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June 04, 2013

The Perfect Protein

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Until very recently, I loved to cook salmon. I would go to Citarella (my seafood purveyor of choice) and compare the different varieties available. Invariably the wild salmon would be around 30 dollars a pound, whereas the farmed salmon would be 13 dollars a pound. It seemed like a no brainer; I would pick the farmed and more economical option. That was until I read “The Perfect Protein: The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World.” I have not bought salmon since and have been focusing on eating smaller fish and much more shellfish.

“The Perfect Protein” by Andy Sharpless and Suzannah Evans is an essential guide to more responsible and sustainable consumption of natural, wild seafood. The book covers the health and economic benefits of eating more seafood and provides examples of how good ocean management can make a difference in bringing overfished species back to abundance. The book proposes easy dietary habit modifications that any person can make.

As an avid seafood and sushi lover, I’ve long known that I should be eating more responsibly, but “The Perfect Protein” helped me see how easy and essential it is to take action now. Once I picked up the book, I simply could not put it down. We are at a pivotal point in time. It’s no longer acceptable to think “This doesn’t apply to me” or “My small order of Chilean sea bass or blue fin tuna won’t really make a difference.” That short-sighted thinking is what got us to this point to begin with.

Sharpless is CEO of the conservation organization Oceana. While Oceana works to affect policy, “The Perfect Protein” complements the organization’s mission by giving the general public a roadmap for choosing responsibly caught seafood. I attended the book launch party where Sharpless summarized five basic rules:

• Eat wild.
• Eat local.
• Eat small species.
• Eat lots of shellfish: all the oysters, clams and mussels your heart desires.
• Don’t eat shrimp.

“If you can follow even just one [of these rules], you are living your share of life at this moment in time in a very responsible way,” Sharpless explained.

Oysters, clams and mussels — wild or farmed — are good because they help to filter water and create reefs. Sharpless also emphasized that it’s important to find out how the seafood you buy is caught. Lobsters and crabs, for the most part, are good because they’re often cage-caught, which results in less “bycatch,” untargeted fish that are caught unintentionally. The last rule, which I had to double- and triple-confirm with Sharpless, is not an easy one for me to swallow, as I love shrimp, but since both wild and farmed shrimp are usually caught with small-holed nets, the bycatch ratio is too high and hazardous. I’ve been eating more small fish (such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel) instead of the larger fish (such as salmon, tuna and skate) that I’m accustomed to cooking and ordering in restaurants.

The book also includes 21 recipes for seafood we should be eating more of, including recipes from chefs Rick Bayless (warm clam ceviche), Sean Brock (Carolina triggerfish), April Bloomfield (oyster pan roast) and Michel Richard (fish soup).

Much like Michael Pollan’s “The Ominvore’s Dilemma” and “Food Rules,” “The Perfect Protein” is so effective at raising awareness that it should be required reading in schools — what better way to educate our children on the importance of sustainability. As Sharpless suggests, if everyone just takes one little step, the aggregate effect will be a world of difference.

World Oceans Day is June 8 — as good a day as any to commit to one or more of Sharpless’s world-changing rules.

Photography credit: Jon Dee

SeafoodSustainabilityOcean ConservationOceanaAndy Sharpless