Taras Grescoe wants to teach us how to eat fish, starting at the bottom — of the food chain. Grescoe was in town recently, delving into the subject on KUOW’s “Weekday” — whose guests also included Seattle Times reporters Lynda Mapes and Warren Cornwall, discussing their impressive series on the state of our own Puget Sound. I’ve only just begun reading Grescoe’s new book, “Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.” And like Michael Pollan’s latest, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” (urging us to “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”) it hooked me from the start.
Three years of research has led this Canadian author and journalist to decree that we, as Americans, should learn to love and eat invasive species, including filter-feeders like the tunicates (aka sea squirts) I recently sampled from the live-tanks at Bada Sushi in Shoreline and the jellyfish appetizer I regularly enjoy at T&T Seafood in Edmonds. And smaller, non-predatory fish, like these, eaten last week at Tsukushinbo, in the International District:
In Grescoe’s introductory chapter, he describes the disappearance of another seafood I adore — sea urchins — from the Gulf of Maine (called “whore’s eggs” by the Maine lobstermen he interviews). And discusses what can easily be described as the raping of the world’s seas, noting that “90 percent of the population of top-level predators — among them tuna, sharks, marlin, and swordfish — have already been caught.” He writes that scientists predict “all major fish stocks will collapse within our lifetimes,” explaining, “the world, in other words, will run out of wild seafood by the year 2048.”
Grescoe loves seafood and continues to enjoy eating it — albeit more wisely — after three years spent researching his manifesto. He’s got a lot to teach us as he chronicles his trip-around-the-world to better understand the state of our seas and the foods that live, grow and swim there, offering statistics like this one: Americans consume 70 percent more seafood than we did a generation ago. And this: fish consumption doubled worldwide in the last 30 years.
In his book’s early chapters, he discusses the power of the people when it comes to boycotts (see: Dolphin-safe tuna, “Chilean sea bass”). And writes about how “white tablecloth” restaurants’ call for carefully procured sustainable seafood is all well and good. Until our tastes for sustainably-caught fish extends down the wholesale and retail chain to seafood caught illegally, when we (or the folks who are selling it to us at many restaurants and seafood counters) are told it is not.
I’ll continue reading this intriguing book, learning more about the overfishing of species (for whom the bell tolls regularly in “Bottomfeeder”). And I hope you’ll consider reading it, too, and be encouraged to educate yourself about the wider world of seafood. Maybe you, like me, will develop a love for filter-feeding oysters and little fishies, including these deliciousities — which I just ate for breakfast, courtesy of my friend King Oscar: