The health and well-being of our communities is directly related to the health of our oceans. This theme was a major focus of September’s Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco. The great author Wendell Berry once wrote that “how we eat determines … how the world is used.” When we engage in a food system that ignores its impact on our ecosystem, we put our environment – and ultimately, the future of our survival – at risk.
Having learned this connection between people and the planet at a young age, chef, author, and sustainable food advocate Barton Seaver spoke passionately about our need to adopt a more rational, less demanding, and more responsive and creative relationship with the seas. Speaking to the reality that there is a disproportionate desire for salmon, tuna, and tilapia in this country, Seaver says, “We have told the ocean what we would eat rather than eating what it provides. We have created this irrational economy which doesn’t allow other fish to be profitable even though they are equally good for our bodies.”
Instead of walking into the grocery store with a recipe in mind, Seaver encourages us to be more flexible with our expectations and purchase what is available, fresh and within our budget. “In doing so,” he says, “We shift the economy from being a demand-based economy to being a supply-based economy. When we are willing to take from the ocean what it provides, then we can create a product that allows us to invest in systemically sustainable relationships with our natural resources.”
Increasing demand for fish has turned many retailers to cheaply produced commodity farmed salmon. Unknowingly, many fish eaters are subsidizing aquaculture practices that produce fish that raise health concerns and contribute to environmental pollution. Salmon farming involves crowded pen conditions, large amounts of waste that often ends up in local waters, and an ideal breeding ground for disease that can be transferred to native wild fish populations. Commenting on these short-sighted efforts, Seaver says, “Anytime a system is set up to cut corners, it creates a recipe for disaster.”
Seaver is enthusiastic about integrating farmed fish into our diets from a health perspective, but warns that our health cannot come at the expense of our oceans. “In an era of globally declining natural resources, it’s irresponsible for both producers and consumers to place the goal of cheaply farmed fish above responsible stewardship of our oceans.”