Bottomfeeder: How To Eat Ethically In A World Of Vanishing Seafood

Last month I saw the author of Bottomfeeder, Taras Grescoe, speak at Book Passages in the Ferry Building. Me and seven other people. Three were his friends. It was admittedly an unseasonably warm evening but I expected a higher turn out.

Taras is a young man, almost shy, to the point I didn't buy the book. His hesitation became my own. He was solid in the content of the book but a salesperson he's not. Which is too bad because his book is a winner. After reading it from the library, I'm sold.

Bottomfeeder is to seafood what Omnivore's Dilemma is to corn, what Uncertain Peril is to the seed. This book is a top of the list read for anyone with an appetite for fish and half a conscious to eat responsibly.

Part travelogue, part food memoir, part wake up call to the state of global fish stocks, Taras begins his journey of seafood in NYC exploring fish on the menus of four star restaurants. He travels to the fish markets of Japan for an investigation of blue fin tuna, to Marseilles for bouillabaisse and with many stops in between ends in Nova Scotia at a factory for fishsticks. In each place he eats the local catch, explores the history, traditions and present day wild stocks of seafood. And he interacts with salty characters on every shore.

Following him down to the waterfront, I watched him strip to his trunks, don flippers and a snorkel mask, and swim a few yards out to his racks of oysters..... Emerging from the water, he bade me follow him into a stone toolshed, where he responded to all my questions while standing unselfconsciously naked. (He explained that it is healthier to let the breeze dry one off after swimming.)

Each chapter puts a face to the men and women fishing, farming or working the fisheries. The people that experience or deny first hand the affects of overfishing, of destructive methods of aquaculture, invasive species, dead zones and unsustainable fishing methods.

As I was shown more sores and patches of dry skin on slender arms and legs, the old woman with the thick glasses took my notepad and wrote in it, in a schoolgirlish hand: "Dysentery. Ulcer. Womitting. Itching. Breathing problem." All of them, Selapan explained, were maladies that afflicted the people of Riverbank Street since the shrimp farms arrived.

Each destination brings to the surface new challenges to maintaining species of fish native to our varied cultural diets. But Grescoe doesn't let the book drown in despair. He is a constant fish eater with no plans to give it up. He chooses his fish wisely and hopes we will too.

Surprisingly McDonald's has chosen wisely. Their Filet-O-Fish sandwich uses Alaskan pollock whose stocks are still abundant. The Alaskan pollock, live in the middle of the water column, which mean destructive bottom-trawls do not have to be used in their capture.

Several times reading this book I day dreamed taking up post at the local fish counter with a patent leather purse on the crook of my arm. And swinging it at people that ordered fish from the list to avoid. Tara's takes a smarter approach. ... knowledge is power, he writes.

My fierceness would be more effective copying and distributing the appendix from Bottomfeeder that includes tools for choosing seafood with informational web sites, principles to follow, questions to ask. He succinctly explains and categorizes the good, bad and the ugly of fishing methods. And he gives his opinion of seafood to never, sometimes or absolutely indulge in.

While the contents of the entire book are relevant and important beyond the fish we find or don't find on our plates there are two chapters that stand out. The first deconstructs shrimp farming in India and the second focuses on salmon farming in British Columbia. Reading them you may find yourself considering a patent leather purse as I did.

But remember, knowledge is power and we can no longer afford to be ignorant of the way sea food arrives on our plate. The price has a face and it's much too high.

Haiku Friday

First Peppers

Slicing serranos
she can't resist trying one.
And then another.

The Blogging Bookworm

Last month Green Bean asked if anyone wanted to continue her Bookworm Challenge to read and review an ecologically relevant book for a second month. I had no idea however that when I answered, I could do this every month, that she would take me up on it.

I'm glad she did. We've put together a permanent blog, The Blogging Bookworm, with Donna at Chocolate Crayons (wait until you meet Andrew!), and Going Crunchy, the resident librarian, that will house the lists and lists of books on subjects from Gardening to Garbage, Living Lightly to Peak Water. My favorite list: Sustainable Food books.

Not long ago girlfriends called before traveling or going to the bookstore for reading recommendations. That stopped when I recommended Omnivore's Dilemma exclusively for six months. Which is my way of saying I am excited to be a part of the community of bloggers that are reading, as Green Bean put it, ecologically relevant, books. I'm excited to continue to cruise the reviews, join the conversations and discover good new reads. I love books.

Come on over. Meet the wormers. Let us know what you're reading, and the best part, what you think about what you're reading. Or if you're looking for a good summer read -- there are some damn good book lists and reviews to match.


(Photo - Yellow Cherries)

I ate my first basket of olalaberries today.

One at a time.

In three minutes.

I wanted to be slow and savor the flavor, their texture, the scent. But after the first one I unapologetically whipped them down.

The berries, in green pulp paper baskets, resembled long blackberries. Each one the size of a deep thimble and round as a silver wedding ring.

They tasted smooth, not too sweet. They tasted like early morning, the first sunshine over the ridge.

I've had olalaberry jam, olalaberry scones but in my grocery store days I'd never seen olalaberries in the flesh. I thought they were make believe.

Until today when I ate them, alone, unadorned with sugar or sweet and licked my juice stained lips for real when I was done.

Haiku Friday

Pinion Nuts

Handing her a five,
she explained with a gold toothed
smile, "They're hard to crack."

Free Fruit

There's a house not far from me, brown shingles, faded white picket fence, old red dog on the porch, that has an even older pear tree in the front yard. And during pear season the residents, I'm sure they are gnome like, put the excess pears in a basket at the fence with a handwritten sign to help yourself.

I always grab a few for art and eating but it's the generosity and kindness that make me smile and hug the fruit close.

It's taken five years but I've woken up to the free fruit in my own fenced in yard. I've disregarded the plums, apples, the gnarled apricot branch stretched across the fence as nuisances instead of jam or cobbler. Instead of food.

In my defense the neighbors apples mostly drop before they're ripe but with sugar or honey this year I can make sauce.

And last year I did collect plums and carried bags of them to work but I wasn't serious. This year I'm getting a ladder. The guys next door are thrilled. "Take all you want," they told me, "We can only can so many."

I'm working up my courage to approach the neighbors on the other side that have a neglected miniature orchard behind their condo building. There's a lemon tree there with fruit the size of tennis balls and I may have spotted peaches too. It pains me that they aren't being enjoyed.

With all the fruit dropping from the trees in my small yard, a mostly unlikely spot, I wonder how much food is dropping unheeded in the community at large. That isn't being recognized as food. The thought inspires me to start my own gnome like neighborhood tradition. To tend to the untended and get out the ladder and fill a basket or three or five to perch out front with a handmade sign that invites passersby to please, stop and help yourself.

Is there unclaimed fruit or food in your yard or neighborhood? Or does everything get used and/or shared?

Low Carbon Diet

I woke up to this radio piece Monday morning. It's produced by Quest and titled Low Carbon Diet.

Much of the information I've read or heard before such as cows are at the top of the list for making large carbon footprints. So are fish however, which was surprising to me. But then I live next door to an ocean.

The four minute piece visits the Berkeley farmers' market, discusses meat CSA's and spends a considerable amount of time on the importance of not wasting food and recycling. The latter of which brought everyone into the fold; grocery shoppers, gardeners and farmer marketers alike.

The piece is like a long commercial, minus the actors, to encourage locavorism. I like that.

If you have a couple of minutes give it a listen.


I handed the last two bites of a relish pasted, mustard slathered hot dog I was sharing with the cute guy back to him. It tasted terrible. The waitress asked if we wanted anything else. We shook our heads no.

"I'm not a tear gas kind of a girl," I said to TCG's friend in response to a conversation about activism while finishing my diet coke in a plastic cup. And knowing how ridiculous what I was going to say next would sound, I added, "That's why I eat local food." The napkin blew off the remaining french fries on my plate. TCG's friend looked at me, at the near empty plates around us, back to me.

"This is an exception," I said searching for an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence but the canned sauerkraut in a disposable condiment cup had diluted it to a period.

The caffeine spurned me on though. "I'm not going to be a radical protester on the front lines of a world summit meeting but I will be the first person at the farmers' market buying a bunch of carrots or a bag of arugula. That's what I can do."

TCG looked at his watch. We were supposed to be working on the boat but I had a point to make. "I can support local agriculture." I left out vote with my fork given that the one beside me was plastic. "I can remove myself from the industrial food grid." The waitress leaned the check between the umbrella in the middle of the table and a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

"No hurry," she said.

There was a pause and the unfolding of wallets. The conversation returned to sailing.

Eating a cold french fry I laughed inside at the scene of life crashing with ideals. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Haiku Friday

Chicken Feed

Dad feeds two black crows
who follow his slow yellow
truck three miles home.

Salmon - Darling of the Omega-3 Fatty Acid Foods

I was excited this morning to find an op-ed piece by Taras Grescoe that was in the New York Times yesterday. Taras is the author of the book I'm reading, Bottomfeeder - How To Eat Ethically In A World Of Vanishing Seafood.

His book reads like a travelogue as he eats seafood in a variety of cities and shores, collecting the narratives of grey bearded characters, fishermen and fish farmers. So far it's a good, although disturbing read. My kind of a book.

In his op-ed piece , Sardines With Your Bagel?, Taras looks at the current state of salmon in the world. Not only the west coast where the commercial season is shut down, but wild caught salmon in Alaska and farmed salmon from Norway, Canada and Chile.

In his short essay Taras deconstructs the darling of the omega-3 fatty acid foods, worshipping it's benefits and highlighting it's sudden and not so sudden wild demise.

Can we ethically continue to eat it at this time, or not?

Worm News

I have worms. Lots of worms.

So many worms that when I lift the lid to the bin I can hear them, which seems impossible. They sound like ginger ale, but slower. What am I hearing? Their eating? Their slithering between decomposing carrot greens and strawberry tops?

I was told the worms would multiply, have rice kernel babies that would turn to remnant looking strands of dental floss. And that in the darkness and depths of mango mulch and kitchen scraps they would transform to red wiggler worm adults. But I was skeptical.

Not without good reason though as the worms I was given were anemic, pathetic things. For six weeks I was hard pressed to find one in the bin. The day I found two I jumped. But the woman at the nursery was right, the worms multiplied and now there is a city.

There are still tiny black bugs with wings to be swatted away but their numbers have decreased. Part of which I attribute to the spiders that have also taken up residency. And partly that I cut back the amount of food after diagnosing my enthusiastic deposits to the bin were rotting more quickly than the worms could consume it. It was a most excellent bug habitat.

I've collected worm tea several times the last couple of months by pouring water over all the contents of the bin, waiting a few minutes for it to leech through the layers of compost, mulch and worms and then reclaiming the nitrogen rich brown water from the spigot at the bottom of the bin. It feels like pure treasure.

The roses are drunk on the tea, the camellia has grown fat from it and the mint in it's too small terracotta pot is completely out of control such that I've stopped giving it tea all together. The gnarly old rosemary that refused water for years is a sponge for the tea. It's almost young again, which is as impossible as the sound of the worms.

Impossible as the fact that I used to waste my good kitchen trimmings in the trash instead of feeding them to the busy worms in the garage.

In The Garden

I forget why I was in the yard so early, barely awake, before the crows began their urgent gossip but there I was. Standing in a Sunday morning sanctuary of quiet. Afraid to move and break the window of stillness. I could feel the neighbors sleeping on every side. Smell the sun making its way over the hill. And I took note.

Those two minutes, before I had to go, were likely as close as I'll get to being a ring of fire pepper blossom myself, or the first sungold tomato not quiet ripe on the plant. But for a moment I was the hot blossom, the yellow fruit. For a moment I was potted and planted. I was rooted in the ground as surely as the garden and food growing around me.

When the food does find its way to my plate, I will remember it there, in that quiet morning and appreciate all the ways the garden feeds me, the actual food being one of them.

Haiku Friday


Warm ciabatta with
apricots and camembert;
we can't stop smiling.

Goods 4 Girls

There's a woman with a blog called Crunchy Chicken. The name doesn't convey the punch of what she writes. She goes full force, all the time and does not hold back. I'm sure she has a deep throated laugh.

And not that she's slowed down a bit but she considered not blogging as much. She's married with a full time job, two kids, a garden and her husband has cancer and was recently kicked out of the stem cell replacement program. Which cultivated the Crunchy Chicken Tribute blog. It's the blog equivalent of a long hug, a home cooked meal delivered on a Tuesday night or a late night girlfriend session at the kitchen table.

And it's a tribute to Crunchy's pet project Goods 4 Girls, an organization that provides hand sewn and reusable menstrual products to girls in Africa, which allows them to continue to attend school. The fact that this is a problem in some parts of the world woke me up to how much I take for granted.

Women are a huge part of feeding the world and I picture these future women smarter for having had the ability to stay in school before having to carry the responsibility of feeding themselves, their families and communities. I'm appreciative for the opportunity to help through Goods 4 Girls and Lunapads.

Crunchy Chicken is a smart woman with a strong voice for change. A voice with humor, with heart, with heated and warm emotion. Often irreverent. She is being heard even when she is no longer talking. And she's got a full table of girlfriends that she's never met. From here to Africa and back around the other side of the globe.

They're all saying, "You go girlfriend. Whatever you want to do, you do it. We're here." And they're saying, "Thank you, for all you do."

Me too. Thank you.

One Kale Green Thing

Since I wrote one green thing people just tell me the one green thing they've done recently. I rarely get a chance to ask.

But I'm going to start asking here, "What one green thing have you done lately?" I'd like to know. Hearing and reading the actions of other people on the sustainable causeway encourage my own actions and I love that.

Here are a few green things from my week.

The Muse planted a barrel of greens for her daughter's guinea pigs, Lola and Ginger. They let them run and eat in it. It's a renewable, edible pig playground.

The Takeout Queen has begun referring to her Seafood Watch pocket guide when ordering sushi. And a co-worker independently initiated a switch from paper to compostable plates in the office kitchen. I wanted to hug her.

I quit my daily Starbucks habit and coffee all together as a result of Chile's latest Quit Now challenge. Thanks, Chile. I feel good.

And I found this one green thing at Going Crunchy. She's capturing scraps of water. I liked it for it's simplicity and that it's something I can do too. And given the headlines this morning a lot more people may be appreciative of this tip quite soon.

None of these things are going to save the world but they encourage me. And put all together there's a wake created that encourages others too. Whether they're aware of it or not.

So, what one green thing have you done this week, yesterday or today? I'd love to know.

Jam Report

The cute guy made biscuits, invited a friend for dinner, and we tasted the jam. The table was set with our repurposed placemats - bubble wrap cut to the appropriate size, a new cube of butter and tiny jam knives with the names of airlines on the handles.

We politely passed a bowl of scrambled eggs and goat cheese, dished healthy helpings of salad. Each person took one biscuit, buttered it, put on the jam and then I noticed they were poised to eat with almost held breaths and making sideways glances at me. I picked up my biscuit and took a bite.

First you have to know that any kind of a bread with butter is like what chocolate is to most people and this was no exception. But damn, the jam was good too.

It was a little runny and the strawberries could have been sliced smaller. TCG only thought the first bite tasted like brown sugar and the rest he said he didn't notice. That was good. There was an undertone of ginger but not strong enough to identify.

We ate nearly the entire jar. And I gave our friend a jar to take home, which was the most satisfying feeling of all. Eating local and being aware of what's on my plate is all good but getting to share it - that's even better.

Strawberry Jam

I did it. Finally. The decision was occupying way to much of my mind. Everything I thought about led to the argument, do I wait for assistance, or do I do it now. I finally just did it and I'm glad.

I canned.

I wanted to get the first time out of the way with no one watching. I had the house to myself and the weather was cool. The neighbors dog, also home alone, was invited for his unending optimism when allowed in the kitchen. He was a good counterbalance to my first time shakiness.

Equipped with a flat of organic strawberries I read at least two dozen recipes for strawberry jam. Strawberries with rhubarb, with sugar, with pectin, without pectin. Strawberry conserves, preserves, lots of serves. I read to figure out if I would kill us if I went sugarless, without a paraffin top or pectin. My mind catapulted between mouthwatering buttered toast and jam to possible bacterial poisoning.

I'm not exact at following recipes so the fact that I didn't find reports of persons succumbing to sugarless strawberry jam was important. I did follow the important guidelines: the long boiling bath, clean rims, the sterile lids. I washed my hands until they too were pink, counted each of the lids popping out loud to the dog. But the recipe - I made it my own.

In the end I did use sugar, organic fair trade cane sugar instead of, I don't know, unorganic, unfair trade sugar. The box was plainly labeled cane sugar but when I opened it, it was brown. I used it anyway.

"What's that taste," the cute guy asked when I gave him the last taste saved from the pot.

"Strawberries," I tried.

"Brown sugar?"

"Cane sugar," I corrected.

"It tastes like brown sugar."

He was right. Next time I would cut the sugar in half.

I minced fresh ginger instead of the diced candied ginger called for and I used frozen lemon juice I'd squeezed earlier this year instead of a fresh lemon.

Honestly, I couldn't taste either of these ingredients.

The jam is to rest for 48 hours. Then I'll open one of the eight jars and have an official taste.

The dog however, he thought the jam was perfect; beginners batch or not. I'll invite him again but next time I'll add toast with the strawberry jam.