Seafood: Another Reason To Think Local Over Global
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import of several kinds of Chinese farm-raised seafood, including catfish, shrimp, eel and dace (a kind of carp). It is a complicated story involving restricted antibiotics, unregulated (and unsanitary) overseas fish farms, a disproportionate ratio of FDA inspectors to imported seafood (85 to 6.6 million) and a whole lot of politicking.
It is also another compelling reason to eat local.
Remember last year's big food safety imbroglio, when E. coli-contaminated spinach killed three people and sickened at least 200 others around the country? Yeah, it's hard to forget -- and have you resumed buying those prewashed bags in the supermarket? It was early fall at the time of the nationwide scare, when spinach, a cool weather crop, was coming into season along the Northeast and in the Midwest. It was also an appropriate time to reflect on buying seasonally and locally, as a way to counteract the impact of taking the lead of industrial-scale agriculture.
Now shoppers, there's imported seafood to worry about. The rub with the local angle is that unlike spinach, which can easily be grown in our own backyards, seafood is often not a local option in the purest sense. The local fish market, selling catch from nearby waters, is a dying breed, even for those who live along a coastline. Where does local fit into the seafood equation these days?
As close as you can get. The answer -- at least for now -- is by and large, to buy domestic farm-raised and wild seafood (with the exception of Atlantic farm-raised salmon). It's a lot of work, I know. Seafood shoppers need to be vigilant and ask where the stuff is coming from, but not all seafood counters carry all things. The burden is resting on us, to hunt for sustainable and safe seafood. Short of casting a net or a pole, if you like seafood, you've got pre-purchase homework to do.
Below, a handful of sources worth exploring, with an emphasis on local, regional and sustainable.
In the Washington area, Marvest Farms in Hurlock, Md. raises sustainable head-on shrimp, starting at $8 per pound, plus shipping.
The folks from Buster's Seafood in Urbanna, Va., make the drive every Sunday to sell soft-shell crabs, flounder and whatever is seasonally swimming in the York, James and Rappahannock Rivers. They set up shop at the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market.
For options with a broader geographic range, check out the nifty database compiled by Washington nonprofit Seafood Choices Alliances, which includes sources of domestic farmed and wild-caught seafood around the country. You can search by species, and you'll get a search return with contact info and Web site details.
Shrimp lovers may want to get to know the White Boot Brigade, a group of shrimp fisherman dedicated to promoting the crustaceans of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Calling themselves "a traveling shrimpers road show, hell-bent on sustainable harvests, cultural preservation and business innovation," WBB has published on its Web site a running list of recommended Louisiana shrimpers to support.
If you're traveling or perhaps looking for something new to add to your seafood repertoire, consider the following species, all doing relatively well in American waters -- Pacific lingcod, Mediterranean mussels (one terrific source is Taylor shellfish in Shelton, Wash.) Atlantic bluefish, which is experiencing a rebound and sanddab, a flatfish found in waters along the West coast. Go here for more details on these species.
And for regular updates on the Chinese seafood situation, I recommend visiting the Web site of Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group.
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