Food Friday: Fishy Business

I admit it. I am no longer a vegetarian. About six months after arriving in the US, I moved into the murky world of the pescetarian, where carnivores regard me with confusion and vegetarians with disdain.

Get in ma belly! From National Geographic. Click through for original

On the one hand, I’m unhappy with this shift. I do feel some guilt, like I sold out on my values, and worse, like I’m a terrible hypocrite who only cares about land animals that I can better relate to. On the other hand, I made an informed choice to expand my diet – in many restaurants around Austin and Texas more generally, vegetarian options are limited – and in many others, they are utterly abysmal. I have held to my commitment in one sense, as I still have a very limited intake of animal flesh, and every time I do choose to eat fish, it is with additional thought and questioning. I feel like I made a choice that I am comfortable with in the circumstances. Whether or not I return to full vegetarianism when I return home, I don’t know yet.

But for now, having made the choice to eat seafood, I’m also trying to be as ethical about this as possible – partly because I do actually care about fish and the like, and partly, I’ll admit, to assuage the guilt I feel about eating it in the first place. So many species of fish are endangered and so many fishing practices are deeply unethical. Additionally, there is the question of farmed fish – it may seem like a solution to overfishing and poor marine stewardship practices, but it comes with a range of other environmental problems – chemical and antibiotic treatments are often given to farmed sea creatures, which then run off into the ocean as a whole and hormones are given to other species – again, washing into the ocean.

Here are some of the best resources I’ve come across to help me to make the best choices:

1) Seafood Watch – an app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. A handy way to reduce supermarket Googling.

2) The NRDC has some great pages with good info about things to look out for including how the fish is caught and the best overall choices to make.

3) The Marine Stewardship Council has a certification logo that you can look out for – it looks like this:

Whole Foods Market is one of the most reliable places to find certified fish.

4) In Australia, Sustainable Seafood also has an app for both Android and iPhone

5) Worldwide, the World Wildlife Fun provides a comprehensive listing of guides for 18 countries

If you know of any other good resources, please share them in the comments!



A tragedy for the Great Barrier Reef

I will be back with a full Food Friday post later today, but I just wanted to take a moment to share this:

From 1 Million Women. Click through for source.

Overnight, permission was given to the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dump three million tonnes of dredging sludge into the Great Barrier Reef. Three million tonnes.

I’d really encourage you all to email the PM Tony Abbott and the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to let them know that this is not ok. There are also petitions being run by GetUp!, the WWF and Greenpeace. You can find all the relevant links here.

It breaks my heart, as it should break everyone’s heart, that our values are in such a mess that we would put profit above protecting one of the most beautiful and fragile ecosystems in the world.

The transition from animal to food

“Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I know, I know…more Michael Pollan. But he sums up so many of our food ills so beautifully!

Last year, I posted about instances of animal cruelty that had occurred at a Sydney abattoir responsible for the production of pork products.  Today, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a another incidence of cruelty in an abattoir,  this time one responsible for the ‘processing’ of turkeys.  There is a video embedded in the link, but be warned that is is described as being quite graphic and disturbing (I haven’t watched myself – I really can’t bring myself to do so).

Looking beyond the immediate issue of this one abattoir whose employees have behaved in an absolutely reprehensible way, we come to two overarching questions  – how much do we really know about how animals become food, and how much do we actually care?

The increasing number of meat products in the supermarket that are labelled as ‘free range’ and/or ‘organic’ suggests that there is a sizable group of consumers who care about how animals are treated during their lives, in terms of their food, health and accommodation.  But, while we care about how they live, it seems like we’ve forgotten  about how they die.

I don’t want to detract from the fact that more people do seem to be giving more thought to the treatment of farm animals.  That’s a really, really positive sign. But it’s not enough if there is this degree of suffering taking place between paddock and table.  We need to ensure that these incidences don’t keep occurring and that the consumer can (if they choose) be informed of the full cycle of meat production.  In the case described in this report, the investigating vet has indicated that he will be recommending mandatory video monitoring at all abattoirs.  This hardly seems unreasonable – at least those who choose to eat meat can do so in some confidence that what they are consuming was treated with respect, even at the time of slaughter.

Lonesome George

Image of Lonesome George from The Guardian

Even his name breaks my heart.

And now, Lonesome George is no more.  With George’s death, the Galapagos tortoise subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni is now extinct.

Species and subspecies become extinct all the time.  It is not unnatural for species to die out – dinosaurs, anyone?  But humans have significantly increased the rate of extinction of a number of species, through hunting, habitat destruction and introduction of exotic species.  It was both hunting and the intoduction of species like goats and rats, which competed with the tortoise for edible vegetation, which led to Lonesome George’s plight. 

There are massive conservation efforts underway in the Galapagos these days, to ensure the survival of other endangered tortoise species in the region and these efforts should be applauded.  Unfortunately, these were too late for George and his family. These efforts should, however, be further extended to other critically endangered species like the Sumatran Orangutan and the Iberian Lynx.  These too, are threatened by human expansion into and destruction of  habitats, which shows no sign of slowing down, particularly with the current demand for palm oil (predominantly from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are part of the orangutan’s habitat) and the development of urban and resort environments in Spain.  The lynx and the orangutan are but two examples, but they show the way in which we need to rethink our relationship to the environment, to avoid losing enormous amounts of biodiversity and to stop other species going the same sad way as Lonesome George.

RIP George.  Let’s hope we’ve leant something from your passing.


Well, friends, as of last night uni is over for another semester.  And I have to admit that despite my passion for food/ environment issues, I will happily avoid any literature on food deserts for at least a month.  Guys, that stuff is crazy.  The more I read, the more confused I get.  There is so much uncertainty, so much controversy and so much contradiction that by the time I submitted my paper I’d just about turned myself inside out.  It’s definitely something I’d like to delve into further though – just give me a few weeks breathing space!

Today, I thought I’d share a video that I watched last night.  My friend Rodrigo linked to it on Facebook and I started watching it thinking that it was just an exceptionally well-filmed nature documentary.  It wasn’t.

It is definitely worth watching, and I think that it’s really important that lots of people do see it.  But please also be warned that it is pretty harrowing and I did sit at my desk in tears for a while (yes, I’m a sook about some things).

Please think about donating to his Kickstarter.  And also, let me know what you think.

(On a side note, I should be much more consistent with blogging for a while.  I won’t have uni again until early August and I have also just started a new job – hence the limited free time that I have won’t be absorbed by job applications – at least not for a while I hope!  I hope you’ll come back to join me again!)