— LET INGA TELL YOU:
Never has eating been less fun.
It truly seems there is nothing that’s good for you anymore. Well, except veggies. But even those have to be locally sourced and grown in loamy soil enlaced with deliriously happy worms. I was discouraged to read recently that those pricey organic veggies that aren’t locally grown lose a lot of their nutrients in the days it takes them to be trucked to your local market.
But still I keep trying, because, well, you have to eat SOMETHING. I know: you’re going to say “everything in moderation.” Save it. Moderation, I read, is so last year. If it’s bad for you, you shouldn’t even be eating it in moderation.
I always vowed I was not going to be one of the annoying dinner guests who presented the hosts with a list of their dietary taboos. The hostess would make them a special meal of their own then watch them, after a few glasses of wine (which was theoretically on their taboo list as well) eat all the sourdough bread and chocolate-covered strawberries that they had alleged they don’t eat. Trust me; I’ve BEEN to that dinner party.
In recent years, I’ve found myself eating less and less beef, pork and chicken after reading too many articles about the treatment of these poor creatures up to, and especially at, the time of their demise. But if served it at someone’s house, I’m eating it — guilt-free. Sorry, Bossy, they bought it, I didn’t.
Fortunately for Olof and me, we both really like fish. But that’s become increasingly problematical and we’re not just talking mercury here. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a free Seafood Watch app which is also in a purse-ready print-out version for those of us so techno-disabled that by the time we managed to find the app on our phone, the store would be closed.
The app has three lists: Best Choices, Good Alternatives, and Avoid, based on sustainability, wild vs. farmed, how the fish are caught, etc.
Best Choices, for example, includes salmon from Alaska or New Zealand. Would that my local supermarket, until recently, had any idea where their fish were from. To be fair, probably nothing has ruined their lives more than 2,000 newly-aquaculturally-aware La Jolla housewives wanting to know the country of origin and native language of every ectotherm in the case. If the housewife thinks it died happily, who cares? Increasingly, the country of origin is listed on the pricetag. Now all you have to do is remember whether that country is a Good Choice or not. Local markets carry plenty of farmed Atlantic salmon, which is on Monterey’s Avoid List.
As I’ve stopped cooking much beef, pork, and chicken, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn how to expand my ichthyological horizons, learning recipes for fish I hadn’t eaten much of before, like tilapia. But when I went into a (not La Jolla) fish market recently and asked for tilapia, the counter guy was personally offended. “Ma’am,” he said tersely, as if I had just suggested his mother had syphilis, “we do not carry tilapia in this store and you shouldn’t be buying it either!” He went on to tell me in great detail that tilapia are used to clean farmed salmon tanks, living primarily off salmon poop. (No idea if this is true.) Did I want to be eating salmon poop? And speaking of farmed fish, I should never buy that either. The poor fish are highly stressed, crammed into way-too-small tanks, pooping away, and fed a diet I didn’t want to know about, but which he gratuitously informed me anyway included byproducts from poultry processing such as feathers, necks and intestines.
Yum-mo! Seconds, anyone? This fish market itself sold troll-caught (it had a fighting chance?) wild salmon, $45 a pound. Olof and I discussed this that night over dinner, which, incidentally, was a vegetarian pizza from Pizza on Pearl. (I mention this so they can send the fish market a thank you note.) While we genuinely do not want to cause fish a stressful life (I’m serious here), having to worry specifically about how it was caught, in addition to its native language and early education, is starting to seem like a lot of work.
For farmed fish, the Monterey app says that the label should indicate whether the fish were raised without hormones or genetically-modified plants, and lived in low-density tanks not treated with synthetic herbicides. I can see the Von’s seafood manager becoming suicidal.
As with all things health-wise these days, there is no agreement. Although the fish market I went into insists I shouldn’t eat tilapia from anywhere, the Monterey Bay Aquarium list says I can eat tilapia from Canada, Ecuador and the United States. Now the only issue is trying to erase the images of my dinner eating salmon poop and chicken doots.
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org