Saturday, June 21, 2008
Review - Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe
Taras Grescoe is a seafood lover. He is a piscatarian - he has eliminated meat an poultry from his diet, which means he pretty much eats seafood every day. He has also become increasingly concerned about the increasing reports that some seafood can be dangerous to your health, and the methods of harvesting seafood can be extremely dangerous to the global enviroment. So, Grescoe decides to find out for himself - he embarks on a world tour, talking to fish catchers, fish farmers, fish sellers, fish cookers, fish eaters, fish suppliers, and fish lovers from all points of the globe. He eats some pretty amazing meals, and comes away with a different perspective on eating seafood.
This book was fascinating. I live in Iowa, where we don't have a huge variety of native seafood, so much of the information in the book was completely new to me. Grescoe explains some of the reasons many fisheries are nearing collapse - overfishing, bad methods of fishing, and fish farming have resulted in a large number of fish that are on the verge of being commercially extinct. He also explains that many famous chefs, by continuing to insist on offering these nearly extinct fish on their menus, are contributing to the demand for them worldwide, leading to more bad fishing methods and overfishing.
He explains the concept of trophic levels, which is the number assigned to every living thing on earth based on what they consume. Phytoplankton are given a 1, and a human is given a 5. He then shows that fish at the highest trophic levels - tuna, cod, Chilean sea bass, shark - are the ones that are most often overfished, and often contain the most contaminants. He then presents the concept of bottomfeeding - eating the fish at lower trophic levels, such as halibut, mackerel, oysters, and trout. These fish have fewer contaminants, making them healthier for us, and are generally harvested in sustainable ways, making them healthier for the environment as well. At the end of the book, he offers several pages of resources designed to assist consumers in making more ethical seafood choices.
Grescoe's book is not only interesting, but incredibly entertaining. He does a great job of bringing the many characters he meets on his travels to life. His ability to capture the flavor of the meal he is eating made it easy to put myself in his place. I also appreciated his honesty about many of the internal struggles he experienced - wanting to eat something delicious, but knowing the dangerous or unethical way it was harvested. It is rare to enjoy reading a book that teaches me so much, but this book offered both entertainment and enlightenment, and I am very glad I was able to read it.
Source: ARC from Bloomsbury USA