Ecocentric

Eat Seafood. A Little Bit. And Mostly Plants.

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I met Barton Seaver about a year ago, on a TED expedition to the Galapagos Islands. We were there as part of oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s TED wish—she had brought scientists, celebrities, financiers and a few writers on board a National Geographic ship to talk about the best ways to protect the world’s oceans. During the day passengers would give TED-style presentations on their area of expertise, in between scuba diving and snorkeling around the Galapagos. Ocean scientist Jeremy Jackson talked about the sheer amount of destruction we’ve wrought on the ocean, while National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry described his work shooting the depths. I know—it’s a difficult life.

Seaver, though, probably had the hardest task. A Washington-based chef, Seaver was going to address sustainable seafood—how to eat fish without emptying the oceans. The only problem is that Earle—the host of the voyage and the doyenne of ocean explorers—is of the opinion that the oceans are in such bad shape that people should eat essentially no seafood whatsoever. (As Earle told me last year, when I was writing about her work, “I don’t eat my diving buddies.) But Seaver pressed on, telling the TED audience that we should be eating seafood—but that it should complement, not overwhelm, vegetables. (It’s a bit like Michael Pollan’s dictum that we should: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) Here’s video of Seaver’s talk:

I think Seaver is onto something with his seafood philosophy, which he expounds in a new cookbook called For Cod and Country. Our seafood crisis is partially due to the fact that Americans especially tend to eat only a few kinds of fish: cod, salmon, tuna and shrimp, especially. So Seaver wants us to broaden our aquatic palettes, eating lesser-known seafood that’s tasty and less threatened. Think sardines and anchovies—small, oily fish that are good for you, and which can be harvested from the ocean sustainably. “Eating smaller on the food chain in terms of marine life is a great way to participate sustainably in seafood,” Seaver told me.

Seaver also suggests putting seafood—or any protein on the plate—in its right place. Instead of making meat or fish the focal point of a dish, with veggies on the side, he tries to swap the formula. (Given that barely a quarter of American adults eat vegetables three or more times a day—the minimum suggestion by the government—most of us could stand to make a change.) “What we could be doing is eating less seafood, but more often,” Seaver says. “Think four to five ounce servings, along with plenty of vegetables.” It’s about giving fish their proper place of respect on the plate—something chefs, fishermen, eaters and even Sylvia Earle should be able to agree on.

Seaver is part of a new generation of chefs who consider sustainability an ingredient that can’t be forgotten in their food. Check out For Cod and Country—and think about eating less seafood, more often.

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