Surf ‘n turf

Meatless Wednesdays

kithumini-jayasiri-illustrated

The early bird catches the worm — or in this case, the freshest fish you can find. Secretly, one of my favorite childhood memories is getting up at 2:30 a.m. to go to the Saturday morning San Pedro fish market with my parents. I absolutely despised the pungent fishy odor that came from every which way (fun fact: an oxygenated form of trimethylamine is found in fish; this breaks down and gives off the fishy, rotting odor we smell. Fish may have this in them to make the freezing point of their bodily fluids lower, preventing urea from degrading proteins). And walking into the market made me extremely uncomfortable, as if there were a billion fish eyes staring into my soul.

But I genuinely loved spending those ungodly hours of the early morning with my parents, taking in all that living along the Southern California coast had to offer. Six-year-old me appreciated seeing the workers on the loading docks, using fancy machines, forklifts and pallet jacks. I had nothing but respect for the employees — they were working up a sweat before the sun was even out. We would come home about 6 a.m., and my mom would clean the fish, sending me running from the kitchen as soon as she pulled out the knife, because I couldn’t stand the sight of fish guts. The entire house would reek of the gross, fishy smell I disliked so much; nonetheless, I appreciated this once-a-month tradition.

Here’s some food for thought: Shrimp has 10 times the carbon footprint of beef. And Red Lobster’s “Endless Shrimp” promo isn’t exactly helping. It’s shocking to think that, according to World Wildlife Fund, “more than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.” Ninety percent of U.S. seafood is imported, and about one-third of that is caught illegally.

You may have noticed the words “wild-caught” or “farm-raised” on seafood packaging at the store. There isn’t a hugely significant nutritional difference between farmed and wild-caught seafood. For example, wild-caught trout tend to be higher in calcium iron, while farm-raised have more vitamin A and selenium. Farmed fish tend to have lower mercury levels, but with fish farming comes numerous other issues, including a higher chance of finding antibiotics in your seafood, as well as causing waste to accumulate in the ocean. Other contaminants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), have been found in farmed seafood. PCBs are more common in farmed than wild-caught fish, but the amount found is still lower than what is considered to be dangerous.

I don’t think I’m ready to entirely give up seafood yet, but I am willing to cut back on my consumption and give alternatives a try.

The creation of plant-based meat products has become a popular field over the past few years, and, slowly, people have started to gain interest in exploring plant-based seafood as well. There are limitations in this field, as it’s not a very widely explored area, but companies such as SeaCo, which sponsors the Plant-Based Seafood Collider here at UC Berkeley, are trying to make it more popular. People may initially be a little skeptical about trying seafood made from plants, but it has the potential to become something huge in the food world.

James Corwell, a chef in San Francisco, is making plant-based seafood sushi. He uses Roma tomatoes as his “fish,” because tomato has properties that give it a texture similar to that of tuna. He and his team extract the sweet taste a tomato has and then reapply the savory notes. It’s completely safe — he takes the skin and seeds out of the tomatoes, seals the tomatoes in plastic bags and uses the sous-vide method to cook them for about an hour. Companies are looking into using yellow pea as a protein source and Konjac (elephant yam) to give “seafood” a shellfish-like texture.

There are so many problems surrounding the unsustainable practices of harvesting seafood, but land animals tend to get more attention when it comes to these issues.

I’m an avid seafood eater, but I’ve been making a more conscious effort to make better choices about what I consume. The Monterey Bay Aquarium put together a collection of state-specific seafood watch consumer guides. I try to keep this in mind when I’m at the grocery store. The ocean is the one thing I love most, and I want to do what I can to keep it safe. Food has a direct connection to everything around us. We may not realize how much of an impact our decisions have on the bigger picture, but our choices matter. Baby steps.

Kithumini Jayasiri writes the weekly Eating Berkeley column on conscientious eating. Contact Kithumini Jayasiri at [email protected].