocery aisle, wondering what to make for dinner.  Just type in the fish and where it’s sourced and the application will guide you to sustainable choices. Additionally, Fish Smart has been working with area chefs to get them to commit to serving only sustainable seafood in their restaurants. Some chefs, like Tim McKee, have spearheaded the movement, introducing Sea Change and Masu, two of his restaurants that opened with the intention of serving nothing but sustainable seafood.  The trend has grown to include critical darling Heidi’s, Oceanaire, Meritage, Fire Lake and more.

The argument for sustainable fish is easy to make.  While flying food in does have a carbon footprint to consider, so does too a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  While not entirely green, there are other arguments for the existence in a balanced diet.  It’s really good. It makes me happy and it’s just not available around here. Studies in conflict show that eating a diet that includes more fish is physically beneficial, while others suggest that 90% of the world’s top predatory fish are already gone.  Something to consider when ordering that spicy tuna roll.

The difficulty in deciding is that there is no one easy answer when it comes to what is best to eat. Utilizing resources like cook books, reference guides and even an ubiquitous app, we can educate ourselves about choices that are good for our bodies as well as our earth.

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