Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish, Eat Fish, Go Fish

I have been reading Paul Greenberg's book "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food."

It's an easy and interesting read even if you have read Mark Kurlansky's very excellent book "Cod," which is also an easy and interesting read.

Mark Kurlansky focuses on the impact of one fish, the Cod, on human history and then on our impact on its viability as a species. The publishing industry apparently refers to this kind of book as a microhistory.

"Four Fish" takes a look at Salmon, Sea Bass, Cod, and Tuna. These fish that we know and love are presented as case studies to suggest that there is something wrong with the health of our oceans, something wrong with how we relate to the ocean.

These fish that we love to eat are not doing so well. The news is not good for delicious fish.

I fear that we as a species do not scale well. The more of us there are - doing the things that we humans like to do - the tougher it gets for everything else that lives to do the things that they like to do. It's hard to say whether any species actually scales well. In any given situation perhaps a living thing takes advantage of its opportunities up to the point where there is push back to keep it in check. And for now, fish are not pushing back, they are disappearing. We are eating them out of the ocean.

How do we know that we are the cause? Because when we stop catching and eating them for long periods of time, at least some types of fish increase their numbers again.

What can we do. We are hungry. Even when we are stomachs are full and we are not physically hungry, our appetites are insatiable. We crave in our heads, our hearts, our souls. We not only demonstrate this in our personal actions and decisions but also collectively in our social groups, social structures, jobs, markets, companies, kingdoms, social, political and legal entities, the technologies that we invent to help us feed that appetite faster and more efficiently for more of us.

We are so hungry.

When I finished reading "Cod," I wanted nothing so desperately as a Filet 'o Fish sandwich from McDonalds. I waited two whole week after finishing the book before I broke down and got one. I am craving one now as I type this.

Reading "Four Fish" I want nothing more than to try bluefin tuna carapaccio. Maybe get sushi.

Just this once. I am one person. How bad could it be? Just this once.

I went to dinner with AM and some friends to this delightful sushi place, one of whom was a gorgeous, tall, very dour girl who asked the waitress if they served sustainable fish. The waitress was doubtful. GTVD Girl had a card with her that she handed to the waitress listing endangered fish. Unsure of the eco-quotient of the fish at the establishment, she ordered a piece of land animal while the rest of us heartily tucked into platters of sushi delights.

I mock her but I also admire her fortitude.

We were just three people, that one time. How bad could it be? Just this once.

And I love a fish taco. I had a delicious one today at Cabrito. Amazing.

Dan Barber (who is amazing) has given this questions some thought as well. His conclusion has been that is it bad, that the answer is to accept no less than sustainable sources for fish as food. Unlike the GTVD girl, he does so with passion and love for flavor and food and joy. He is the Epicurean to her Puritan but the end point is shared.

I wish he had named the fish he fell in love with.

Near as I can tell, Paul Greenberg seems to think that Tilapia, Barramundi, and the Pangasius fishes are the way to go - from a farmed fish point of view.

I suspect that Dan Barber is talking about another fish altogether. Perhaps I will have to save my pennies and visit his restaurant and find out for myself.

In the meantime, back to the book about four fish.

Perhaps I will get lessons on being very dour about the fate of our oceans. Practice my culinary Puritanism. Or find a sustainable fish and fall in love.

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