A Wise Choice: Seafood at the Center of the Plate
By Barton Seaver
When you’re talking about center of the plate proteins, responsibly sourced seafood has a much better story than beef, pork, chicken and lamb on several fronts. Seafood often provides more nutrition with less fat than other animal-based proteins; leaves behind a smaller environmental imprint; and, offers a wider variety of quick-cooking dinner options for chefs and home cooks alike. Opening your mind to all types of wild-caught and responsibly farmed fish provides oceans of opportunities.
Seafood is one of the leanest and cleanest proteins cooks and eaters can get their hands on. It offers a variety of nutrients that are proven to be beneficial to both heart and brain health for young and old alike.
The USDA and HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend everyone eat two servings of seafood each week. That recommendation is backed up by several prominent health organizations including the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization. In addition to the Omega fatty acids fish is famous for, it also includes other vital nutrients optimal for overall health and wellness including selenium, iron, and vitamins B-6 and B-12. To quote the Seafood Nutrition Partnership (www.seafoodnutrition.org), a national organization pushing all Americans to eat seafood at least two times per week with its #SEAFOOD2XWK pledge, “eating seafood can boost your energy, make you feel better, and help you live longer.”
If we compare seafood with terrestrial proteins, measuring each by the environmental impacts of land-use alterations, greenhouse gas emissions, antibiotic use, freshwater use, and feed conversion ratios, seafood is often the better environmental choice. While I am by no means anti-beef or any other properly raised farm animal, our health and that of the environment depend on a diversity in our consumption of them. So I do believe that more seafood and less land-based animal protein is good for all.
When we make seafood decisions based on evaluations inclusive of the environments, cultures, and economies of maritime communities and the positive health impacts of seafood consumption, we can better appreciate its role in our food system. If we are to be a healthy society, both wild and farmed seafood must be part of our sustainable choices. In fact, farming seafood is one of the great opportunities available to expand food production, increase quality of life and health outcomes, sustain coastal communities, and restore the resiliency and productivity of our lakes and oceans.
I’ve spent a large portion of my career trying to get people more comfortable cooking seafood. I have seven books to show for that effort. But if I were asked to impart one piece of advice that makes cooking seafood easier, it would be this: pick the dish, not the fish.
Typically, when we home in on a seafood recipe we’d like to try, we walk up to the seafood counter, we say, “I need exactly this fish,” because that’s what the recipe calls for. We must reverse this order of operations. What if, instead of dictating to our fishmonger what a recipe calls for, we approached the fish counter with curiosity, knowing we might make a great discovery and find a fish that we might never have tried before? Instead of telling the fishmonger what we are willing to eat, we need to allow them to guide us to the fish we should eat. Enter into a discussion with your fishmonger about the type of fish in your recipe, and he or she will be able to tell you which fish in the case offer the same culinary qualities. For example, your fishmonger will recognize the cod in your recipe as a flaky white fish and point you to premium fresh tilapia, hake, or pollock as options that will fit the bill to great satisfaction. At the very least, we increase the odds of our going home with the best quality seafood in the case.
When we ask, “What’s the catch of the day?” we set ourselves up for success. And most importantly we begin to see the oceans, aquaculture operations, and fishery economies as dynamic systems that sustain us and inspire us as cooks, eaters and world citizens.
Barton Seaver has built an international reputation as a sustainable seafood expert and oceans advocate. He is a chef, author and speaker and the former Director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. In this role, Barton spearheads initiatives to inform consumers and institutions about how our choices for diet and menus can promote healthier people, more secure food supplies, and thriving communities.
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