In honor of U.S. Independence Day, which was just celebrated 2 days ago, I thought we should discuss food freedom. As Americans, we are free to purchase and consume pretty much any type of food, any time of year, and we pay less for it than most other developed countries.
Since food is a vast topic, I’ll stick to seafood for this post and maybe we can talk other proteins and produce another time – so sorry if you really wanted to talk broccoli today…
So, with these freedoms, we are actually enslaving ourselves and others across the world.
1). We are limiting our options. By importing the same ‘big 3’ fishes every year for more than a decade (shrimp, salmon, and tuna), Americans are missing out on all kinds of flavorful and healthy fishies (mackeral, sardines, sea urchins, ablone, herring, squid, crab, sea cucumber, salmon roe), that we are sending off to other countries to enjoy. I’m pretty sure our American idolization of all things beautiful may even be keeping us from partaking in some of these lovely critters – see image of the American – Pacific “Goeduck” above…and yes, it’s pronounced “gooey duck” – another win for smart American branding!
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported, but U.S. exports of fish and seafood reached a record level in fiscal year 2014, ($5.3 billion)!! Yes, we are packing up our own fresh supply so we can buy questionable fish from elsewhere in the world.
2). We are threatening our health. Antibiotic regulations abroad have led to an increase in antibiotic residue on imported fish. In the first 5 months of this year, the FDA refused entry to 245 shrimp shipments from Malaysia—a 180 percent increase from last year.
3). We are threatening the health of ‘our’ waters and our communities. Since the option to buy whatever we want, whenever we want it, has somehow become a required ‘American freedom’ – and fishermen and women are mainly working to support the fish trade overseas – we don’t feel any need to support either our local fishermen and women or the waters and fish stocks that support their livelihoods. If, for instance, you lived in Maryland, Virginia or D.C. (all bordering the Chesapeake Bay – an historic oyster hub) but couldn’t get any oysters until the Chesapeake Bay was restored enough to maintain a healthy stock – people there would make darn sure the Bay was able to provide it. But, hey, we can just hop over to the grocery store and pick up some oysters from…wherever, whatever – I’m American! Check out: http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/dwindling-oyster-supply-threatens-apalachicolas-economy/2224223 and http://www.chesapeakebay.net/issues/issue/oysters#inline
4). We are supporting the actual enslavement of human beings. The Thai and Indonesian fish and fishmeal industries have been enslaving men for decades, conning them into forced labor with no pay and monstrous working conditions – supporting US, Japanese and the European Union markets! Shout out to the Associated Press for working on this story for more than a year and exposing these crimes. The last few months have seen a steady stream of “happy” endings for hundreds of slaves – but this issue is far from dead in the water: Tearjerker: http://news.yahoo.com/myanmar-fisherman-goes-home-22-years-slave-054429865.html.
5). By choosing to exercise our right to buy whatever we want, we are threatening the world fish market and thereby supporting the ultimate collapse of it (ie, we won’t get to exercise our freedom to by any fish if we keep this up.) By exporting so much of our supply and then relying on imports from around the world, we are supporting illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries (IUU).
Shrimp – mostly farmed in Asia – is the most consumed seafood in the US. We eat more imported shrimp than the next 2 most popular fish combined – which are canned tuna and salmon (we export our wild river running salmon so we can import farmed salmon from abroad! And really, America, canned tuna?).
Many fishing industries across the world are supplying our fish through IUUs. These fishermen don’t adhere to catch regulations, so they are a leading cause of world fish stock declines – making it impossible for fish populations to sustain themselves. (This will lead to an overall collapse of the marine ecosystem if not halted.) Additionally, they cause major damage to the sea floors through bottom trawling and pay no heed to bycatch – swallowing up marine mammals, turtles, and other illegal catch with no regard (not to mention shark finning). The U.S. has released an action plan , but this stuff is hard to trace.
I’m going to repeat an earlier statistic: According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.
Solution? Show your American pride by eating American fish – go get your Goeduck!
- Check out two amazing books on this topic by Paul Greenberg: http://paulgreenberg.org
- http://www.localcatch.org/ – This new website launched last month lists CSFs – Community Supported Fisheries – where consumers can pick up directly from the dock, or a pick-up location in a coastal town. It’s a new website, so please share with your local fishermen so they can be added! The first CSF started in Maine in 2007 and there are now almost 50 in the U.S.
- Get this Seafood Watch App on your phone – easy to check for smart choices when shopping or dining: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/; or download a guide: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/consumer-guides.
- ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL: A crowd-sourcing site has been set up by Anti-Slavery International to help victims rescued as a result of an Associated Press investigation, which found seafood from slaves in the supply chains of U.S. restaurants and supermarkets. The funds will provide economic, medical and legal support, and will help the rescued men seek back wages. Although the account is in British pounds, U.S. dollars can be donated www.gofundme.com/afterslaveryatsea