Friday, November 4, 2011

Food for Thought

By Adrian Eng

For a lot of people like me, food isn’t just consumption of fuel but can often be an experience that invokes a variety of emotions. One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What would your last meal on earth be?" For me personally, perfection comes as a plate topped with oblong mounds of rice and fresh raw fishes lying on top. Sushi is the ultimate in exotic food experiences, combining subtle flavors and unique textures. I can imagine each bite of sushi causes my brain to produce some sort of endorphin explosion.

So when I tell you how much I love sushi, you can get an idea of the kind of mixed emotions I had when I decided to attend the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program hosted at the Seattle Aquarium. The Seafood Watch program is a respected source for sustainable seafood information in the U. S. They work to inform consumers as well as collaborate with restaurants, parts of the fishing industry and other seafood businesses on sustainable fishing practices. As a consumer, I was very interested in learning about the food I was eating and understanding the kinds of impacts my decisions were making. But I was also very aware that at this point I was content eating without that knowledge. What was I going to learn and was it going to change my sushi experience?

Our guest speaker was Sheila Bowman, the Senior Outreach Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. She did a great job offering details behind Seafood Watch Program, from its inception to some of their current practices and policies. Every selection on their National Sustainable Seafood Guide goes through rigorous researching and fact checking. They start by analyzing large amounts of data. This initial information undergoes months of review as it goes through the hands of fisheries, experts in the industries and leaders in the marine field. After the information gets refined it still goes through a series of revisions by expert peers before being published. A big part of their strategy is the program’s commitment to collaborating with every level of the fishing business. They work with consumers, restaurants, fish vendors, grocer‘s markets, fishing boats and seafood corporations. The Seafood Watch Program has gained traction and it shows in their long and growing list of partnerships.

So how does all of this information apply to the consumer? The first thing to do is ask the right questions: What do you know about your seafood? Was it farmed or wild-caught? Where was it caught or raised? How was it caught or farmed? Most importantly, is it being overfished?

The Seafood Watch list is very large and quite daunting. However, many of the items are not common in the regular American diet, so I encourage you to not be overwhelmed. Start by listing the types of fish that you usually consume. Familiarize yourself with where these fish fall on the chart. If they are listed in the “Good” or “Best” columns, continue to enjoy them. If they are in the “Avoid” column, try researching some good alternatives. There are plenty of resources available for this. The Seafood Watch Program has a website ( that provides seafood recommendations, resources, recipes, partnership opportunities and current news. Pocket guides are available when shopping or ordering seafood and they now have a new cellphone app for the Android and iPhone to help you make good decisions when you’re eating out. Additionally, seafood products are starting to now offer sustainable approval seals.

I’m sure some people may think that it is a hassle to figure out which fish are good and which are bad. But the reality is that we regularly seek out information regarding all of the foods we consume every day. We make decisions on organic, cage free, fat free, low sodium, grass fed, processed, fortified and MSG free products. It’s important that we do the same with our seafood.

Nothing has changed about my passion for sushi. But I know that it’s going to take some adjusting to change how I regularly consume seafood. It is too hard for me to be ignorant to the dwindling resources of the sea and to eat without responsibility. I hope that we all take a little more initiative and help support this type of industry change. I urge you to find out what you’re eating and how your decision can make a difference. I personally will be tackling sushi Tuesdays at work with a little more insight and less consumption.

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