By Ana Kinkaid
No topic is discussed more frequently at culinary conferences than the subject of sustainability. And while popular TV series, such as Portlandia, find the topic a subject of humor, sustainability is in truth no laughing matter, and today’s chef knows that.
Sustainability is the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything needed for the ecosystem to remain in balance. When modern life creates excessive demands or consumes a single source exclusively, the precious balance of our planet is distorted and its existence threatened.
Sustainability is vital, because without it we cannot maintain a supportive planet in the face of exploding population numbers and declining arable land acreage. Yet even with vast improvements in land management, the amount of field- and orchard-produced food will not be enough to feed the waiting world.
The bounty of the sea can supply the critical difference IF it is harvested correctly and sustainability is successfully addressed. But HOW can one know which seafood is sustainable when the product lives beneath the waves and is harvested from waters both near and far?
Seafood Watch is a program designed to raise awareness both for consumers and chefs about the importance of buying and serving seafood from sustainable sources. It is best known for publishing consumer guides for responsible seafood purchasing in the United States, and the Seafood Watch app identifies restaurants and markets in your current location that purchase and serve only seafood rated as sustainable.
The organization’s recommendations rank seafood by “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative,” or “Avoid.” The “Avoid” category is for seafood that is overfished or fished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. Health alerts for fish with high levels of contaminants (e.g., mercury, dioxins, PCBs) are also noted, although they may appear in any category.
In 2010, Seafood Watch added a “Super Green” category, which features seafood that it is good for human health and does not harm the oceans. The Super Green list highlights products that are currently on the Seafood Watch “Best Choices” list, low in environmental contaminants and good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Chefs whose restaurants partner with Seafood Watch receive benefits to help promote awareness of seafood sustainability, such as use of the Seafood Watch brand logo, educational tools and resources to inform the restaurant staff and customers about seafood sustainability, recognition on the Monterey Bay website, app and social media, and other benefits that can be found here.
Additionally, companies like Taylor Shellfish Farms, the largest producer of farmed shellfish in North America, seek out even further sustainable seafood identification through programs such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
Indeed, this 125-year-old family-owned company is proud to be the first U.S. shellfish grower to achieve responsible aquaculture certification for their farming operations in Washington State where they grow and harvest oysters, clams, mussels and geoduck.
This is important because the ASC aims to transform the aquaculture industry through a global certification and labelling program with a focus on good management practices, including the conservation and quality of water resources. Their certification system meets international codes of good conduct, including FAO Guidelines for eco-labelling and ISEAL Standard Setting Codes.
Today chefs are able to match their support of sustainable land sources with equally sustainable products from under the sea with the aid of organizations such as Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) program. Surely that is a reason to celebrate and to be proud of the vital role you as a culinary professional can actually play to protect and preserve a healthy planet while making your guests part of a very flavorful future!
Ana Kinkaid brings 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry to her writing. As a world traveler, nothing delights her more than discovering an innovative restaurant or a unique ingredient. Ana is a consultant to leading food companies and also speaks at major culinary conferences, often linking past culinary traditions to current and future trends. Her areas of expertise include culinary history, ethnic foods, terroir, wines and cocktails, as well as sustainable development within the food industry.