farmers, cooks, eaters

Do We Eat It to Save It?

Written by Marlen on Apr 3, 2012

This week, Whole Foods Markets announced that beginning Earth Day, it “will no longer carry red-rated, wild-caught fish in its seafood departments … A red rating indicates that a species is suffering from overfishing or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats; the ratings are determined by nonprofit research organizations Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium.” The announcement notes that “the move, which comes one year ahead of the company’s self-imposed deadline of Earth Day 2013, makes Whole Foods Market the first national grocer to stop selling red-rated seafood.”

Photo by Josh

On first read, this announcement triggered the feeling that this is a good thing; that mass-market grocers are becoming more aware and action-oriented toward environmental issues including overfishing. However with further reflection, it also posed the question is this truly a supportive solution to preventing overfishing and harm to marine life and habitats?

A couple of years ago I was introduced to an ‘out of the box’ idea from Louisiana Chef/Author/Ark of Taste Culinary Activist Poppy Tooker, who spoke at a NW conference. The concept she shared was we must “Eat it to save it” which triggered multiple questions that are still ongoing within me. Initially, the idea was so foreign that it didn’t make any sense. Most of us have been taught that if we eat an endangered species, it will become extinct.

Poppy’s message asks us be consciously aware of who and what are fully involved in the ongoing availability of that resource. Are we willing to make complex and multi-layered choices to respectfully protect something so it continues to survive and even thrive? Instead of our dollars supporting mass-production by big conglomerates, are we willing to pay for heritage harvest practices that promote sustainability, biodiversity and cultural continuance?

At the forefront of a growing trend, Poppy has helped identify foods and growers that must be supported as regional links to our national and global heritage. Biodiversity, sustainability, and pre-petro-chemical knowledge that produce food are at a risk of being lost. How are our farmers, fisherman, their homes, communities, and their regional food systems being affected?  Should we instead raise awareness and regulate production methods and yields, versus eliminating the harvest of a species?

Of course prices will increase, however consumption will reduce. Yet would this approach allow a food and its culture to survive? If we stop eating a particular species of fish, does the fishery itself die? This is not simple set of choices, nor is it clear which pathway will result in the best environmental and cultural care. But the more questions we ask, the more we understand what’s at consequence of our actions, and our ability to consciously choose our future and the future far beyond us.

2 responses to Do We Eat It to Save It?

  1. On April 4th, 2012 at 9:38 am , Josh C said...

    The only chance we have to make the right choice, with food and everything else, is to “be consciously aware of who and what are fully involved.” Great piece, thanks for putting this together!

  2. On April 5th, 2012 at 10:07 am , Tomiko Peirano said...

    Such an interesting dilemma. I believe we are at a cross-roads in our relationship to food. I hope that enough of us make the move to get closer to our food sources and continue to allow small producers to thrive in a rocky economy. I also adore Poppy Tooker and her “Eat It To Save It!” campaign. I had the great pleasure of attending one of her cooking classes earlier this year in New Orleans. The wealth of social, cultural and culinary history shared in that class is staggering. Not only is Poppy insightful, she is an incredibly charming teacher who had us laughing as often as we were ooohing and aahing over her pots and pans. I wrote an article about for work, which you can read here,, if you like. Thanks!

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