Our mantra at Sweet Roots NYC is that "eating simply doesn't have to
be complicated." It guides us in our mission to make home cooking easier and to make accessing wholesome and healthy ingredients straight forward. For us, it also means sifting through the multitude of food messages for ourselves and for our clients, so that making choices about what to eat has more in common with a well-cleared path than an obstacle course.
I happen to like a challenge, so for the first installment of "Eating Simply" I'm taking on seafood.
One of the shops we'll recommend tomorrow in our guide to buying sustainable seafood in NYC is The Lobster Place. They keep things simple and describe sustainable seafood this way:
"Sustainability is about balancing the economic and nutritional needs of today with the preservation of ocean resources for tomorrow."
Overfishing, pollution and climate change are the three top threats to ocean eco-systems. While specific numbers are up for debate, experts seem to agree that many of the world's fish populations are declining and that we're running out of time to halt the downward spiral and restore what's been lost.
The other topic that comes up when we talk about seafood is mercury. Exposure to high levels of mercury can negatively impact the brain and nervous system. The problem is especially serious for young children and pregnant women. Some fish have higher levels of mercury than others and the FDA and other watch groups agree that the health benefits of fish outweigh the risk, if certain precautions are taken.
As a consumer, there are two things to consider when making a decision about which fish to eat:
1. Is this fish safe for my health?
2. Does the way that this fish is caught or harvested meet my standards for environmental sustainability?
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together a "Super Green" list that includes fish that score high marks on both counts. According to them the best of the best are:
Albacore tuna (from the US or British Columbia)
Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in the US)
Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
Rainbow Trout (farmed)
Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Outside of this list, there is no single answer, but there are a few guidelines that might help:
Eat lower on the food chain: Smaller fish are great sources of omega-3's, but lower levels of mercury. They also tend to be less endangered than their bigger friends like Bluefin tuna. Mackerel is a great choice in this category - they are currently abundant and the way they are fished is low impact.
Get off the beaten path: Blue fin tuna, cod and halibut populations are all dangerously depleted. There are some amazing and unusual fish choices that have been ignored for decades and as a result have not been subject to overfishing. Daniel Klein has a great episode of The Perennial Plate on mullet, for example.
Ask questions: Get to know your fishmonger. Ask your waiter about where the fish on the menu is from. Use the Blue Ocean Institute's FishPhone texting service. Text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish you're curious about. They'll respond right away with their thoughts about the fish and some alternatives.
This post is part of a series: a Week of Fish. Check out our post about the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and look out for guide to fishmongers in NYC and beyond and 5 tips for keeping fish fresh.