Eating was once an enjoyable, relatively uncomplicated experience; the biggest dilemma was how much butter to put in the mashed potatoes. No more. In this post-Pollan, Food, Inc., locavore-aware world, your dinner plate, like it or not, is a minefield. Beyond the enduring concerns about calories, artificial ingredients, and, of course, taste, there are now a host of politically minded food anxieties. Is the chicken free-range? Is the salad from a labor-friendly farm? Was the coffee shade-grown? Sometimes it seems the future of the planet is riding on your hamburger. While it’s wise (and often delicious!) to maintain a healthy skepticism about too much food-correctness, it’s not a bad idea to do your part where you can. On the pages that follow, you’ll find seventeen foods that experts say are among the most politically problematic, from corn-fed methane-emitting cattle to trawler-caught monkfish, along with a selection of lower-impact, less guilt-inducing alternatives. Don’t want to do all that thinking (or cooking) yourself? In “Green Cuisine” you’ll find five places you can go where someone else has made your (relatively) guilt-free choices for you.
The Food: Shrimp
The issue: The finger food of the seafood world is now linked to destruction of local habitat, particularly mangroves, and high levels of pollution in Latin America and Asia, where much of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is obtained. Sustainable-seafood guru and Fish Without a Doubt co-author Rick Moonen calls modern shrimping “one of the least efficient operations ever.”
The fix: Wild-caught pink shrimp from Oregon is harvested with a more ecofriendly trawling system and is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. “Wild-caught spot prawns from Santa Barbara are also fine,” says Harbour’s executive chef, Anthony Fusco. “There are some great companies out of the Gulf that produce wonderful, never-frozen shrimp.” The Lobster Place carries fresh Gulf shrimp.
The Food: Red Snapper
The issue: Red snapper is a red flag on pretty much every marine watch list out there. It’s been overfished in the Gulf of Mexico, and the numbers continue to fall.
The fix: Gray or Hawaiian pink snapper, which, according to Fusco, fits the bill for sustainability. “These fish have very little variation from what you’re used to in a Gulf red snapper,” he says, meaning flaky flesh and medium consistency. New Zealand farmed pink snapper is available at Citarella.
The Food: Chilean Sea Bass
The issue: Chilean sea bass grow slowly and don’t reproduce until late in their lives, making them vulnerable to overfishing, and the species’ trendy popularity in recent years hasn’t helped.
The fix: Eat locally caught wild striped bass, which is particularly excellent this time of year. The Lobster Place has bass from Massachusetts; Long Island striped bass is available at Blue Moon Fish at the Greenmarket.
The Food: Tuna
The issue: Most tuna, including yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin, come from foreign waters, where overfishing is decimating the population (bluefin is now an endangered species). There are health problems, too; larger tunas’ size and long life span mean they accumulate mercury and PCBs.
The fix: Buy domestic yellowfin tuna from Hawaii (pole-caught yellowfin from the Atlantic is good, too), where populations are sustainably caught, or smaller albacore from the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia, comparatively well-run fisheries. Pole-caught yellowfin and albacore are available at the Lobster Place; local pole-caught is at the Greenmarket.
The Food: Monkfish
The issue: Monkfish is just starting to recover from years of overfishing, but the trouble doesn’t end there. It’s caught by bottom trawling, which harms the ocean floor and has high bycatch (accidental death of other marine life). “Monkfish is one of the worst,” says Fusco. “It’s slow to mature, and 70 percent goes to waste; people eat just the tail.”
The fix: Monkfish’s steaky density is what makes us love it, and that’s hard to replace. Fusco recommends farmed sturgeon from the West Coast, or silver hake. California sturgeon and North Atlantic silver hake are available at the Lobster Place; small quantities of whiting hake show up in September at Blue Moon Fish at the Greenmarket.