Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gulf oil and seafood and YOU

What do I mean when I talk about eating what I preach? Shrimp is a good example.

More often than not, I walk into a market with a craving for shrimp and turn away disappointed. I'm committed to buying US wild-caught shrimp for a slew of reasons, most importantly because doing so supports an industry and a culture that I care about strongly. Foreign shrimp, much of it farm-raised, has been flooding the US market at an alarming rate for years. Besides simply not tasting as good, spending my dollars on foreign shrimp hurts shrimpers in North Carolina and the Gulf, folks whose livelihood is always dangling by a thread. Spending my dollars on US wild-caught shrimp is just like voting, and I get to do so with every purchase.  

I'm talking about shrimp today because of the oil spill in the Gulf. What's happening is horrendous, and I know many of us feel absolutely trapped by our inability to do a thing to help the situation.

Here, then, is my little PSA for the Gulf and the folks directly affected by the oil spill: GO EAT GULF SEAFOOD. Save for flying down there to get on a cleanup and/or rescue team, it's the best thing you can do today to help out.

Worried about the safety of Gulf seafood? Don't be. There are a slew of agencies and organizations - local, federal, and multi-state groups, overseen by the Food and Drug Administration - diligently testing every bit of water that's supporting seafood based on wind and current shifts and the current path of the oil. This multi-layered protection simply isn't allowing tainted seafood to reach the marketplace, something that consumers aren't as confident about as they should be. Eating Gulf seafood right now is the right thing to do, particularly since we don't know what lies ahead.

Longtime fishing and oyster families in the Gulf - families whose work spans generations, families who've managed to hang on through Katrina and survive despite the flood of international competition in the marketplace - need your help. Eating their seafood for your dinner helps fill their dinner tables, too. That kind of consumer choice is awe-inspiring and humbling all at once.

Fishing is hard work, and making a living from it is a daunting challenge. The parallels to family farming are clear. In both situations, the marketplace and our own choices as consumers have pushed these hardworking folks into ever more desperate circumstances to support their families, to hang on to their land or their boat, and to make it to tomorrow. In that context, here's a song by Drew Landry, singing about the impossible situation of a family fisherman working the oil rigs to pay the bills.

How might things be different if we all made a commitment to support family fisheries and family farmers with our food dollars? What if the playing field was leveled again and family fishing and farm work could support a family the way it used to? What if dangerous and destructive oil work wasn't the best choice to support a family? These are things I spend a lot of time thinking about.

While you're eating your FDA-approved safe Gulf seafood, send out your thoughts/prayers/karma/whatever-you-believe that this thing is over sooner rather than later. It could be a very long summer:

6/4/10 Update: A great piece from the NYT on New Orleans chefs going out into the water to check on the local seafood supply. Eat it while you can, folks... really.


  1. And in terms of the greater issue another thing everyone can do is try to cut back on their oil dependency by using public transportation, buying cars that have better gas mileage, and supporting alternative energy causes and the politicians who are calling for more alternative energy.

  2. I like reading your blog, but hardly ever comment (for reasons unknown!) but I had to thank you for this post and am in STRONG support of this. Did you know that seafood (primarily shrimp and tilapia) is the top imported product in the US? That's a lot of freakin' shrimp! AND, the regulations overseas are NOT as stringent as the US. AND overseas fisheries are damaging their waterfronts at an alarming rate (because of a lack of regulations) and pretty soon, that will be depleted. We NEED to bring the fisheries back to the US - assuming all this oil can get cleaned up before it kills everything.
    Local and US farmed seafood is the way to go! Thanks again for the great post and for allowing me to vent as well!

  3. I've been following your blog for a while, but never commented. (I guess that makes me a lurker... sorry!) Anyway, after yesterday's post, which I loved, and this one, I feel the urge to comment. I live just an hour and a half from the gulf coast of Florida, and I often drive through the very fishing towns you mention in your post. I can't stress what you've said here enough! Please support our local fishermen; the reality is that there's not a ton you and I can do to stop this oil spill from making an impact. But we can help these fishermen and women maintain some semblance of their livelihood. The bonus? We can eat some delicious seafood in the process. A win-win in my book!

  4. This whole thing just makes me so ill. SO ILL. But it is a perfect excuse to make some shrimp.

  5. This is so true. I absolutely would rather go to the fish markets right on the bay where you can see gulf fisherman bringing in their catch then some foreign frozen variety; everything about that just makes so much more sense!
    And sadly, I think it will be more than a long summer. This whole situation is so bad and just getting worse by the day. I have a feeling this is going to be a very bad few years for many gulf residents, visitors, and those who rely on these waters for their livelyhood.

  6. Yikes. Embarrassing. Livelihood...I definitely can't spell

  7. That is such great advice, Maggie. And as you know, eating shrimp and oysters are two of my most favorite things to do, so if eating them helps- amazing. Also, we should definitely go on a shrimping boat on our food tour.

  8. Well said. And a very worthwhile excuse to indulge in some of my favorite seafood.


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