I’ll admit it: There’s nothing more delicious than fresh lobster tail dipped in butter. Maybe coming from the Midwest, 1,000 miles away from any beach, has fostered my attachment more than normal, but I love seafood. Crab cakes, crab bisque, crab legs — all of it.
So it was a sad day when I decided I had to stop eating fish.
Don’t worry: My vegetarianism is not something I push onto others. In fact, my summer boss is a cattle farmer who owns KFC franchises and likes nothing better than veal. I want everyone to eat fish for the rest of their lives. I want everyone’s kids and grandkids to eat fish too. But that will only happen with a word that Yale loves: sustainability.
My embargo was inspired by two courses that opened my eyes to the disaster that is the global seafood industry: “Ichthyology” and a seminar called “The Management of Marine Resources.” If there’s anything that will stick with me from these classes (apart from learning the 101 things wrong with “Finding Nemo”), it’s that “surf ‘n’ turf” is in great danger of becoming just “turf.”
Simply stated, we have overfished our oceans. Fish are the last wild-caught animals on the planet that we eat on a large-scale basis, but they are often overlooked. In 2003, over 70 percent of the world’s fisheries had either collapsed or were being overfished, and the situation has since become worse. Soon there will be nothing left to catch.
So I stopped eating seafood.
Yale Dining claims it serves its students “fresh food … purchased and prepared in a fiscally responsible and environmentally sustainable manner.” The Yale Sustainable Food Project, in the one sentence about fish on its Web site, claims to follow guidelines from Seafood Watch, a program run out of Monterey Bay’s Aquarium that is dedicated to consumer awareness of sustainable seafood. But in a recent undertaking to find out where my Sunday morning lox actually comes from, I realized that Yale’s offering of seafood is anything but sustainable.
Neither we the students nor those in Yale Dining responsible for making the menus have a good idea of where our fish comes from. Sustainable seafood is complex in that it’s not a simple “yes” or “no” call. Not only does the species itself matter, but equally important are factors such as the method of fishing and the country of origin (most major seafood-importing countries in Asia and South America have weak management of fisheries and aquaculture).
After interviews with a few of the seafood wholesalers that supply to Yale, I learned that most of the seafood we are served would earn a big red “Avoid!” warning from Seafood Watch. The salmon is farm-raised, much of the shrimp is farmed from Asia and South America, and the U.S. Atlantic cod fishery is close to collapsing.
In one of the YSFP table tents in the dining halls — the one titled “Surf” — Yalies are advised to avoid eating farmed carnivorous fish like salmon (oops). We are also discouraged from eating farmed fish raised in net ponds in the oceans. Guess what: Our tilapia with bread crumbs and white wine is not only fed marine-harvested krill, but is farmed in net ponds that border the ocean (again, oops).
But this is not all dismal. Take solace in the fact that the Friday favorite, New England Clam Chowder, is made from scratch with clams that are wild-caught from the Atlantic. Good job, Yale Dining. I bet you had no idea.
Federal law requires retailers to provide country-of-origin labels for seafood and to label the fish as wild-caught or farm-raised. Go to a supermarket and you’ll see them on the packaging — but go to Commons, and all you’ll find is a simple calorie count.
We are “customers” of Yale Dining Services, and it is their duty and obligation to make that information available. We put our trust (and invest a lot of money) in Yale Dining to make educated choices on our behalf. Undergrads are required to be on the meal plan for the first two years, and are entirely at the mercy of what the University decides to serve. To reform its system, Yale needs raised awareness and an incentive to improve.
Luckily, there’s some hope for the future. Next year, Yale will be switching to wild-caught salmon from Alaska, one of the best-managed fisheries in the world. It’s a great start to sustainable seafood (one species down, about 10 to go), and I hope that Yale Dining will continue to pay attention not just to the turf, but the surf, too.
Jessica Glass is a junior in Berkeley College.