The urban hunt for dinner begins, the go-getter type A personality ignites the debate: “Where do you ladies want to eat?” She is being courteous, if you will, as I know deep down her phone already houses the list of places she will book for the evening. There are a few “I don’t really care, up to you” responses until the next Type A arrives on the scene. “These 8 places are on my bucket list!” Thanks Stacy, that really helps us narrow it down a lot.
A text chain of 103 messages and allergies later, dinner is elected modern-day democracy style, very debatably unfair. When the clock strikes 5pm, the mad dash from the Chicago Loop begins, and the streets swarm with an army of people, suits, briefcases, and honking cabs.
Upon arriving in a tizzy to dinner, the aggravation driven by the rampant group text is immediately alleviated once I get a glimpse of my friends’ faces. After a few tense moments analyzing the menu while navigating the 103 intolerances, the elegantly plated food arrives. Later, with some prayers and lactose pills, I just might actually survive the aftershock of yet another suspiciously delicious meal.
The hum of the speedboat coupled with the rocking swells of the Atlantic ocean would have eased me into a deep slumber if I wasn’t so busy trying to soak in every inch of beauty the Caribbean offers. Mother Nature spared no detail as she designed this place: the soft turquoise waters reflect a vibrant sun-kissed sparkle, starkly contrasting the plunging navy abyss housing the depth’s formidable predators. Enthrallment with the ocean is no accident, its mystique covers the complex and often gruesome circle of life forming below; the water’s beauty makes its darkest secrets always forgivable.
As the boat approached a sandbar, the captain pointed to the sea and exclaimed “Today’s lunch is what we can catch… with our hands!” I excitedly dove (and by dove I mean belly flopped) into the water letting the salt envelop my skin. Down, down I went, just barely grazing the sandy bottom, acting like I knew exactly what I was looking for. Eventually, I flailed toward a pinkish tan conch shell. I gripped the stunning glossy shell between both hands and confidently flipped it over. In a flurry, I flung the shell away from me as its underbelly revealed a grotesque brown creature with a singular plump slimy claw. I heard a shrill noise break the silence beneath the surface and saw the captain hysterically laughing at my encounter.
I had a striking realization in that moment: I have had the good fortune of eating conch many times throughout my life, yet I had no idea what a living conch even looked like. The urban hunter in me couldn’t be suppressed, and I was totally embarrassed. Out of curiosity, I made a checklist of all of the fish I ate regularly to see how many I wouldn’t recognize as a living being. Mahi mahi are electric blue-green magical animals and swordfish are intimidating prehistoric looking hunters. I have the privilege of eating such valuable seafood pretty much whenever I want without ever having to think about its journey onto my plate.
Whether you are directly relying on nature’s offerings for food that day, or your next meal just depends on Open Table’s availability, there are glaring disparities in human’s understanding of food growth and production depending on upbringing, access, and a plethora of other factors. As an urban hunter myself, I made it my mission after my trip to the Caribbean to get a better understanding of sustainable seafood practices so that I can make more educated seafood choices while also appreciating how the food I do eat makes it to my plate.
How to make informed seafood choices
Not all seafood is fished equally. There are 170 billion pounds of seafood removed from the oceans annually. While technology has improved the efficiency and rate of catching fish for the globe’s growing population, these advancements have also left catastrophic damage to our ocean’s biodiversity. Below I have provided fast facts with resources that can help you navigate grocery stores and restaurants to stay well-informed and make the best personalized seafood choices that align with your values and promote health.
1. Look for the blue fish logo
The Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) blue fish logo is an emblem that canned, fresh, frozen, supplements, and packaged seafood all wears if it is caught sustainably. Even dog food can wear this seal of approval. Look for this sign on your next grocery store run to ensure your food was caught in a manner to eliminate bycatch, and is a species not experiencing the repercussions of overfishing.
2. Read the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guide to better seafood choices
The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium has made a bigger name for itself through its masterful comprehensive guide dedicated to helping people navigate the complexity of today’s seafood market. Perhaps the most impressive part is their species guide that provides up to date information on the methods in which each fish is caught, and clearly rates them on a sustainability scale.
3. Opt for wild-caught over farm-raised
Typically, you should try picking wild-caught fish over farm-raised. Marsh Skeele, cofounder and vice president of Sitka Salmon Shares, explains how farm-raised seafood cannot compete with its wild-caught cousins: “For salmon in particular, the farm-raised fish fed pellets and antibiotics can no way match the flavor and nutritional value of a free-swimming wild salmon. Your taste buds will tell you the same.”
4. Be conscious of mercury content
The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury content; big fish survive on smaller ones who also contain mercury themselves. This chain reaction causes the mercury levels in larger animals like swordfish and tuna to accumulate with time. Tuna especially is extremely accessible to many Americans, and contains significant nutritional benefits; however, having a general awareness of tuna’s higher mercury content will help you to actively make safe seafood choices, and at least account for your intake over time.