Friday, December 12, 2008

What's Up With the Seafood Watch?

(Mackerel photo by Amy Groark, kindly shared via a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License.)

If anybody is actually reading this on a regular basis, you might have noticed that I'm adding Seafood Watch ratings to my seafood recipes. I decided to do this after seeing some discussion on sustainable fish choices in some of the comments on Beyond Salmon, home of my sometimes-teacher and blogging role model Helen Rennie (aka, The Fish Queen).

I'm trying to live by the the idea that every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in*. The money we spend on food is one area where we have the most access to alternatives, and where our choices have the most impact.

Each of us has to decide:

Which issues are important to us:
- ecology
- local vs. global economies
- food security
- animal treatment
- health & safety
- tradition
- social justice / fair trade
- etc.

How we should support those values:
- giving up a food vs. eating less of it
- changing our consumption of specific foods vs. focusing our attention on how they're produced, where, and by whom
- opting out of something entirely vs. using our dollar votes and voices to influence how it's made, sold, etc.
- which businesses (both manufacturers and retailers) we should support

How strictly we want to adhere to those choices:
- religiously
- carefully
- whenever practical
- more often than not
- better than we used to (i.e., the baby steps approach)

I strongly believe that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Nobody can decide for you, and nobody else should.

Not that it's wrong to put forward an argument for your own position. But nobody else is qualified to analyze your values and personal situation and decide what's right for you. And anyone who claims that there is only one right way has something to gain by having you adopt that way**.

Making a conscious decision on how to spend your food dollars takes a lot of research. But don't let that scare you off! Learning where your food comes from and how it's produced is empowering; it means that your choices are really your choices. Here are a few topics you might want to read about:
- conventional vs. organic production (and certified organic vs. not certified but meeting many or all requirements)
- pastured vs. grain-fed/industrial animal products
- local vs. non-local production (i.e., "food miles")
- monocultures and biodiversity
- social justice in the production and distribution of food
- globalization

After you educate yourself on these topics and examine your values, most of the decisions you make are going to be pretty straight-forward. They may not be easy or convenient, but they'll be pretty easy to formulate, ex: "I'm going to start buying fair trade coffee".

However, when it comes to choosing seafood, things gets more complicated. The impact your seafood purchases depends on the species, how it's fished, and where it comes from. And that means that you have to make a LOT more choices than just conventional eggs vs. cage-free.

So, in the interests of helping you make informed decisions about voting with your food dollars, I'm going to be posting the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch ratings for any seafood dishes I post. That rating assumes that the reader is buying their seafood in the US. Those of you in other countries may want to consult one of the buying guides from The Seafood Choices Alliance.

Now, I would like to make two things clear:

1) I am posting the ratings as an informational tool, not to imply what you "should" be doing. The choice is yours. I'm not going to judge you for making choices different from mine, and I'm not going to give you any brownie points for making more extreme choices than I do.

Anyone who educates themselves on the issues and makes an informed, honest choice based on their own values and circumstances has my respect, no matter where that choice falls on the spectrum.

2) This blog is NOT the place to debate issues of what people should eat, whether for health or ethical reasons. By all means, have that discussion, but take it to another venue.

* that's the subtitle of The Better World Shopping Guide. We received it as a housewarming gift from our awesome real estate agent, Ken Sazama, and I highly recommend them both.

** a quote from Shakira (a dancer in Illinois, not the Columbian singer)

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