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Fast Fish Nation

Pete Springer/OPB

Are you ready to eat lower on the ocean’s food chain?

Taras Grescoe’s new book, Bottomfeeder, is being touted as the Fast Food Nation of the seafood industry. And that certainly captures some of the feel of the book; it is a muckracking journey, and in Grescoe’s telling there’s plenty of muck (full of jellyfish, algae, tiny plastic “nurdles” and ground-up fish meal) to rake. But it’s also a passionate manifesto with one overarching plea: humans should eat much less from the carnivorous top of the aquatic food chain (think tuna, swordfish, salmon and cod) and much more from the small, fast-growing bottom (think sardines, herring, mackerel and whiting).

Over the course of more than a year, Grescoe circled the globe to figure out where the seafood on our plates is coming from — and what in turn that seafood is doing to those places. Traveling from Thai shrimp farms to Chesapeake Oyster beds to Medditeranean algae blooms, he argues that, for too long, we have eaten too much of the wrong fish, and have fished them the wrong way.

It’s a story that combines many of the topics we’ve done over the last few months in one big salty mess. There are invasive species (we should eat them, Grescoe has argued). There are echoes of our meat show, with an aquatic twist: that if increasingly we know the name of our ranchers, perhaps it’s time to learn the names of our fishing boats (or at the very least where they’re fishing). And of course there’s salmon.

Are you on board with Grescoe’s plan? Are you ready to reduce your consumption of steaky fish in exchange for sardine salad sandwiches and kippered herring? Are you already asking your fishmonger (or your waiter) where your fish came from, and how it was caught, and how many of its relatives are still out there? Are you going to start?


Taras Grescoe: Author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood and The Devil’s Picnic, among other books

John Connelly: President of the National Fisheries Institute

UPDATE: Monday, June 23, 10:01 AM. The definition of “nurdles” according to Taras Grescoe: “tiny bits of plastic that get swallowed by jellyfish and salps, to be passed up the food chain to larger fish.” He says the exfoliating beads in body scrubs are partially to blame.

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