Do I dare to eat a fish? SF Magazine says no.

Cover of "Eating Animals"
Cover of Eating Animals

Though I’ve long ago given up meat, fish has been a dietary mainstay. I grew up on the East Coast savoring my Bumble Bee white albacore tuna with Hellman’s mayonaise served on fresh rye bread. It was my mom’s equivalent of gourmet food. As an adult, I began cooking fish, starting with salmon and spreading my wings (er… fins) to snapper, trout etc. Still later, as a West Coaster, I discovered sushi and now regularly crave the succulence of hamachi, the crunchiness of spicy tuna and the sweet tanginess of unagi. Moreover, at any restaurant or ethnic eatery, I can always find a fish option when dining with carnivores.

But recently, I’ve been reading about the problems of overfishing, of destruction of our fish stocks, of the disease and chemicals that infest our farm-raised fish. I read  Jonathan Safran Foerr’s latest book, Eating Animals,  which forcefully exposes the dreadful conditions of most industrially raised beef and fowl. But then, he wrote equally compellingly that modern fish farming is not much better for the fish or the humans who ingest them. It was a disturbing awakening.

Then, the new San Francisco Magazine arrived with a cover  expose about how local restaurants and chefs advocating for sustainable fish are falling short of their intentions and proclamations in their own fare.  We all know that the Bay Area is a hotbed of social activism with extremism being part of our civic core. But can we dismiss this inflammatory information? Can we continue to consume foods from the sea with impunity or equanimity?
The magazine’s president, Stephen Dinkenspiel, summed up the dilemma in his column of which the following is a brief excerpt:

“That is why I say that it is sometimes hard to live here. Our hypereducated community is acutely aware of the challenges facing our planet, and takes serious action to meet them. But there are those among us—call them fanatics or prophets or both—who preach that we still aren’t doing enough. For them, the fight to save the earth comes before all else and our carbon footprint is the most important measure of a collective life well lived.I confess that I am willing to live with a slightly lesser discipline. I will consume carefully and conscientiously. I will insist on transparency of information about what I am being served and being sold. This month’s seafood article should help both diners and chefs communicate more clearly about the fish on our platters. Restaurants? Let them do their best—and look forward to claiming full sustainability when they’ve reached that lofty goal. The rest of us? Let’s do our best, too—still enjoy an occasional fling with lox on a bagel, but make sure that choice is a conscious one. ”

Like Dinkenspiel, I am having trouble staying on the right side of this food fault line. I’m cutting back on fish meals & cooking more vegetarian food and even exploring vegan options. A fabulous new book that’s making veganism look really tasty is The Vegan Table by Colleein Patrick-Goudreau. Her recipes look amazing. In fact, tonight I am making her “Roasted brussels sprouts with apples and onions” along with a lentil/kale soup recipe torn from Whole Living Magazine. My guess is we’ll be enjoying more such meals going forward.

I know you are expecting me to end with some sort of fish pun but I’m really floundering here!


  1. I understand your predicament–I want to choose responsibly as well, but I readily admit that I will not give up meat or fish. For medical reasons I need an almost-daily dose of protein, and while I love tofu, I find non-animal protein to be bloating and not the right dietary fit for me personally.

    I’m a fan of the SeafoodWatch app for iPhones…it lets you do searches on all commonly-consumed fish and shows you which types are most sustainably and responsibly caught and which types to avoid.

    I think it’s important not to obsess TOO much about it though, because we could find “irresponsible” or “unsustainable” practices in all diets including vegetarianism, i.e. ‘my organic produce/my tofurkey/my almond milk might come from a faraway source, so the trucks that drove it over to my local market wasted fuel’, etc. The only way to live mostly impact-free would be to fish for your dinner yourself, hunt for your meal in the wild with bow & arrow, and forage for plants and grains or plant them in your own yard. If circumstances don’t permit such a lifestyle, I say get informed about good sourcing, make the best choices you can in supporting fair practices, and ignore the people who try to make you feel like you’re a bad person for not doing it ‘their way.’

    Good post, nobluehair.


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