Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

Twelve Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid

Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a “dirty dozen” list of endocrine disruptors to avoid, similar to their dirty dozen list of produce to buy organic.

Endocrine disruptors, quite simply, are chemicals that interfere with hormones in the body. They’re particularly scary because very small amounts can have very big effects, particularly during development.  

You and I don’t have unlimited time to investigate every single ingredient in our shampoo, so it is great to have a list like this to know what to look for, just like we know to buy strawberries and apples organic but not worry too much about avocados.

Most of the endocrine disruptors on the list are names you will recognize, big baddies like lead and dioxin, but some you may not recognize by name.  The list describes in plain English what is so bad about these chemicals and gives suggestions for avoiding them; most enter our body either through food or water.  It’s definitely worth taking a look at. Continue reading

An Introduction to Slow/Real/Whole Food (for my little sister)

My little sister, who just completed her first year of college, was forwarded this buzzfeed page containing a list of 8 common ingredients in food that are banned in other places of the world.  She wanted to know if it was “legit”, and my answer was YES YES YES this is a big deal and if you don’t know all about this already you should!

Because most of the blogs I read are written by other like-mindedly green people, they (and subsequently I) tend to write about more nuanced aspects of green living, like for example my last post on how to minimize organic kitchen waste. This post is for those of you, like my sister, who not only don’t have a worm bucket, but don’t know how to navigate a grocery store without inadvertently buying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Continue reading

Certified Sustainable Seafood is a Little Fishy

After reading my piece this morning on sustainable seafood, my mother happened to hear on the radio part of an NPR investigative series on just that topic.  She sent me the link to the piece, entitled “Under the Label: Sustainable Seafood” and after listening to part one of three I realized that my own research had not been thorough enough.

What NPR questioned that I hadn’t was the Marine Stewardship Council‘s (MSC) sustainability certification. When I first saw it, I thought oh awesome, a third party certification that will make it much easier for me to grocery shop. What I should have been thinking about was who the MSC is, their standards, and their track record.  As it turns out, a quick trip to wikipedia shows that I missed an awful lot. Continue reading

On Sustainable Seafood

I recently read a sidebar in the cookbook Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia on sustainable seafood, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Because I grew up on the water right next to one of the biggest seafood ports in the world, the idea of not only nonlocal but not-caught-yourself seafood is new to me. I have always loved eating the fish that I caught while out for a sail or the quahogs my sisters and I dug up with our feet in the sand.  My family even had lobster traps for a few years.  The rest of the seafood we ate came from local markets selling local fish.  We did eat salmon often though and I’m sure that was farmed somewhere in the Atlantic.

Living in Pittsburgh, I buy seafood from either the grocery store or one of the big fish markets downtown. There is so much variety available to me, yet I don’t know what to buy. I can’t just pick the type of fish labeled “organic” like I can with tomatoes because there is no such thing as certified organic seafood.  There’s only sustainable seafood, and it requires a little research to identify.

The two biggest problems in the modern fishing industry are overfishing and methods of farming and harvesting that cause harm to the oceans.  Other concerns for consumers include mercury and other heavy metal contamination.  This occurs in a process called bioaccumulation to fish high up on the food chain (e.g. tuna and swordfish) from consuming many other organisms that harbor low levels of toxins, not just from absorbing the metals directly from the water.

There are a few great websites out there for reading about sustainable seafood and learning how to shop for it. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies sustainable seafood so you can look for their seal when shopping for fish.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium also publishes a pocket guide (and smartphone app!) with various types of fish divided into the categories of basically “best” “good” and “avoid.” I will definitely be using this next time I go to the fish market.

Here is what I learned and how my seafood shopping is going to change (and why yours should too):

  • No more farmed salmon.  Fish farms are not well regulated and often environmentally damaging, so Alaska wild caught salmon is a better choice.
  • Frozen shrimp are a good buy.  They are frozen at sea where they are caught so they cost less to ship and taste fresh.
  • Dungeness crab is very sustainably farmed (according to Lucid Food).  Never tried this but I plan to if I can find any.
  • Canned tuna should be avoided (mother) because cans are lined in BPA.  I don’t even like canned tuna, but it’s also at high risk for mercury contamination. Bluefish, which is one of my favorite fish to catch and cook myself, also has high levels of mercury. Sad face. 

Obviously the best way to figure out where your fish came from and how it was caught is just to ask.  I find the idea of doing this awkward and irrationally terrifying, but I am going to give it a shot.