Greetings! Let’s face it, my friends, eating is much more complicated for us than our grandparents. They could go to the grocery store and easily find real food that would nourish them. When we go to the grocery store, we are surrounded by junk-food landmines and have to run the gauntlet to find nourishing, non-artificial, non-GMO, non-processed foods that won’t eventually lead to diabesity (that’s obesity + diabetes, which is a thing now), hyperactivity in kids, cognitive decline in kids of all ages, and chronic disease. We live in complicated times, indeed, and the best tool at our disposal is a sharp mind that is capable of sifting through the corporate and government propaganda, as our bodies are simply ATM’s for the corporate and political elite…but I digress…more on that topic later! My objective for today is to provide information about the best seafood and meat choices we carnivores can make. I am a reluctant carnivore as I would love to go all-in with the veggies for ethical reasons, and am getting there gradually. For now, girlfriend needs animal protein about 5x/week, so let’s figure out what the best options are for health and sustainability.
Let’s Start With Seafood
I believe the definitive authorities regarding seafood sustainability and quality are the non-profits Food and Water Watch (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/) and the Seafood Watch Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx). They both produced lists of fish to favor and avoid and also have nice pocket guides on their websites which you can print out and put in your wallet for handy reference. Check out the links below for their recommendations:
I summarized the good and the bad in the lists below and also indicated the concern with each using the following codes:
A: Antibiotics used which are banned in the US
B: Overfishing, collapse of stock, and in the worst case, commercial extinction possible
C: Environment very polluted
D: Contaminated with PCB’s, mercury or other chemical residues
E. E Coli detected
F: Ecological imbalance from overfishing
The Bad Fish and Better Alternatives (The Dirty Dozen from Food and Water Watch)
- Bad: Imported catfish [A]
- Alternatives: Domestic, farm-raised catfish or Asian carp
- Bad: Beluga and Sturgeon caviar [B,C]
- Alternatives: American Lake Sturgeon, American Hackleback/Shovelnose Sturgeon from Mississippi River System
- Bad: Atlantic Cod, frequently used in fish and chips [B]
- Alternative: Pacific cod
- Bad: American eel, also called yellow or silver eel [D]
- Alternatives: Atlantic or Pacific squid
- Bad: Imported shrimp, the dirtiest of the Dirty Dozen! [A, D, E]
- Alternatives: Domestic shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, Pink Shrimp from Oregon. Note that fisheries in Oregon are certified under the stringent Marine Stewardship Council guidelines. You can learn more about them here: http://www.msc.org/.
- Bad: Atlantic flatfish, including flounder, sole and halibut [B,D]
- Alternatives: Pacific halibut, domestically-farmed catfish or tilapia
- Bad: Atlantic salmon, wild-caught and farmed [B], also including GMO salmon from Panama, which may or may not be labeled as such
- Alternative: Wild Alaska salmon
- Bad: Imported king crab, which is not Alaskan king crab at all [B]
- Alternative: Alaskan king crab
- Bad: Shark [D, F]
- Alternatives: Pacific halibut, Atlantic mackerel
- Bad: Orange Roughy [B,D]
- Alternatives: Yellow snapper, domestic-farmed catfish
- Bad: Atlantic bluefin tuna, has the distinction of the highest mercury level of any tuna [B,D]
- Alternatives: Alaska wild-caught salmon, troll- or pole-caught American or Canadian albacore tuna (as these fish are younger and smaller and therefore have the lowest mercury levels)
- Bad: Chilean sea bass [B]
- Alternative: Domestic hook-and-line caught haddock
Other Good Alternatives from Seafood Watch
- Farmed oysters
- Wild-caught Pacific sardines
- Farmed rainbow trout
- Freshwater Coho salmon, farmed in tank systems in the US; this is the only farmed salmon that is recommended
Other large fish that will accumulate mercury and are best avoided: king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, and grouper
The good news is that there are options that fit all of the health and sustainability criteria, though I underlined ones harvested from the Pacific because of new concerns about radiation from Fukushima. At this point, the seafood appears to be okay, per testing from west coast fishermen: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat/2014/01/20/fishermen-test-their-own-salmon-for-fukushima-radiation/?goback=%2Egde_2612649_member_5831036497561673731%2Egde_2612649_member_5831489173965520898#%21. However this is an evolving situation that we should monitor.
Let’s move on to Meat and Poultry
As far as meat and poultry goes, the bad stuff to avoid includes animals treated with antibiotics and hormones and fed with GMO feed. Safest options are therefore organic, grass-fed beef and organic, free-range chicken. These you can get at Whole Foods, for example, though it is even better to buy directly from local farmers. A great resource to find farmers and CSA’s near you is Local Harvest: http://www.localharvest.org/.
Furthermore, commercially processed meats such as bacon and sausages should be avoided because the high levels of salt and nitrate preservatives are bad news (sorry, legions of bacon lovers!):
Update: If you can find bacon and sausage that isn’t cured, doesn’t have the man-made nitrates, and comes from free-range/otherwise healthy and humanely treated animals, then that is a good situation! In that case, NOM NOM NOM!
And there you have it – I hope this information is helpful!
Of course, it would not be a Weekend Wrap without a couple of action alerts. If you want to kick your food activism up a notch and make some noise, then check out the following:
Alert: Watered-down voluntary federal GMO labeling law effort needs to be stopped
Here’s the petition to sign: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12702
Alert: Final approval of “Agent Orange” corn and soy needs to be stopped
Here’s the background story: http://livingmaxwell.com/agent-orange-corn-soy-approval-24-d
Here’s the petition to sign: http://action.panna.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14825
I’ll summarize by admitting that it seems like there are a lot of rules, but the best thing to do is always keep it simple and as close to nature as possible. Or, as Michael Pollan states in the Introduction to his masterpiece In Defense of Food:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
I find that beautiful in its simplicity. Just keep it organic and raise a little hell to keep things interesting!