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Sustainable ingredients - When will we learn?


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When will some people learn? This is the question I am constantly asking myself…………………………..

We all know the problems we are facing in the world with some of the oceans and rivers being close to fished out, but why does it take so long to really sink in to some peoples heads?

You hear about these kinds of problems everyday in the food industry but it is only the very famous problems that are being noticed and you have some Chefs who are even selling and promoting their restaurants on the fact that they don’t use these products. Being an Australian Chef and also a very enthusiastic diver I have a love for nature and a strong will to try and disturb it as little as possible, so I speak with a little bit of biased passion on this topic. I think anyone who is still selling Blue Fin Tuna on their menus is an idiot and they deserve to have their names put on a list like sex offenders. This is a greedy mentality that will see our Children suffer when they will never be able to experience the pleasures that our generation have gorged ourself on until certain species are now becoming extinct. One of the latest estimates I have heard about the blue fin is that they could be extinct in the next 5 years……………………….

The governments around the world are trying to cut catch limits in most developed countries and the fishermen are protesting and crying poor. They are worried about their profits and not at all about the state of the oceans they have raped over the years. The E.U. were faced with a decision a few months ago to put a total ban on the fishing of Blue Fin tuna, unfortunately they weakened under pressure and ruled against it after increasing backlash, even though it was almost a sure thing to get passed.

Anyway this story isn’t about Blue fin tuna, it is about everything else that is suffering at the same time……………..

What happens if you continue taking baby animals from the wild, be it Fish, Shellfish, Game, etc? Well it seems like a pretty easy answer, but obviously not! If the animals have not yet reached an age of maturity where they can breed then they will not reproduce before they are caught and killed. If all the babies are taken and they can’t reproduce then the species will eventually dwindle in numbers and eventually go extinct. Seems like simple maths No? Well why can we still see this all over the world?

My job takes me all over the world and every time I travel I always visit local markets, predominantly in developing countries you see vendors selling produce which clearly hasn’t been regulated by size limits. I feel it is my right and obligation to ask them why are they selling these small animals so small? I almost always get the same response, “If I do not sell them someone else will and I will go out of business”. Well I guess they are right in theory, but this should be why we have governments to regulate these things.

This story is coming after my last trip to Croatia where I was in many fish markets that actually resembled child care for dead fish. The monk fish in the picture above are no bigger than 15 to 20cm, and to tell you the truth would be a waste to time and effort as the meat in the tail would be only 40 or 50g. Every vendor had the same types of fish and all the same size, where are all the big fish?

So now spare a thought for these live langoustines, they were no more than 5-8cm each! Every vendor had many crates of these little babies. They are taking them from a place where the fresh water coming from Krka National park meets the Adriatic sea, how many more years are they going to be able to do this before there are no more left. Not to mention the fact that langoustines this small would not provide any joy to eat as they would be so much effort to get 2 or 3g of flesh per one. But when asked “Why do you sell them so small?” I got the same response “If I don’t sell them someone else will”.

I am not a member of greenpeace nor am I an animal activist. I am speaking purely on the level of a Chef, Food lover and someone who respects the balance of nature (If one species goes extinct them the rest of the food chain will suffer).

Chefs, try to show a little restraint when choosing what you want to put on your menus. There are so many sustainable ingredients at our disposal, there is no need in the world to use endangered or undersized items.

Adam Melonas - Chef

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I've been asking this same question for years and I get the same answer, "If I don't sell them," etc., etc., etc.

I have some journals of an ancestor who was an eyewitness to the extermination of the passenger pigeon and he bemoaned the practice of netting and shooting tens of thousands of birds in a single hunt, feeling that no good could come of it.

Probably the rationale of the "hunters" was the same then as it is now.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The Tragedy of the Commons. This was required reading in an Economics class I took ages ago, and I've seen it referenced many times since by OpEd writers who want everything privatized.

I think it makes a far more compelling argument for gov't regulation but that could just be me.

(tl;dr: If several people share a resource then everyone tries to maximize their immediate profit from it rather than a long-term profit they'd derive from using it in a sustainable manner.)

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I've been asking this same question for years and I get the same answer, "If I don't sell them," etc., etc., etc.

They give that answer because it's true. The seller only supplies the market, the buyer creates it. If people want to buy a specific thing and I don't sell it but the guy in the next building does, guess where everybody will go? Then they'll go ahead and pick up the other stuff they want/need while they are there and I lose all around. Nothing will ever change by going after the seller because that is their livelihood, if enough people want to buy it they will find a way to sell it. Especially with the given examples. We're talking about the fish guy who barely scrapes out a living as it is. He's not going to say "sorry kids, no dinner tonight but I simply refuse to sell those baby fish everybody wants to buy". The changes can only happen with the consumer... and there are enough "I want what I want and I don't care about the possible consequences" people in the world that that will be a very difficult task.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Practice what you preach brother... Your wikipedia resume has your "Salt Crusted Baby Hammour" recipe linked in it. Hammour, or grouper, is one of the most endangered species in the world. Not to mention the recipe is listed as "baby" which completely contradicts your entire post.

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Dear Daniel Blue,

Thanks for your comment, I can see how you would get that impression.................

The only baby fish I use come from Aquaculture farms and are bred to be eaten young. As I clearly mentioned in what I wrote I am promoting sustainability, aquaculture is at the forefront of this movement as the fish are bred in controlled conditions then transfered to their sea cages where they eat and grow as a normal fish would in the same ocean water where they come from. You will never see on any of my menus a wild baby fish. But I understand how you would think that and I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to explain.

Hey Tri2Cook,

Thanks for your comment, I fully agree with you that it is the responsibility of the Chefs and also the end user being the Guest who is requesting these items. I also feel for the fish supplier and also the fisherman, I have many of them as friends and I know how tough they do it. The state of the worlds oceans is a little bit like the topic of global warming, many say it is just a way to panic the people without any scientific basis, but like the global warming issue it is a bit hard to refute the fact that fishermen are finding it harder and harder to locate the same amounts of fish as before.

Another thing I can't stand is the indiscriminate catching of anything living with the use of large nets as large as football fields that drain the ocean of all of it's life, these nets are catching and killing anything that is in the area without any skill on the part of the fisherman. This is why you see boxes of mixed fish all way undersized being sold as fish to make soups out of as there is such a mix. These nets are killing all sorts of other creatures which never get eaten like: Seals, Sharks, Dolphins, Whales, etc. As well as destroying coral reefs and other animals habitats.

Anyway, thats enough for a Sunday!

Thanks for your comments

Adam Melonas - Chef

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It's not just about harvesting wild animals... Even the raising of domestic animals has severe environmental impacts which our world cannot sustain... For instance, fish farms as a whole industry are much more harmful to the environment than the extinction of a few species would be. Raising cattle is the single most wasteful activity humans partake in, and raising any animal for meat is much more wasteful than raising them to produce milk/eggs... Sustainability cannot be measured by whether or not individual species survive, but by whether or not our world as a whole can survive, including our own species. Creating fish farms or not harvesting wild animals won't solve a thing in the long term, only changing our eating habits will.

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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Dear Mike,

I agree with you regarding the impact of Aquaculture on the environment, but I believe long term it could be the sustainable answer if they clean up the industry and stop with the bad practices. Regarding the impact of farming, a great example should be taken from my friend Dan Barber who has an amazing model for how farming should be done with as little impact as possible. What he is doing should be the future of sustainable farming!

Dear CDRFloppingham,

I apologize if my words come across as "Preachy" but in my defense I did mention that I was going to have a Biased opinion which makes it a little hard to be totally objective. As a Chef my number 1 priority is to find the best products available, but in this day and age I must also factor in it's environmental impact as well. I love food pretty much more than life itself, so to say no to a piece of Bluefin Tuna belly is an incredibly hard thing to do, as having tasted it I know it is one of the best things I have ever tasted. But as I live in Spain and I see bluefin tuna on so many menus and it is available at pretty much every market I am starting to get a little tired of the "It's not my problem, let someone else worry about it" kind of attitude. As the Blue fin pass through Gibraltar every year to breed in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean they are being caught on there way in or out which is stopping the replenishing of the stocks. Once again, I am sorry that you got the wrong impression from what I was saying as it was not the intention.

Thanks for you comments,

Adam Melonas - Chef

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Part of the problem is also a general lack of understanding of the underlying science behind wildlife management, on all sides. Managing a population when you don't know its size, other sources of mortality, or even how many are being harvested is a daunting task, to say the least. Trying to present this uncertainty honestly to a variety of stakeholders without having them keep the bits that they like and reject the bits that they don't complicates the task greatly.

Oddly enough, in the face of clear uncertainty people's opinions are often reinforced, not weakened. Passion is good, unsupported statements are bad. Not to pick on you, Adam Chef, put I found this statement particularly illustrative:

What happens if you continue taking baby animals from the wild, be it Fish, Shellfish, Game, etc? Well it seems like a pretty easy answer, but obviously not! If the animals have not yet reached an age of maturity where they can breed then they will not reproduce before they are caught and killed. If all the babies are taken and they can’t reproduce then the species will eventually dwindle in numbers and eventually go extinct. Seems like simple maths No? Well why can we still see this all over the world?

As it turns out, the answer here is often counterintuitive. For many species, juveniles suffer much more mortality than adults (i.e: through predation, starvation etc...) and can often be considered less valuable to the overall productivity of the population than the same number of fully mature individuals, not more. Think about it: if you had the choice between harvesting a young animal, who would probably die anyways, and a more mature individual, who had already proven his/her ability to survive and reproduce and is more likely to continue doing so, which would you take?

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Dear Martin,

Thanks for your comments, I agree with it in Principle..................

As much as baby fish are considered Less valuable, what about the eventual situation where not enough of these babies were allowed to reach maturity and therefor weren't able to lay their eggs? I use Croatia as one example of many, they are just netting everything that moves and not doing any kind of a measure to put back the ones which are too young. The adults are also being taken but they are sold to a country where they get more money and keeping the young ones to be used as a stock or a soup. There are no catch or size limits in place, or at least being respected.

I have started a consulting project in one of the seaside towns of Croatia where I am targeting the people and the restaurants to try and overcome this bad practice, I will be there 1 week per month.

Hi LindaK,

Great article! I have actually posted it on my website to try and raise a little more awareness. I am going to be opening a restaurant in NYC this year and I will certainly be using the sustainable Tuna as opposed to the Wild.

Hi Florida,

Sad but probably going to be true! The amount of Chefs and suppliers saying "If I don't sell it then someone else will and make more money" or "If .......... Is still selling it then why shouldn't I". Japan being the biggest consumer in the world makes other countries think "well if they are doing it then why shouldn't we?". This is a very tough mentality to break as peoples livelihoods depend on it and everyone wants to make their money before the species goes extinct.

Good conversation.

Adam Melonas - Chef

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There's a article in today's Boston Globe about how some New England area sushi chefs are responding to sustainability concerns:

Tuna at risk? Sushi chefs find other fish in the sea

Its a great article. Miya's Sushi is in my area and where I go for sushi due to his efforts to only use sustainable and local ingredients as well as supporting the local community. Bun Lai, the proprietor, has even created a menu to use some of the invasive species polluting our waters.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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As much as baby fish are considered Less valuable, what about the eventual situation where not enough of these babies were allowed to reach maturity and therefor weren't able to lay their eggs? I use Croatia as one example of many, they are just netting everything that moves and not doing any kind of a measure to put back the ones which are too young. The adults are also being taken but they are sold to a country where they get more money and keeping the young ones to be used as a stock or a soup. There are no catch or size limits in place, or at least being respected.

First, I think it's great that you're being involved in this sort of conservation initiative, on the ground. I look forward to read more about this project, perhaps in an upcoming thread?

Not really knowing anything about the situation in Croatia, I can't really say anything authoritative about what I think they should be doing. From what you said above, however, I fear overfishing in general is the bigger problem rather than a lack of selective sorting, since there are essentially no catch limits. You mentioned that the smaller fish are kept for local consumption: what will they replace this food with? Is there anything known about the survival rate of young thrown back in the water?

Some conservation is better than no conservation, though, and you are bringing awareness to the fishermen and consumers there, and hopefully will succeed in making then receptive to changing their current practices for a better chance at long-term sustainability.

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Thanks Mallet,

I am currently in Croatia, This trip I have the aim to make contact with some local government officials to offer some free advice on the situation and see if we can start this project together.

I will be sure to keep you up to date on my progress (or lack there of).

Kind Regards from Croatia

Adam Melonas - Chef

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