Saturday, June 13, 2009


"Revolutionary" isn't the first word you'd use to describe Mark Shelley. The California filmmaker drives a Toyota Prius, for goodness' sake. But Shelley is a key member of a culinary counterculture plot to reintroduce sardines to the American palate.

They call themselves the Sardinistas. Along with Shelley, the conspirators are an environmentalist, a veteran commercial fisherman and a semi-retired entrepreneur and marine biologist. For several years, the "cell" has been meeting informally to gorge on sardines and wine. Now, the Sardinistas are forging a plan to produce canned sardines and prepared foods. Their message: These are not your grandfather's sardines.

Environmentalists also promote sardines because they object to the way they are now used. The Monterey Bay Aquarium estimates that more than 80 percent of the Pacific sardine catch is used to feed bluefin tunas raised in Mexico and Australia. The problem: It takes at least seven pounds of sardines to produce one pound of tuna, a ratio that they say doesn't make sense. "Eating tuna and salmon is the functional equivalent of eating grizzly bears and cougars on land," said Sardinista Mike Sutton, who directs the aquarium's Center for the Future of the Oceans. "We need to eat lower down the food chain to be sustainable."

Eating smaller fish also offers health benefits. Because sardines eat mostly plants, they do not accumulate high levels of mercury or PCBs the way larger, carnivorous fish such as tuna or salmon do. Sardines also live shorter lives: six years vs. about 10 for tuna, meaning less time in the ocean to absorb hazardous toxins. Those factors, say the Sardinistas, plus high levels of protein and omega-3s, make sardines an excellent option for pregnant women, children and eco-conscious college students on a budget.
I became a Sardinista after reading the book Bottomfeeder, although I was unaware this style of eating had a name or was becoming a movement. The author, Taras Grescoe, is a Sardinista who summed up how he eats as follows:
So here is the principle that now guides my fish-eating: I graze at the middle and bottom of the oceanic food chain. Instead of tunafish salad — tuna is a top-level predator — I fill my sandwiches with mackerel, sardines or herring. These are the small schooling fish, still relatively abundant in the oceans, that we now grind up to make fertilizer or cat food, and they have become mainstays of my diet. I eat all the mussels, farmed abalone, lobsters and oysters I can: these bottom-dwellers actually clean the oceans. For a special treat, I’ll have a bigger fish like trout or wild-caught salmon from British Columbia or Alaska (when I can afford it, and when the runs are in good shape). I consult guides like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s to keep up to date on the state of the stocks.
I created a table of Fish Footprints to compare the impact of eating various types of fish. It is really amazing how much more fish would be available for everyone to eat if we all ate lower on the food chain.

Alton Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats" is another Sardinista.
Brown is an admitted sardine fanatic. When he travels, he takes one can of the fish for every day on the road and a pair of chopsticks with which to eat them. After 10 years on television, Brown said, he has finally received permission to produce a show on small fish. In it, he plans to take his signature matter-of-fact approach in explaining how and why to eat sardines. "We need to teach our children that, yes, it had a face. And, yes, it had a life. And here, it has fins," he said. "Bluefin tuna is like crack cocaine if it's good. But we all know what happens if you try to live on crack cocaine."
I will have to check out that show on small fish as the biggest problem with being a Sardinista is that it is tough to find good tasting small fish. I have been unsuccessful in my quest to find fresh mackerel, sardines or herring for purchase. Hopefully this movement will catch on and fresh sardines will make their way to the seafood isle.

via Washington Post via Earth Pub


Jonny Hamachi said...


Audacious Epigone said...

An environmentalist movement adopting a variation of a communist party for a name. Say it ain't so!

Fat Knowledge said...

Jonny, thanks for the link.

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