I’ve inadvertently devoted the last week to eating fish. Since last Friday I’ve eaten arctic char once, sardines twice, and the other night I cooked up some delicious trout for me and the missus. (As a rule, the missus doesn’t like fish. I know, it’s a major strike, but thankfully she has so many things going for her it doesn’t matter.)
You’re probably very worried about my mercury levels, but while I may be like Jeremy Piven in some important ways, my mercury count isn’t one of them.
That’s in part because small fish like sardines are considered fairly safe and are actually somewhat sustainable. Since I don’t eat other kinds of meat and need to keep on eye on the protein intake, I’m focusing on the little shiny guys.
But you already knew that.
Beyond sardines, then, it’s time to look at what other fish I can eat that a) won’t make me sick or give me brain damage, b) aren’t being overfished or caught in habitat-wrecking trawlers, and c) taste good.
It seems like this would be an easy decision to make, but it’s just not. As Jeremey Piven discovered, too much tuna will make you unfit to act on Broadway; wild salmon is apparently safe but farmed salmon, like most farmed fish, is full of feces and antibiotics and chemicals and other pollutants; catfish is tasty, but nasty (though domestically farmed catfish is apparently better than foreign catfish); shrimp is one of the worst offenders; and most other fish are either overfished, overfarmed, full of mercury, or all of the above.
I’d thought that trout was my savior — the label at Fairway says it’s sustainable! — but alas, Food and Water Watch tells me it ain’t so:
However, production of the second leading species of farmed fish raises environmental concerns. Water flushes through concrete raceways at a rate of 500 to 2,000 gallons per minute before discharging into a collecting pond.11 Like other in-tensive food production systems, trout farming uses chemicals to increase output. To prevent fungus from growing on trout eggs operators use a formaldehyde solution, called formalin, which is potentially carcinogenic to humans.2,12 Additionally, trout farmers commonly use the antibiotics oxytetracycline, sulfadimethoxine ormetoprim, and florfenicol to treat bacterial diseases, raising concerns about antibiotic resistance.6
Trout aquaculture relies heavily on wild fish to use as feed. A close relative of salmon, trout need high levels of fishmeal, produced from ground wild fish, in their diet. It takes about 3 pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed trout.
That’s too bad, because that trout I mentioned I’d made earlier this week? It was delicious, sprinkled with basil and breadcrumbs with just a touch of a drizzle of a smattering of olive oil. Sigh.
So what the heck can I eat? I admit to stretching it a bit when I tell people that I’m a vegetarian. It’s true that most days I get my protein from tofu, pulses, and eggs. But I grew up in a fish-eating house and fish has always occupied a middle ground between a luxury good and an earthy, no-nonsense food. Also, I get the sneaking suspicion that the protein I get from it — in addition to the Omega-3s which will apparently make me live forever — is a bit… purer. Whatever that means. In any case, I don’t plan on giving it up, even though I know that fish are sentient beings (despite appearances sometimes indicating otherwise).
So for now the answer comes down to sardines and other small fish, as well as locally-caught mollusks. Good for me, and bad for Nicole, who actually gets mad at me for unleashing the smell of sardines into the precious atmosphere of our apartment.