Monday, April 9, 2012

Aquariums Make Me Hungry...

I made sure not to deprive myself during my locavore challenge last year, and I made sure to eat healthy - even if that meant buying food that wasn't local, but there certainly were things that I missed.  Even though my year is over, I will still be getting most of my food locally.  Meat, cheese, vegetables, and fruit.  They're all better when purchased fresh and locally.

But there are things that will be finding their way back into my diet fairly quickly.

The things I rushed out to buy were:

1. Nuts and dried fruit to make trail mix
2. Oranges
3. Fish

The trail mix is now sitting on my desk at work.  Nuts are good for you, and while there are a few that grow in Wisconsin, my favorites prefer the warmer weather.  The oranges were gone pretty quickly, and I'm sure I'll get at least one more bag in before the spring fruit starts showing up.

But the fish... oh, the fish...

I grew up on basically a Mediterranean diet,  before "The Mediterranean Diet" was a thing.  Seafood and poultry, pasta, bread, olive oil... lots of fruit and vegetables.  This was how I ate as a child, and how I continued to eat.  A lot of this, I'm sure, is due to the fact that I never thought I liked red meat.  Even since learning the joys of beef, buffalo, and pork (my god, not five years ago I would have told you I didn't really like pork... what was wrong with me!), though, I generally would prefer poultry or seafood.

So limiting my seafood over the past year was really hard.

Really, really hard.

There are local seafood options.  Rainbow trout through Rushing Waters, and trout, tilapia, and blue gill (that's new!) from Sweet Water Organics.  Both are good choices.  But that's still only options for small, flaky whitefish.  Nothing firm, nothing too big.  No fish boil - a Wisconsin classic.  No whole fish baked in salt.  Really not even anything I would want to grill - I'd be too afraid of the small pieces falling through the grate and being lost!

I also allowed myself salmon (Wild Alaskan only), and mussels, because they're both on the "Super Green" list, and because they're two of my favorites.  Still, though.  Not a lot compared to the variety I was used to.

So I had a happy heart and a skip in my step when I went to my favorite seafood place on March 22nd. 

I'm not going to name them by name, because I'm not ready to throw them under the bus, but it was not a happy experience.

They had the mussels, and they had the salmon, but pretty much everything else was on the Monterey Bay "Avoid" list.  Grouper, Halibut, Mahi Mahi, Red Snapper, Chilean Seabass (I didn't even need to look that one up.)  And then there was something called Escolar, with "white tuna" in parenthesis after it.  That wasn't on the Monterey Bay list at all - good bad or otherwise - but when I googled it I got all of these warnings to avoid it at all costs, because it causes explosive diarrhea.  That's a whole different kind of avoid list.

I don't know what changed.  I don't think they were this bad a year ago.  Maybe I wasn't checking hard enough. Maybe I just caught them on a bad day.  I called and asked them why they were serving so many fish off of the "avoid list," and was told I would get a call back... but didn't.  I'm not very pushy, to be fair.  I wouldn't make a good investigative journalist.

The Monterey Bay Seafood list provides comment cards that you can leave, asking why a restaurant is serving fish off of the avoid list, so I think I'll print some of those out and drop them off.  Passive, I know.

So I left and went to Outpost.  They don't have a large selection of seafood there; it's mostly the rainbow trout, tilapia, and salmon that I was excited to get away from.  But they also had sole.  I checked, Pacific Sole is a "Good Alternative."  So, that's good enough for me.  They had two choices: regular filets of sole, and then those same filets rolled around a crab filling and topped with some sort of red bread crumbs.  The crab was tempting, but the bread crumbs were not a color food should be (okay, they were probably paprika-ed, which is fine), and I figured I could do just as well on my own.  A quick check of the internet on my phone (I spend a lot of time staring at my phone in grocery stores.  I'm pretty sure that passers-by think I'm addicted to the Facebook... which is also true...) told me that stuffed was the correct way to cook sole, and I saw a recipe for feta spinach stuffed sole, both of which I had in the fridge.

I would love for this sad story to end happily with a picture and a recipe.  Unfortunately, I should have gone with the scary red breadcrumbs, because what I made was not food.  Even the cats did not want to eat it.  That is a bad sign.  I don't know what happened, but the whole thing just fell apart and turned into some fishy baby food mush nasty.  Jeff tried to eat it to be nice, but it was not good.  I'm not a quitter, though, so I will give sole another try.  Probably when I'm home alone and there's no one to be disappointed but me.

The good news, though, is that the very next day in the newspaper, there was an article about Whole Foods.  Starting Earth Day (April 22nd), Whole Foods will only be carrying seafood that is decreed "sustainable" by the Blue Ocean Institute, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Greenpeace.  There will also be ratings available from the Marine Stewardship Council.  The Blue Ocean Institute sees seems to be about the same as Monterey Bay, but with five ratings instead of only three. They also seem to have more species rated, which is nice, but I couldn't find an iPhone app, which is annoying. I did check, and they also don't recognize escolar as a food.  The Marine Stewardship Council has a similar rating system as well, but also allows fisheries to get certified.  I'm not usually all about the certification, because it generally costs too much money for small businesses.  They also do not recognize escolar... thus proving that it is not a food product.

So, way to be Whole Foods.  Next, can you please label your products that contain GMOs?

I like it when organizations take a stand.  It's nice to know they believe in something in addition to profits.  And, I'm a realist here.  And a free market capitalist.  I think that doing something like this can really help Whole Foods make money.  For example, I'm now pretty much shopping at Whole Foods exclusively for my seafood.  Which means they can probably get away with charging a little bit more.  The fact that I know I'll be able to find sustainable seafood, and that I won't have to be the loser in the store doing research on my phone, is something I'm willing to pay a bit of a premium for.  Also, lets be honest, I can't go to Whole Foods without walking through the wine/cheese departments.  And you've got to walk past all those pretty fruits and vegetables to get to the seafood.  They're getting people in the store.  It's a good deal.  I'm surprised Whole Foods isn't promoting it more.

And, if more stores would behave in this way, it would be a lot harder for fisheries to sell those "avoid" fish.  Even if they were labeled.  Are you going to buy something with a big red "Avoid" label on it?  I feel the same way about GMOs.  Don't ban them, just let the consumer know what they're eating.

But, as they say, "Caveat Emptor" (Buyer Beware). It's your job, as the consumer, to know what you're consuming.  And, in this day and age, it's not that hard to be informed - as long as you're not embarrassed to look like you're madly texting in the grocery store.  I recommend you check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Center for Food Safety, and the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.  All three have apps that you can download for your smartphone, that can help you make the informed choices that labeling doesn't need to tell us.

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