Fresh Catch… From Fiji?

I had to laugh. It wasn’t funny, but I was still honestly laughing. I stopped into the grocery store for some bits (I typically end up doing a second trip in addition to my big shop or trip to the farmer’s market each week), such as a little bit more lettuce (depending on what my garden is producing), a little bit more meat, bones and guts for making the dogs’ food (ok, I eat the guts, too) and a little bit more of whatever I need to test out that great new recipe from the Food Section of the Times! Fresh, wild Coho Salmon is readily available at the moment, so I stopped by the fish counter to order a pound.  While I was waiting for the filet to be wrapped, I glanced sideways to see a stand alone cart nearby, packed with ice, offering ‘Fresh Catch’. I paused for a moment to see what they had on offer. Poke!? Hmmm… in Hawaii, sure, where wild tuna is an option, but in LA?? I asked. “Is the tuna in your poke fresh and wild?”  (I knew it wasn’t but I couldn’t help it!).  The fish monger told me that it was in fact fresh and wild. Then I asked where it came from. He said it had come from Fiji. “When was it caught?” (I really couldn’t help it… and I was giggling at that point at the absurdity of it all). The fish monger wasn’t sure, but it had been frozen immediately… prior to being transported over 5,000 miles to get here. And this is sold to us as Fresh Catch. Silly?  Yes.  Sad?  That, too. But rather than feeling depressed about the state of affairs, let’s do something! Not political, you say?  Not interested in taking a stand? Not a problem.  You can do your part by doing one simple thing:  look to see where your fish (where all your food) is coming from and keep it local as best you can. That’s it. We’ve become very entitled in that if we want blueberries in December despite living in Wisconsin, or wild tuna from Fiji (even though we live in California), we assume we can just have it. And we can!  But the question is- what’s the cost? Interestingly, there are arguments on both side of the coin here.  WorldWatch, an organization that works to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world that meets human needs (1), brings to the table the fact that the environmental impact of ‘food miles’ “depends on how the food was transported, not just how far. For example, trains are 10 times more efficient at moving freight, ton for ton, than trucks are. So you could eat potatoes trucked in from 100 miles away, or potatoes shipped by rail from 1,000 miles away, and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their transport from farm to table would be roughly the same.” They also point out that the environmental impact of food also depends on how it is grown. Swedish researcher Annika Carlsson-Kanyama led a study that found it was better, from a greenhouse-gas perspective, for Swedes to buy Spanish tomatoes than Swedish tomatoes, because the Spanish tomatoes were grown in open fields while the local ones were grown in fossil-fuel-heated greenhouses. Reminds me of my dilemma over whether it’s better to buy local but not organic or organic but not local! Columbia University posted an interesting piece on their blog (2) considering “How Green is Local Food?” and pointed out that monitoring a minimum set of social, environmental and economic indicators over time will enable farmers, scientists, policy makers and organizations to compare agricultural systems for sustainability and provide tools to evaluate the risks and tradeoffs of various aspects of agricultural systems. Yes, but what do we do now? How about do our best? Ask questions.  Shop from your farmer’s market if you can.  Try to be flexible- if you were planning on wild salmon and the only option is farmed, perhaps go for the local black cod.   Consider adding even a small garden to your home.  You see the idea. Bottom line: there is so much we cannot control, why not focus on what we can?  If we all do this, the net result will inevitably an improved state of affairs, more awareness and a healthier planet with healthier people! (1) (2 )