Thursday, November 8, 2012

Seafood Lovers take heed!

A sqid and chorizo salad I whipped up last spring. For recipe, click here.

I have blogged quite a bit in the past about the state of our oceans, and specifically, the animals that inhabit them. There is no sense delving too deeply into the issues for which I have spent many a moment upon a soapbox. On a personal level, I have made signficant inroads in my own approach to cooking and eating aquatic life; moving more towards local fresh water alternatives, eating well-managed domesticated shell fish and patronizing purveyors of sustainable fish. Other than a wonderful grilled sea bass sometime in the middle of summer, I have eaten very little ocean fish. Instead I have been feasting on the animals that lurk in our fresh water lakes; trout, pickerel, white fish and even tiny yellow perch - a surprising little treat that has hitherto been unavailable in local Toronto fish markets (thanks be to Hooked Inc. ).

Nevertheless, I don't want to give up on the ocean and its briny bounty. Seafood is a truly sublime element of all good gastronomy and we would be so much poorer without it. Perhaps the fact that it is in trouble makes it all the more special.

Totally used without permission.
As has been the case with the "organic versus local" or "grass-fed versus grain-fed" debates, the consumer is often faced with a dizzying and often contradictory group of people tsk-tsking their food purchasing decisions. Seafood is certainly among these categories. Our oceans are stirring up culinary controversy on an almost regular basis: shark fins, fish farms, deep water trawlers, discard policies, the cod fishery collapse and so on. Somebody who wants to enjoy fish and chips shouldn't be held accountable for an extinction event..should they? Well, this is where are friends at Oceanwise come in.

Oceanwise is a conservation program based out of the Vancouver Aquarium. They are made up of honest-to-goodness scientists, marine biologists and other knowledgeable folks who work in partnership with restaurants, grocery stores and the like to educate and help protect our oceans, and more importantly, our delicious, yet dwindling seafood. To make things easier for consumers, Oceanwise has developed a program in which it places their logo on labels of ocean products that adhere to their standards. It's pretty simple, really. They have also developed a terribly useful mobile phone app for diners in restaurants who can't tell the difference between a Chilian Sea Bass (threatened) or a North Atlantic Black Sea Bass (reasonably well-managed). 

Can I become a perfect seafood consumer? Well, there's no sense getting evangelical. Oceanwise is a guide, not a law. For example, I have blogged in the past about Faroe Island Salmon, specifcally from the company Hidden Fjord. I quite like this product. It's tasty and I have bought into their concept.  Considering how horrific salmon farming 'can' be, Hidden Fjord's overall methodology certainly lends some credence to their claims of sustainability. However, Oceanwise rightly cautions against the use of all open pen salmon farming. There are many, many draw backs to this type of aquaculture.  Despite being very well-thought out, Faroe Island salmon is still open pen and must be approached with caution. This is what Oceanwise is trying to do - to make you put a little thought into seafood consumumption - maybe to look it up once in a while. And for that, they are a most necessary voice in a sea of confusion.

I have my usual altruistic reasons for bringing up Oceanwise, but I also have a slightly more self-motivated reason for mentioning them. That being, I will be present as a local food blogger and writer at the Oceanwise Chowder Chowdown at the Royal York Hotel on November 21st. There are still some tickets available for those who want to check out a very interesting evening indeed. Some of Toronto's hottest chefs are going to be battling it out to become the Chowder champion of the world...or at least Toronto. Please come and join us for an event that will both raise your consciousness as well as provide you with some right proper tucker.  

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