My Top 4 Lessons from the 2010 Sustainable Seafood Institute

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sustainable seafoodI just wrapped 2 full days talking about the state of our oceans, and its connection with the state of our plate, thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Institute. As a nutritionist, a journalist, and most of all a MOM, it continues to be some of the most powerful days of my entire year. Here were my top 4 key takeaways we can learn from:

  1. 1.  There's a lot of lying in the seafood business. Uttered most often by Ingrid Bengis, the spunky Maine  fishmonger who famously used to arrive in NYC  toting crates of lobster by bus and taxi to some of NY's top chefs, there was universal agreement among participants on this one. With 80% of seafood in the US being imported, panel after panel stressed that traceability is linked to sustainability. Of any food on your plate, seafood is most in murky waters.

What to do: Ask Questions. A lot of questions-is their supply chain transparent? Seek 3rd party certification (like MSC Certified) as the gold standard. Use your Seafood Watch Guides. Get as close to the source of your food as possible -the beauty of Ingrid was that she was utterly committed to being the sole link between her fisherman, all of whom she knows by name and knows their families-and the chefs. If that means you eat seafood a bit less often, so be it.

2. As customers, we really do drive business. While it's easy to feel jaded by "the system" in light of all the turmoil in politics, Earthbound Farms founder Myra Goodman stressed that the consumer revolution in food choices has absolutely been the driving factor in their success (did you know organics now make up 10% of the produce market? A big gain). CE-YO of Stonyfield Yogurt, Gary Hirschberg, agreed, noting that their success is based on uber loyal customers, not because of a big marketing budget (Stonyfield spends about 0.5% compared to 9-12% for competitors).

What to do: Your dollars are about more than what's for dinner, it's about the kind of world you want to live in and the kind of world you want to leave to your kids. While it may not feel like it, you really really are making a difference by buying companies whose products support the kind of world you want to inhabit, and the level of health you want to achieve. Buy organic, buy local, support companies whose mission you believe in. It's an immediate, powerful tool to change the marketplace.

3. Organics really are superior. While there is still no organic fish certification, the science supporting health advantages of choosing an organic diet had two big wins this month. In early May, the President's Cancer Panel issued a report where the top tips to cut your risk of cancer included Eat Organic, Drink Filtered Water, and Avoid Plastic Food Contatiners that contain BPA (note that some of these guys were Bush appointees). Then, last week a reportcame out in which scientists found that exposure to pesticides on fruits and veggies may double the risk of a child's getting ADHD.

To wit, there was strong anecdotal evidence at the conference as well. Hirschberg, said that they have found organic cows live 2-3X as long as conventional cows on their farms (as a mom that's a strong case for animal welfare that's hard to ignore). And Goodman noted that they are actually witnessing a significant increase in productivity of their land each year, land that has now been farmed organically 20+ years, which means that every year the "cost savings" of conventional inputs become less and less relative to conventional.

What to do: Absolutely buy only organic dairy, meat, pork, poultry and produce. Be sure to get the Environmental Working Group'slist of the Dirty Dozen listing the most contaminated produce-and their Clean 15, showing you conventional produce with the lowest residues. Even a tight food budget can make room for these things if you reallocate dollars away from things like bottled beverages, junk food, and pricey meat cuts and eat lower on the food chain more often.

4. To have a chance of saving the oceans for our kids, Americans need to embrace the Supergreens. Do you have this list? It's the deepest shade of green you can go to eat for health- Sustainability begins with us, the choices we (and hence the restaurants and markets) make. If you go to any reef or fishery in the oceans anywhere across the globe, it's very easy to see the true impact of our lifestyle on the oceans. One place it's very difficult to see the current crisis, however, is your local lavishly appointed fish market.

What to do: Try serving Caesar salad crostini topped with marinated sardines, a mackerel melt (instead of tuna), or canned wild Alaskan salmon cakes-I'm off to try recipes and will be back shortly with my results! Chef up these tasty recipes showcasing sustainable eatsfrom award winning chefs.

Paul Hawken, eloquent visionary and author of Taste for the Future reminded all of us media that we need to reawaken to the sensuous pleasure that comes from eating delicious, whole foods. Let's embrace the natural variability in nature, and teach your kids to do the same-this will have a powerful ripple effect across the supply chain that brings that magnificent tuna halfway across the world to your dinner table. When food seduces you with taste and flavor, it awakens what it is to be human and alive.

Thank you to Earthbound Farms for the amazing organic lunch we enjoyed at their test farm!