Sunday, November 28, 2010

Politically correct fish and Powell's Law

"...good thing there's no fish..."

Did I hear that right? I'm with a group of seafood experts having dinner, and someone's glad there are no fish on the menu? Asking around the table, the feeling is mostly shared, I'm the only oddball who wants seafood.

This is sustainable seafood gone too far. Something's wrong when some of the world's experts on seafood sustainability don't want seafood on the menu in front of them.

So I'm ready to offer Powell's law:

Enthusiasm for (sea)food should increase with knowledge.

Isn't it obvious? Learning more about your dinner should make dinner better. And for seafood in particular, a bit of knowledge about seafood should make you eager to order fish for dinner.

Otherwise, why bother? Will you listen to a story about sustainable seafood if the message is to eat chicken instead? If learning about bad fishing methods makes you turn past seafood in the menu, will you really make the effort to learn about the impacts of bottom trawling?

Of course it does make sense to smother seafood in guilt if the real reason for explaining catch methods is to scare people away from seafood.

But most sustainable seafood advocates say they want you to choose the best seafood, right after a sermon about how our oceans are in trouble and your appetite is to blame.

Knowledge about fish and how they're caught ought to make you a happier, more enthusiastic seafood consumer. This doesn't mean you have to like every item. Learning the facts about grouper fishing in Southeast Asia may turn you away from grouper caught by dynamiting coral reefs. But enthusiasm should go up when you learn more about seafood or there's no reason to make the effort.

Regarding food correctness used as a weapon Peter Meehan offered these thoughts after getting lectured about buying grain-fed beef:
And I’m left to wonder: Is all this righteousness going in the right direction? Or will the snake eventually eat its own tail? What originally drew me to so many of these better-practice/better-flavor foodstuffs was the joy, the passion behind them. What I’m worried about is that as the food thing gets trendier and trendier, at some point the know-it-alls will scare off the casually interested. Maybe even their fellow foot soldiers. Is that sustainable?
And as Navneet Alang blogs at Scrawled in Wax, food correctness can become a kind of achievement badge:
At times, this is about the the personal political: the small choices we make in consumption and behaviour that mark out a kind of political choice in how we engage with the world. At others, however, it turns into a game of one-upmanship, peer-pressure and self-righteousness, those bugbears that have always been the dark, rotting underbelly of the left. Food becomes another kind of marker of an activist consciousness, in part perhaps, because it is one that can be performed through consumption. There is no better anti-capitalism than the one you can display through purchasing.
The "dark, rotting underbelly of the left?" Food-ism as a way to feel superior? Are things really this bad?

Sarah Palin has an answer, a celebration of salmon slaughter that is unabashedly put forward as a challenge to the left. From SarahPalinUSA (her twitter account): "Tomorrow-"Sarah Palin's Alaska" we slay salmon. A bunch of 'em. (Watch the Left's reaction to that, if harvesting halibut freaked them out!)"

If we're going after Sarah Palin for catching Alaska halibut and salmon in Bristol Bay, then we may have a problem. Since when is it a problem to catch a lot of fish from sustainable fisheries?

So while Sarah Palin is celebrating sustainable fish, compare this blog post from a Greenpeace sustainable tuna campaigner who asks where to find a good vegan dinner in Paris. And ask yourself who's capturing the hearts and minds of the seafood-loving public?


Calmac said...

The only problem is that Bristol Bay and other Pacific salmon fisheries are not sustainable. That is why Alaska has to supplement stocks with farm raised fish. The problem doesn't stop there as the excessive numbers of fish released from these hatcheries deplete the natural food reserves found at sea. This is not sustainability. It would make more sense to retain the hatchery fish and grow them through to harvest size. This would reduce the fishing pressure on wild stocks and increase their sustainability. Unfortunately,the environmental movement would prefer to restrict aquaculture thereby increasing the fishing pressure on wild stocks.

ElOceanografo said...

I had a similar experience talking to a friend a few years ago. She was very surprised to learn that I eat fish (with gusto!) given my choice of career as a marine scientist/conservationist. Many marine animals are in trouble, but not all of them are, and we have as much of a right to eat these in moderation as any other predator does. Eating fish provides a powerful connection to the ocean, and informing yourself about seafood gives that connection an ethical dimension. This is about feeding yourself as well as you can, and taking responsibility for the impact of your choices on the rest of the world. It is not a quest for personal purity.

Anonymous said...

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