Nourishing Hero: Paul Greenberg

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This is the first in our Nourishing Heroes series, in which we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us. These heroes exemplify our philosophy that food should nourish body, soul and planet. They’re dedicated to bringing all of us fare that’s healthy, safe, sustainable and delicious. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on NOURISH Evolution? Let us know who inspires you!

All book signings–especially those about food–should be at restaurants. I think so, after meeting author Paul Greenberg when he came to Ammo in Los Angeles to promote his new book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (The Penguin Press). It was an ideal setting for readers to meet him, have some books signed and dine on a special menu highlighting sustainably farmed seafood.

“There are a lot of people out there who are confused about fish, both wild and farmed,” Greenberg noted. “Fifty years ago, everything was wild. Now, about half of what we eat is farmed.”

He pointed to plunging numbers of Atlantic bluefin tuna and noted “Atlantic salmon are commercially extinct”–meaning the salmon still ply Atlantic waters, but not in large enough numbers to make them worth catching.

For Greenberg, an avid lifelong angler, it’s all about catching fish. But in 2000, while fishing in the waters off his native Connecticut, he discovered that the mackerel and codfish that were so plentiful in his youth had virtually vanished. He then set off on a sojourn, fishing from Maine to the Carolinas. Everywhere, the story was the same: Fish were smaller and fewer, and fishing seasons where shorter.  Greenberg also visited fish markets wherever he went, only to find that local, wild catch had given way to a nearly uniform selection of salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna–the four fish of his book’s title.

It’s no surprise that Greenberg, a frequent New York Times Magazine contributor and former W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow, wanted some answers. He embarked on a global odyssey to understand the story behind these fish. Along the way, he visited a native salmon fishery in Alaska and a sea bass farm in Greece. He went cod-fishing off New England and diving in Hawaii to observe an innovative tuna aquaculture operation. His book is filled with larger-than-life characters, both those who passionately advocate preserving wild fish and those who are just as committed to aquaculture.

Ultimately, Greenberg supports sustainably managed wild fisheries and environmentally sensitive fish farming. What’s needed, he contends, are global efforts to preserve wild fish (including reducing the world’s fishing fleets and protecting the bottom of the marine food chain). At the same time, responsible aquaculture must be developed to satisfy our growing appetite for seafood. That means choosing fish that don’t require lots of feed, don’t threaten the wild population and can thrive in aquaculture environments.

Our menu that night–oysters, mussels, clams, Arctic char and barramundi–was as a tasty example of what farmed fish could be, Greenberg observed. The bivalves filter their food from the water and “don’t require any feed whatsoever.”

Finfish like Arctic char and barramundi are “great for aquaculture because it mimics their wild setting,” Greenberg explained.

In the wild, Arctic char congregate in large numbers to spend their dormant winters in tundra lakes under a thick layer of ice. In their native Australia, barramundi gather in stagnant billabongs. Both types of fish are accustomed to high-density living, which makes them disease-resistant so they can thrive in ecologically sound recirculating tanks. As a bonus, they have relatively low feed requirements.

Interestingly, they’re also relatively new to many American diners. But as fish like these start turning up on restaurant menus and at supermarket seafood counters, we can begin to re-diversify our seafood palate beyond the big four.

In the meantime, Greenberg’s motto works for me: “Wild forever, farmed when necessary.”

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2017-05-19T00:19:59+00:00