Friday, February 03, 2006
a guide to somewhat less guilty eating...
Most people know that factory farms are not good for animals or for the environment. The animals are treated pretty cruelly. Chicken, cow, and pig farms are some of the biggest water polluters in the country--millions of tons of feces flow into our water supplies from these guys. And of course, all of these animals are pumped full of antibiotics and steroids to make them grow bigger and meatier faster and to keep them from getting sick in the adverse condition of living in their own feces.
So, I thought to myself, “Self. Fish probably aren’t that bad. I mean, it’s not very friendly to catch a fish and then let it die through asphyxiation, but it can’t be as bad for the environment.”
Boy, was I wrong. Different fish are caught/trapped/farmed in different ways, some of which are very detrimental to the environment. One of the worst examples I can think of at this moment is imported shrimp. For every pound of shrimp, 3 pounds of unneeded fish are caught and thrown back into the ocean, usually after they are dead. This is causing the endangerment of certain species as well as pollution from the underwater mountains of dead fish (U.S. shrimp is farm-raised, and though not stellar environmentally, it doesn’t have this bycatch problem). Some fishing companies use equipment that digs up the ocean floor for their catch, destroying habitat. And some fishing companies continue to fish for species that are quickly becoming endangered, though they are not on an official list yet.
This is all pretty daunting and depressing, especially for an environmentalist and animal-lover (I was a vegetarian for 11 years because I don’t like the idea of killing animals, for pete’s sake!). But I have now found several websites of organizations that research and monitor fishing companies and provide information about what is and isn’t ocean-friendly. The most comprehensive and informative that I’ve found is the Blue Ocean Institute. Their guide to which fish are okay to eat (from an environmental standpoint) and which are not has been a great help to me, because it is often such a confusing subject.
For instance, it is not environmentally friendly to eat Atlantic salmon, which is farmed. These fish are raised in netted pens, so their waste flows out and pollutes the surrounding waters. Wild Alaskan salmon, on the other hand, are one of the most environmentally friendly fish to eat. Another example: using long-lines to catch mahi mahi often kills seabirds and sea turtles as well, while pole- or troll-catching methods do little damage to habitat and don’t result in bycatch.
This list has helped Rick and me decide what fish to eat, but there is still a lot of work and a lot of doubt involved with each purchase. We have never seen a label on a package of mahi mahi regarding whether the fish was long-line or pole-caught. And it’s hard to remember when you popped in to the grocery store whether Atlantic or Pacific halibut is the good one. Over the years, I’ve realized that it will always be hard to eat in an environmentally friendly way. Just as a person can never be 100% vegetarian (since companies sneak the weirdest animal parts into foods--cow bones in Jello being one of the more well-known examples), a person will never eat 100% environmentally friendly, either. Still, it’s worth the effort. Please check out the Blue Ocean Institute’s list if any of this interests you.
I’m still looking into health benefits of fish, how often it’s recommended to eat it, etc. etc. So I’ll probably post another long-ass essay about that when I figure it all out—feel free to let your eyes glaze over and hit “Next Blog” if I bore you to death. Writing all this out helps me figure out what I think about this whole new part of my life, so it probably isn’t interesting to too many other people!
This I can tell you right now: if you eat the beer-batter-fried fish at Kilkenny’s in Tulsa (which I hear is very, very good), you will cancel out any health benefits you may have received!
Good post, knitta. Very informative!