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The road to environmentalism may go straight through your stomach. Barton Seaver earned a reputation for himself as both a chef and an activist in Washington, where he committed himself to sustainable seafood menus. He’s continuing that mission with a new cookbook that combines a passion for tasty recipes with respect for the environment.
- Barton Seaver National Geographic Fellow; Chef and Certified Sommelier; Author, "For Cod and Country" (Sterling Epicure)
Recipes below reprinted with permission from For Cod & Country © Barton Seaver, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Orange and Fennel Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
Pink Salmon Cakes with Dill and Mustard
Barton Seaver discusses the links between sustainable seafood and healthy eating during a 2010 TED Talk:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's "Food Wednesday," don't you love it. Delicious is the new environmentalism or so says chef and environmental activist, Barton Seaver, who claims that we have a chance to eat our way back to healthier oceans, one plate at a time, process that can be good for our appetites, our health and for conservation, all at once and that the recipe for a stronger ecosystem can start with refreshingly simple local and seasonal food. He joins us to explore where casual cooking and responsible consumption fit into the conservation and the conversation and his plan to save the world by eating an oyster.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBarton Seaver is a chef, cookbook author, environmental activist and Washington native. He's a National Geographic fellow and his new book is called "For Cod and Country." Barton, good to see you again.
MR. BARTON SEAVERYou as well, Kojo, thanks for having me on again.
NNAMDIYou say that you expect a lot from food, that you expect something fun, something delicious. But that the choices we make, when it comes to our food, can also be catalyst for big changes in the way we see the world around us. How and when did your expectations from food get to be this big?
SEAVERWell, you know, I had the great fortune -- growing up, my mother and father were both very intrepid cooks. And we were born and raised -- my brother and I were born and raised in the Mount Pleasant neighborhoods so we had access to the Eritrean, Ethiopian, Korean, Latino markets. And we were shopping on a daily basis and then also coming over here to the 42nd Street Safeway.
SEAVERAnd so we had this kind of mix of the American and the multicultural methods of, you know, purchasing food. And it was just such a wonderful place to be, the dinner table. And we -- that's where we became a family. And that's where we had a place to give, to share, to whine, to moan, to dream, to hope and really coalesce as a group, as a family. And I've really -- you know, in my transformation through the years as a chef in restaurants, what I've really begun to realize, what really compels me about food, is the idea of the communion of it and how it brings us together. And that's really what my role at National Geographic is, is talking about what we expect from dinner and how those expectations create ripple effects throughout a global economy and a global ecosystem.
NNAMDITo what extent do you feel that those experiences, in a lot of ways, shaped your world view about sustainability?
SEAVERWell, you know, the cultural aspects of food and having access -- my father would have these taco nights and we -- you know, he'd moisten the Masa Harina dough and, you know, these two little towhead boys would be pressing the dough between the, you know, the old castile press. And something that represented, literally, eons of history to the people that lived right next door to us, the people that we played football with in the afternoons.
SEAVERThis was so new and so wondrous to us, but it really represented such a staple. And so it really opened my eyes to the fact that food is a lens of exploration. Not only culturally, but ecologically as well.
NNAMDIWe've talked on this show before about your roots in Washington. And you write in this book, as you just said, that it was your father's home-cooked meals, particularly his fish, that pulled you into the kitchen. What was it about those meals that put you on this path? And don't forget to mention the, what, Glenfiddich Scotch.
SEAVERWell, yeah, my father would come home from work and he always wore these giant shirts and a blue tie. And he would come and take his blazer off and his tie off and he put on this apron that made him look like a railroad conductor, gray and white striped suit. And, you know, it was just wonderful, these images that I have in my head when I was a kid.
SEAVERAnd funny enough, every now and then, my father would have a scotch, about once every two weeks or so. And I could never tell when I was young, whether that meant he had a bad day or a good day, but it was always this wonderful kind of realization that I have since, sort of looked back with that -- it was those days that my father really used food as an opportunity to slow down, then to kind of remind himself and maybe the family too of what was really valuable about this process, about the work that he had been doing that day or what, whatever it is that was -- that came home with him that night.
NNAMDIAnd those are your most pleasant memories? Where can you see your father's influence in the way you cook today?
SEAVERWell, you know, most of the meals that we ate when we're a kid, it was a pile of rice, a small pile of scallops, sautéed -- lightly breaded in flour, sautéed in butter with lemon juice.
NNAMDIYou're making me hungry. Go ahead.
SEAVER...and then broccoli and then some snow peas and then some steamed carrots and very component cooking. You know, it's definitely not restaurant cooking. And to this day, Dad, thank you for making me love vegetables. You know, that's what's fun about cooking. It's not protein. Everybody has access to that here in this country. But it's the vegetables, the taste, the textures, the colors, the seasonality, the aromas, that's what really makes food sexy and fun.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. What are your favorite ways to cook smaller fish and shell fish, such as oysters, clams and sardines? We're talking with Barton Seaver, his latest book is called "For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking." 800-433-8850, where does sustainability fit into the choices you make at the grocery store or at restaurants? Call us, 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question, make a comment there. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIBarton, let's stay at the beginning for a minute because you say that another chef, Corky Clark, was the person who helped teach you the importance of paying attention to the ingredients on your plate, how seafood presents itself. What was it about Chef Clark and his approach to food that resonated with you?
SEAVERWell, you know, I've read of a story in the book, the second day of his class -- and he is an old Navy chef and just militaristic to the point if you don't get it, you don't get it. I mean, just tough, tough man, but tough love. And he had assigned us this problem to go home with. He said, why do you add the paprika to the butter at the very beginning of making goulash? It's a pretty esoteric question for a culinary school kid to be answering.
SEAVERI mean, that's a pretty specific conversation here. And nobody could come up with the answer. And he came in the next day and he said, well, it's because paprika or capsicums are oil soluble, fat soluble. And so to get the most flavor, you toast them in the fat, thus the spreading the flavor all the way throughout and getting that wonderful, richness and seduction of those flavors. And it just made me realize that it was that day that you really have to pay attention to absolutely every ingredient that goes on the plate.
SEAVERAnd I furthered this learning through him, when I was teaching under him in a graduate position, teaching meat and fish. And it was amazing. Every halibut that came through the door, I would taste. I mean, I tasted tens of thousands of fish over these two years, literally, tens of thousands of fish. And I began to learn that every halibut tastes different.
SEAVERNot Pacific from Atlantic, but the fact that, literally, Pacific halibut number one with Pacific halibut number two that came in the same box on the same day from the same boat tasted slightly different.
NNAMDIYou also work for Jose Andres, another person who clearly expects a lot from food and another person who's been talking more and more about the science of food and the ingredients that go into food. You also seem to be taken with the same kinds of things.
SEAVERI do. And, you know, Jose has been a wonderful influence. I was at Jaleo for a little while when I first moved back to America from Spain. You know, and Jose has been an exceptional influence, really, in understanding how the process of food does not stop at the plate. And Jose, I think, is going to be best known for his work, really, in the community.
SEAVERI mean, he's a genius on the plate, but I think he's a true humanitarian beyond it. And, you know, I took that courage from him, to realize that a chef might be a little bit more than just someone who puts food on a plate. And that's what you're seeing, the real evolution of the role of the chef in America lead by visionaries like Alice Waters, like, you know, Robert Egger, who's not a chef, but a food personality like Jose Andres. And, you know, it's a wonderful opportunity to stand on their shoulders and to progress a little bit of their work.
NNAMDIBeing able to organize a world view around food. It's my understanding that a trip to Morocco was a transformative experience for you in terms of how you see food. What did you see there and how did that affect your perspective?
SEAVERWell, it was transformative in many ways. I actually ended up in Morocco by accident, which is -- I actually ended up in Africa itself, by accident. I was coming down through South of Spain into the little ferry town there, Algeciras, the port. And the hostel that I was going to stay at for the night was closed for the season. And, you know, what am I going to do? And, literally, at that moment, the bus pulls into the ferry station. In a youthful vigor, a burst of youthful vigor, I just hopped off the bus and literally ran through the station and just kind of ran up a ramp and…
NNAMDIOnto the ferry.
SEAVER...in two hours, I was in Africa. And...
NNAMDIFerries do have that affect on people.
SEAVERAnd I ended up staying there for quite a long time. And ended up winding my way down through the Sahara desert, through Marrakesh, through Casablanca, Rabat and then down, back up through Western Sahara, up into Agadir and Essaouira, which is the arts capital, beautiful white city. And I ended up just spending my afternoons walking around these beautiful -- the hazy Medinas and the wild ramparts where the trade winds buff at the African coast.
SEAVERI mean, there's just this truly incredible place. And I would eat my -- and I would take my meals from these gentlemen that would set up these little charcoal shacks right on -- right on the ramparts. And the fishermen, you could see them going out. They would catch the fish and come back. And I was so lucky to eat some of their fresh catch sprinkled with nothing but seawater to season it, a little bit of the ubiquitous spice mixture of the pepper, the onion and the cucumber relish.
SEAVERAnd what I really began to -- I began to befriend these people. I spoke their language of food, of fire. We whispered of soccer and elicit wine and women. It was just fun. And it was food related. And then, I began to know the fishermen. And I was lucky enough to go out on their boats and it was an incredible -- these bodies like Baryshnikov prancing right on the bow of this boat, buffeting in the waves, rocking back and forth, throwing these nets.
SEAVERAnd what the realization was, is that they were casting these nets in hopes of catching dinner and not dollars. And that's the first time that I'd really participated in and seen a real subsistence food system.
NNAMDII'm so glad you mentioned that. Because you say that sustainability, in your view, is about people not fish. Conservationists need to acknowledge that everyone acts in his or her own self interest. As a part of this effort, it's necessary to change the lexicon of sustainability. What do you mean by that?
SEAVERWell, sustainability is a really un-sexy term. It relies on, I think, fear and a lack of understanding to maintain the status-quo. And where we are on our planet, right now, is that our -- a great quote, actually, if I may, by a wonderful author, John Hersey, wrote the book "Blues." I actually start off the book with this. "In our quest for food, we begin to find our place in the systems of this world."
SEAVERAnd unfortunately, right now, we're beginning to realize that our place in the systems of this world are -- we're beginning to see that we're a little bit in jeopardy between climate change, between over fishing, between pollution. And so sustaining where we are, maintaining this status-quo, A, doesn't really have this call to action appeal, but also, I think, it's really time that we engage to replenish, to restore, to enliven the dialogue into a new, a fresh space that acknowledges that we have a dynamic and systemic relationship with our oceans, with our natural world.
SEAVERThat we encourage to replenish, even as we continue to take from.
NNAMDIBecause fish, for instance, should not be seen as a resource, you say, but it's a reality in our daily lives.
SEAVERWell, you know, the reality is dead fish in our daily lives. But everything on this planet has two purposes, to eat and be eaten. And unfortunately we have disregarded the fact that sea life, as the great Dr. Sylvia Earle calls it, you know, so passionately, has a very defined purpose in the world that we're just beginning to understand. And that seafood, the ecosystem, all of the functions of this world, provide a lot more value to us than just a filet on a plate.
NNAMDIWe've had Sylvia Earle on this broadcast before. I'll tell you in a little while exactly when, so if you want to go back into our archives, you can check on that. But on to the telephones, we start with Mary in Falls Church, Va. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, Kojo, thank you very much for talking to me. I love your show.
MARYI wanted to talk about a couple of things that you've mentioned. One was seafood, freshly prepared seafood, and also local and sustainable. I actually grew up in New England. My great-great grandfather was an oysterman so shellfish, local shellfish, was just always a part of my life.
MARYOur farmers' market used to have fresh lobster so I was pretty spoiled. And the best way, I think, to cook any of those things is just steam them or even eat them raw. You mentioned the fishermen who would just sprinkle seawater, but since moving here, I've been looking for a substitute. The oysters and clams and crab don't quite taste the same to me so I'm seeking out some local options that I can get fresh and can substitute those childhood memories.
NNAMDIBarton, any suggestions for Mary?
SEAVERAbsolutely. And I love going straight to the food, straight to the flavor. You know, lobster is really one of the great success stories and I'd like to get back to that after I answer directly to your question.
SEAVERReally, I wouldn't be worth the local taxes I've paid here if I didn't, you know, call out the Maryland Blue Crab or the Chesapeake Blue Crab. I mean, it is absolutely iconic seafood of this area. The Blue Crab cake, Faidley's Market up in Lexington Market, up in Baltimore, I think, is probably the best place to get crab cakes.
SEAVERAnd you know what? There's a lot of resurgence of the oyster population here in the Chesapeake Bay and that really represents one of the great success stories, as do crabs actually, of a restorative approach.
SEAVERAnd my absolute favorite people in the world, the Travis and Ryan Croxton, down at the Rappahanock River Oyster Company, rroysters.com, they are undergoing a massive restoration project and a massive cultural restoration of the watermen, of the culture of the intergenerational waterfront communities.
SEAVERAnd their oysters are delicious. They've got about seven or eight different types that I would call the miroir (sp?), ranging from a Barcat, which is soft, sweet, round to an Olde salt, which punctuatingly salty, I mean, just bracingly salty and crisp and bright and clean and they run the gamut in between. And they're available in a lot of restaurants around the area. They're very quite -- quite successful locally.
MARY(unintelligible) thank you.
NNAMDINo, Mary, I think you had another question.
MARYYes. I just wondered if you can name a couple of restaurants that feature those oysters.
SEAVERWell, my great friend, Jaime Leeds, features them very prominently at all of her Hank's locations, I believe, actually has some Virginia oysters being grown locally for her specifically as an exclusive. And then, I know Marcel -- Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel's and Beck's and Muscle Bar, I know that he's another big supporter of the Croxton boys at Rappahanock River Oysters.
NNAMDIGood luck to you, Mary. Thank you for your call.
NNAMDINow you've started down this track, Barton, I can't turn back. Your cookbook includes some simple and fresh seafood recipes for summer. Tell us a little about some of them. Well, before we go to the break, let's get one, the recipe for the poached mackerel roll with spiced mayonnaise. It can be found in the book "For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking." Here's Barton Seaver.
SEAVERWell, you know, the poached mackerel roll -- mackerel is one of the kind of underappreciated species. It's not underutilized. It's a sustainable, for the lack of a better term, species, especially around this area. Caught predominately in Carolinas all the up through New England coasts during the summer especially. And it's a take on the classic lobster roll. And in this case -- you know, lobster rolls are very expensive, even, you know, even when you make them at home, lobster's $10.95 a pound.
SEAVERPoached mackerel, poached in a little bit of lemon juice, white wine, sprigs of thyme and then mixed with mayonnaise seasoned with mace, which is the lacy, frilly outer covering of the nutmeg and it has that same beautiful, exotic, sultry characteristics, but it's a little more angular, a little more savory.
SEAVERA little bit of celery in there just to add a little bit of texture and what a beautiful, cheap, inexpensive and accessible way to get high levels of omega protein, knock your socks off good eating. And, you know, it sort of connects us with the cultural traditions of the great New England culinary tradition.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back more appetizing recipes and thoughts on sustainability or environmentalism or, as Barton Seaver puts it, the reality in which we live. 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org if you've got a question or comment for Barton. Send us an e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our "Food Wednesday" conversation with Barton Seaver. He's a chef, cookbook author, environmental activist and Washington native. He's a National Geographic fellow and his new cookbook is called "For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking."
NNAMDII love the cover of this book. Tell me about it. How was it designed?
SEAVERWell, thank you. I -- my beautiful wife, Carrie Anne, is actually a principal of a design firm called Anemone Design and she actually competitively won the contract to design the book. And so I feel as though we've given -- we've sort of birthed our first paper baby here and that is this book. And she did the cover and everything in between.
SEAVERYou know, it was a really interesting experience, watching this whole thing come to fruition literally from the words to the recipes to the pictures and all into a final product. It's really fun.
NNAMDIYou mean, you didn't do it all by yourself?
SEAVERUnfortunately, no. I wish I could've gotten all that contractual money, but I didn't.
NNAMDIBack to the lobster conversation, because apparently we hadn't ended the lobster conversation when we went into the break. You wanted to say something else about lobsters.
SEAVERWell, I think lobsters represent a great opportunity to kind of genuflect to cultural traditions and how they associate with sustainability moving forward. One of the reasons why lobster is doing so well in America, primarily Maine I'm talking about here, is that there's this idea of piety that's associated with the lobstering community. And partially, this is because a lot of them live on islands and island communities tend to think of themselves in a more generational approach.
SEAVERAnd piety is this idea of being part of a system that was here before us and will be here after us and therefore our actions are the result of actions before and our actions will have ripple effect into the future. And that has sort of governed the ideology that has kind of filtered down through the whole lobster fishery and they've really adopted some pretty amazing things -- self-adopted.
SEAVERBefore there was environmental pressure from outside groups, such as notching pregnant females so they would make sure to leave a breeding population in the water, to make sure that lobsters grow to a certain size, that they leave certain sized lobsters after they get big enough, and these are self-adopted measures that really show that there's a will for the fishing communities themselves to survive as part of the ecosystem.
NNAMDIYou tweeted earlier this week about a new report that found that the world's ocean are in a shocking state of decline. The international program on the state of the ocean is telling the United Nations that things look worse for ocean today than they did even just a few years ago. What do you think about what they found?
SEAVERWell, for someone who's trying to sell a cookbook about seafood, that was a tough read for me, you know, just this shattering state of alarm, this Clexane warning. What that -- what that study really represents is the first time that we've collected all of the various detriments to the ocean, from acidification due to climate change, due to dead zones and nitrification -- over nitrification, hypoxia, anoxia, which the Chesapeake Bay suffers greatly from. Overfishing, pollution, and really added all of these things together into a kind of snapshot of, you know, basically a, you know, a checkup on the oceans, your yearly checkout at the doctor. And taken individually, fishing is one problem.
SEAVERTaken individually, acidification is another problem. But if you add them all together, the stressors that are placed upon the ocean right now, the picture doesn't look too great.
NNAMDIAnd when you said taking it together, the report says, so if you look at almost everything -- or this really was the opinion of a coral specialist from the University of Queensland in Australia, if you look at almost everything, whether it's fisheries and temperate zones or coral reefs or arctic sea ice, all of this is undergoing changes, but at a much faster rate than we had thought. And I think that's likely to be the significance of this new report that things are happening a lot faster than was originally thought.
SEAVERWell, the same way that -- the oceanic systems balance all of our climate and everything on Earth. When those systems begin to generate change, that change can accelerate itself and become cyclical. And I think that's -- we're beginning to see the beginning stages of the evidence of that. However, attached to this, my great friend Dan Laughey of the International Union for Conservation Networks mentioned at the end of that piece that there is hope and that -- I think, you know, a little bit quote of Sylvia Earle and Dan here that "the time to care for the blue heart of our planet is now and it is urgent."
NNAMDIWell, you also mentioned earlier Sylvia Earle and I mentioned she'd been on the broadcast before. That program was on October 9th, 2009. You can find that link to that broadcast at our website, kojoshow.org. Onto the telephones, here is Moheeb (sp?) in Rockville, Maryland. Moheeb, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
MOHEEBHi, Kojo. I'm just enjoying your show. Thank you very much.
MOHEEBI wanted to know, why is there a restriction in both Islamic and Judaic tradition for shellfish, especially shrimp and possibly lobster?
NNAMDII will have our religious expert, Barton Seaver, respond to that.
SEAVERI am only going to guess at this as I am not a religious scholar, but I would say that in -- for fear for offending, I don't mean to assume anything here, but I believe it's based really on health. A lot of the species that you see, you know, rejected by religious and dietary restrictions are the detritivores, those that feed on waste and the same is true of hogs traditionally in agriculture. And, you know, there's that old adage of don't eat oysters in months without an R, which is, you know, well back before there was refrigeration and you were living in New York City and all the oysters came from the Chesapeake.
SEAVERWell, I -- anybody that's been outside today in D.C. and image a four-day, you know, carriage ride all the way up to New York, guess what? Yes, don't eat that oyster. But in the modern day, I think we've, you know, seafood is pretty safe.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that. Moheeb, thank you for your call because that allows us to take it from the global scale to the individual scale. Summer, as you mentioned, started yesterday. It's hot. What are the kinds of individual choices that you think about during this season based on the ingredients that are available, based on the food that's available, based on the fish that's available?
SEAVERWell, that's a -- one of the things that I've done in the book is arranged it seasonally and we don't tend to think of seafood as a seasonal product. And while certainly some species betray our sense of seasonality, such as halibut, the pacific season opens in March and runs through November.
SEAVERPacific salmon, the same, various species run way across our seasonality. However, there is a time and a place when fish taste best. If you've ever been on the beach with a salty sea breeze hitting your face, eating a gently poached clam just dipped in butter, you know, that's where you're supposed to be.
SEAVERIf you've ever taken a piece of swordfish that looks like cardboard, has been frozen for three months, came from Costa Rica, it's February and you broiled it, it's just not that vibrancy, that vitality, that life, that whoop when you get if you're up in Menemsha and the bell starts ringing and all the townspeople start running down towards the dock. You're like, what's going on? Is everything burning? And they're like, no, they caught a swordfish. And they come running and everybody goes to celebrate, to genuflect with reverence to the time, the place.
SEAVERYou know, that's cool. And we do have the opportunity to kind of participate in that seasonality in some ways. Bigger species, such as striped bass, bluefish, Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, the mackerels begin swimming towards us in chase of the smaller prey species, like Menhaden and herring. And just the drama of nature unfolds right before our nets and woo, it's exciting. And then, come winter time, I don't know if anybody's been on a boat in winter, but, you know, canned pink salmon will do just fine for me then.
NNAMDIOn to Mary, in Washington D.C. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, thank you so much for taking...
NNAMDIYes, Mary, are you there? Mary, you seem to have dropped off. I'll put you on hold, Mary, continue our conversation and get back with you. And I'm glad we can continue our conversation because after we talked about the recipe for poached mackerel roll with spiced mayonnaise, we got this from James, by way of e-mail. "Try a hearty Veracruzana marinade with mackerel. The tomatoes and olives make a good compliment to the strong taste of the fish. Sounds like a good idea?
SEAVERAbsolutely. I'd compliment you on that recipe. I'd eat that.
NNAMDIWell, this we got from John in Tacoma Park. This will be a challenge for you Barton Seaver. "How does one learn to like fish and seafood? I know I should eat more of it and want to eat more of it, but I've had an aversion to it since childhood. I blame school cafeteria fish sticks. I eat some shellfish. I actually love oysters raw, go figure, and can eat mild whitefish in small quantities, but I would never cook or order an entire meal. Even the thought makes me queasy. Help," says John.
SEAVERHelp. Sorry, the preeminent Sylvia Earle just walked into the window there. Sorry, I was momentarily distracted. Eating seafood is tough, you know. There are opportunities that you have to kind of progress your steps forward.
SEAVERTilapia is -- while it's not one of my favorite eating fishes, is a relatively benign experience. Beginning to step up -- you know, and honestly one of the things that I'd tell you to do is take a can of anchovies, put it in a blender with a little bit olive oil, some lemon juice, maybe a little bit of shallot, touch of garlic and put it over a shaved a vegetable salad or broiled broccoli or something.
SEAVERYou know, broiled sweet potatoes with that crunch, that texture, that sweetness, that aroma, you know, just buried in the whole thing and just bursting off the plate. And drizzle a little bit of this anchovy vinaigrette over the top and just see if you can't, you know, hey, if you're going to dive in, dive in the deep end and try it that way or step up.
SEAVERThere's recipes in the book, such as catfish, gently stewed in a Romesco sauce of fiery, smoking, sultry sauce of tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and almonds pureed with olive oil. It makes almost like an Indonesian-style fish curry with sort of the Spanish flavors. It's beautiful.
NNAMDIYou just reminded me of the magical aspects of this show. How did we conjure up Sylvia Earle? How'd we do that?
SEAVERIt's because you're a James Beard award winner, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you very much. "For Cod and Country" also features recipes from using the smaller fish in the sea, sardines, anchovies and oysters to name a few. Tell us about your recipe for smoked sardines with heirloom tomatoes and herbs and why do you like cooking with sardines.
SEAVERWell, when we think of fish, you know, our tastes have progressed. One hundred years ago -- there's a study called "Recipe for Rarity," which was done out of a college up in Pacific Northwest, which showed that our taste preferences for seafood have literally taken an entire point in atrophic scale, a step. That means we've gone from eating oysters, mackerel -- or oysters, herring, sardines, filtered feeders, base feeders, muscles and we've taken a step up to eating tunas and salmon and these big costly, you know, predatory species.
SEAVERNow, I'm not saying we shouldn't eat those, but we should eat them with severe reverence for the costs that they, you know, come out of the ocean with. Sardines are one of the best examples of how heart-healthy omega3's, delicious, accessible protein that's available in every 7-11, in every corner bodega in Harlem, in every Wal-Mart across America, are available for a family to actually be able to afford the sardines. They're delicious straight out of the can. You got 10 minutes to make dinner. Slice a tomato, a little bit of mayonnaise and some sardines and you're done. And it's beautiful. It's seasonal. It's fun eating and ultimately, it's healthy.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, back to Mary in Washington D.C. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, thank you so much, Kojo. I grew up living in Michigan and spent some time in Cameroon and we always had fresh, local fruits and vegetables and they were absolutely lovely. And I'm lucky enough to live in Columbia Heights and we have a beautiful farmers' market with produce and some other local proteins, but no fish.
MARYAnd, you know, I can go to Whole Foods and find fresh or frozen fish that's been flown in, but as a home cook, it's very difficult for me to find the fresh, local and seasonal fish in this area. So I'm wondering where I might be able to find that.
SEAVERPossibly the best cultural destination in all of D.C., the Main Avenue Seafood Wharf. Hop on any of the 50 buses on 14th Street, head straight down, and get off in Independence Avenue and walk three blocks. It is one of the greatest cultural -- you find the -- the Asian community, the Vietnamese, and the Thai restaurateurs coming to stock up for the restaurants for the day.
SEAVERThe African-American community coming in just to buy crabs and all sorts of stuff. The Latino community coming down. There's all-you-can eat shucked oysters right there available. There's poached corn. There's steamed crabs. And most of the fish that's actually on these barges, floating right there in the Potomac River, is from the Chesapeake Bay down to North Carolina. And it's just fun.
SEAVERThe fish is sitting out on ice. You're buying whole fish, you know, which is an opportunity that we don't have much anymore, to actually look at the whole fish and to say, wow, this is actually this awesome looking mackerel which looks like some, you know, warrior breed of fish sent to conquer the world. And we can actually understand that this really was sea life, and it really had a life and a purpose in the ocean, and that it, you know, sacrificed, and we're here to enjoy it. And there's a reverence in that, and it's just fun.
NNAMDIMary, thank you...
MARYGreat, thank you so much.
NNAMDIMary, thank you so much for your call. We got this e-mail from Lauren who says, "As a vegan, I know nothing of the flavors of fish. My Mt. Pleasant backyard has been turned into a small farm thanks to several years of hard relaxing rewarding work. We are growing okra, eggplant, cucumbers, butternut squash, ambrosia, melons, brussel sprouts, green beans, arugula, seven types of tomatoes, seven types of peppers, strawberries, blueberries, and lots of herbs.
NNAMDIA friend recently got a new home and has started learning to cook, and is constantly asking advice. She's a pescetarian, and I would love to give her a recipe, along with a selection of my veggies to use. Any suggestions?" Only about a hundred to be found in "For Cod and Country," but here is Barton Seaver.
SEAVERWell, you know, I was saying at the beginning, at the top of the broadcast here, that what makes eating fun are the vegetables. And I'm absolutely with you on this. Everybody's got access to protein. The fastest way to save the oceans is to not -- not to eat sustainable seafood, it's to eat a lot more vegetables.
SEAVERYou know, when I think of really getting into a meal, I think of a steaming pile of crispy crunchy quinoa pecan pilaf, you know, broiled green beans with a poached almond oil aioli over the top, broiled broccoli maybe drizzled with a little bit of anchovy vinaigrette for your pescetarian friend. But really, that's what makes eating fun. And that's actually one of the issues we have in this country.
SEAVERIf you look at most menus, it'll have Atlantic Salmon, 14 point font, bold, price $28, 14 point font, bold, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, the vegetables listed 8 point font, regular type. We don't give the credence to the vegetables. We don't give them their place on our plate. And so I'm with you. I mean, veganism is hard to do. I very much respect people that are able to, you know, really create a healthy diet out of that.
SEAVERIt's wonderful for the planet. But really, throughout the book, and throughout all of my cooking really, getting back to that influence from my dad, is that meals are really a collection of vegetables.
NNAMDIBarton Seaver is a chef, cookbook author, environmental activist and Washington native. He's now a National Geographic fellow. His new cookbook is called, "For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking." We're gonna take a short break. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. How do you eat and cook green on a budget? What are your favorite places to hunt for local or seasonal ingredients? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's "Food Wednesday." We're talking with Barton Seaver, chef, cookbook author, environmental activist, Washington native. He's a National Geographic fellow. His new cookbook is called, "For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking." I don't think we've talked since you became a fellow with National Geographic. Tell us a little bit about that gig and what responsibilities you have there.
SEAVERWell, you know, it's fun. If you think about National Geographic, such an august organization, and what we immediately associate are the photographers. These brave men and women sent out into the world to create a snapshot, to create a relationship and then take a snapshot of that to bring it back to us as a souvenir to be published in the vaunted pages of that yellow magazine. And just think how many of those pictures have radically altered our understanding of an issue.
SEAVERAnd just as Brian Skerry or Mattias Klum are sent out into the world to -- to gather this relationship for us, so, too, do we explore the world. We just explore it with our forks. And I'm using dinner as a lens to explore how we relate to each other, to relate to our communities and to our natural world through the resources that we take from it. To me, the compelling narrative of conservation is really a story about responsible consumption.
SEAVERIt's about what we do. It's about how we do it and how we relate to those things. And in, you know, going back to that John Hersey quote, "in our quest for food, we begin to find our place in the systems of this world." Dinner is a wonderful lens to begin to explore how we can fit ourselves back into an organic system. And, you know, it's really an opportunity.
SEAVERAnd the best part about it, that these conversations start with delicious and that's, you know, that's a fun place to start.
NNAMDIIndeed it is. Talk a little bit about seafood guides.
SEAVEROkay. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute both publish, amongst many other groups, these wallet guides, these very easy to use cards that rank fish between red, yellow and green. And the associations are pretty obvious. Eat the green list species. Don't eat the red and the yellow. These are very helpful as a snapshot, but they really do not tell the whole story in that the purpose of the restoration of the sustainability dialogue is to change the fate of the species in the yellow and the red.
SEAVERAnd so there needs to be a dialogue about restoration, about really integration, about, you know, outright moratoriums on some species like Orange Roughy, like Blue Fin Tuna.
SEAVERAnd then also, a conversation -- a deep and, you know, intricate conversation about how we co-evolve sustainable economies with sustainable management so that we incentivize people to do the right the thing in order to replenish, to actually increase biomass, to leave more fish in the ocean for the fish's sake, as Sylvia would say, not only just to take from it for our sake.
NNAMDIWe got this e-mail from Jennifer. "I try to be careful to choose fish that are not overfished, whether eating out or cooking in. Now, DNA testing of fish in supermarkets and restaurants is showing that often what we think we're buying is not what we're getting. Since I'm not a marine biologist, I'm not even certain buying whole fish will help me make good decisions. Any advice, especially for restaurant eating?"
SEAVERYou know, it's tough. And the seafood industry is a -- is the last wild -- it's really the wild west, as evidenced by these new studies that are coming out. And really, unfortunately, the -- the economic incentives, the -- the profit model is in rarity -- is in the specter of rarity. And so the middle-supply chain really obfuscates the flow of -- or the transfer of information. The best advice that I have for you is to go find somebody you trust.
SEAVERI mean, the best way -- 90 percent of good fish cookery is buying good fish. So you should be introducing yourself to the person, the man or the woman behind the fish counter, and saying hi, I'm Barton, what's your name? What do you got that's fresh, that's best, that most economical for me today? In that personal relationship, you begin to develop trust, and then you let the experts begin to do the work for you.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Here now is Tom in Wheaton, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMHi, guys. I have a question about a big fish and a little fish, but -- but first, I wanted to tell you, Kojo, I've been cringing the last two days. The word restaurateur does not have an N in it. It's a French word that means one who restores, and the restaurant came after the restaurateur.
NNAMDIThank you so much.
TOMYeah. The big fish, little fish, two concerns. One, little fish locally Menhaden in Chesapeake Bay that are still being harvested for dog food, and then big fish is Shark Fins.
SEAVERI just wonder if you could address -- both of those seem to be, you know, one on -- the big fish part is a whole issue. I know there's a new book out on sharks. But Menhaden in Chesapeake Bay, it doesn't seem to be being addressed. Those little fish are so important to the whole chain.
SEAVERYeah. Well, first I'll tackle the shark issue, and by all means, I have not read this book, but I know Juliet Eilperin very well. She's been a great friend through the years. Her new book "Demon Fish" is just out in the next couple of weeks. She is absolutely fantastic and about as smart as anybody I know on these issues. So definitely look into that. The problem with shark fin soup is that it's a cultural thing.
SEAVERIt is the act of hospitality. And in fact, it speaks to your original point that restaurateur is really a restaurateur, a place where people went to restore themselves, and that was an act of hospitality. In an Asian culture, the act of giving somebody shark fin soup is an act of generosity, of hospitality. And so there's a lot more here than just changing people's taste preferences. We actually have to taste whole, I mean, change whole cultural models.
SEAVERAnd then, to Menhaden. Menhaden are the best example of a reduction fishery. They are not fished for human consumption. There's a small movement at hand right now to brand them as Mahimi and try and sell them as a human product -- a product for human consumption. But the carpet that you're standing on, the paint on the walls of the room you're standing in, the moisturizer that you put on your face, the lipstick, the pork that you eat from conventional sources, the chicken, these are all fed by the -- all of these industries are fed by Menhaden.
SEAVERAnd there's a great book by G. Bruce Knecht about Menhaden, calling it the most important fish in the sea because they perform such a necessary function. Not only do they filter the top of the water column just like oysters do for the base of it, but they also provide the -- basically the entire balance of the food web. And just as, you know, just as we need to eat, so do other fish need to eat, and we have the option of eating lots of vegetables.
SEAVERSo let's leave more fish in the sea. Let's leave the Menhaden there. If we're gonna take something out, let's praise it. Let's put it on a pedestal. Let's celebrate what it is with joy and reverence, and really eat with care and, you know, great joy.
NNAMDIWanted to get back to the issue of health, and allow me to go at this way. This e-mail we got from Michelle. "I've always been an adventurous person, and I love to cook and to try new foods. However, in the past five years, I've been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, meaning that I can no longer eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and have had two children who both have very severe life-threatening peanut allergies.
NNAMDIWe not only must be very aware of every ingredient in our food, but also of any sources of cross-contamination. I've done a great job of cooking and baking things that we can all eat at home. I'd love to be able to travel more, but we are very restricted by our dietary issues. As a chef who has traveled extensively, do you have any suggestions to help us be able to travel and not eat only plain rice and steamed vegetables?"
SEAVERWell, you know, a lot of the travel that I've done, most of the countries that I've gone to, plain rice and steamed vegetables is about all they eat. You know, we in America are so lucky. There's two questions that govern the world, what shall we eat for dinner, and will there be dinner. And, you know, I think a lot of the greatest travel that we can do is to the countries where we can really begin to interact with cultures and communities that are really operating on a subsistence level.
SEAVERAlthough that's probably not the answer you're looking for. You know, it's all about translation. It's all about just finding places you trust, and fortunately -- unfortunately through the, you know, the -- so many more of these allergies showing up, that a lot more people, a lot more chefs and restaurateurs are becoming sensitive and reacting appropriately to it.
NNAMDINow, National Geographic and health.
SEAVERWell, you know, one of the things that I'm doing with National Geographic, and this is something that really excites me, is using -- is beginning to see food as a curative diet, you know. Food is the most powerful drug that we all consume. It regulates everything that we do. We eat it in order to sustain and fuel our machine. And unfortunately, our medical system, you know, we're undergoing this large debate right now about the cost of the cure.
SEAVERAnd what we should be talking about is the in-expense of the prevention. And food is really a major part of that. You know, we've dropped a food bomb on America with obesity and diabetes and heart disease. And one of the things that we're doing here is begun a lecture series with Harvard Medical School, literally talking directly to clinicians, physicians, public health sector officials, about incorporating sustainable seafood, incorporating vegetables, diversity of proteins and a diversity of calories into the diet.
SEAVERSo that -- I mean, imagine the scenario. If it was high blood pressure, great. Take your Lipitor, two oysters and a pound of broccoli and call me in the morning. But we don't do that. We're still looking for the cures, rather than this sort of systemic prevention and really beginning to come at environmentalism through a personal interest angle of health.
NNAMDISpeaking of health, here is Linda in Baltimore, Md. Linda, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAThank you. You just touched on health care and I'm a nurse. And I'm serving a population that's very high at risk for a consumption of the seafood due to the bioaccumulation of toxins such as mercury. Have you considered, or have you explored in your work or book a dialogue on the -- on the type of seafood items that are better for non-pregnant women, and...
NNAMDIOkay. We're running out of time very quickly. Allow me to have Barton respond.
SEAVERI have, actually. This is not specifically my work, the science of this. However, I did help aggregate a lot of this into a seafood decision guide. If you go to www.natgeoseafood.com, you'll find there a guide that uses four metrics -- 43 different species, by far and away, most of the species that we actually consume, and it ranks them by sustainability, they're trophic level, where they sit in the marine food chain, their toxicity, as well as their omega content.
SEAVERAnd you can choose which filter you want. Now, one other comment to this, a colleague of mine up at Harvard, Dr. Derry (word?) recently did a cost benefit analysis for the first time on omega 3's and toxicity, and found that with very few exceptions we actually gain more benefit from Omegas than we gain detriment by the mercury or the PCB's.
SEAVERAnd so the scientific debate on this, while that's not my expertise, and please don't take my word for the strong science, is that this debate still rages. And we're still trying to figure this out and it's going to be in the news and it's gonna be confusing for many years.
NNAMDIFinally, McDonald's announced this month that it's going to serve Filet o' Fish sandwiches in Europe with sustainable fish. How do you feel about that plan and what does it mean for a major fast food chain like McD's to jump on the sustainability train?
SEAVERWell, I'd actually like to give McDonald's a little bit more credit than they're getting in the media right now. They've been after a sustainability program in terms of seafood for a long time, and have actually been helping to lead what's known as a fisheries improvement project. They went out there and realized that their cod went away and then they shifted to Pollock. And then, you know, that Pollock began to disappear as well.
SEAVERSo they realized that if they were gonna keep a Filet o' Fish on the menu, they had to actually restore some of those stocks. And so they engaged to replenish the systems in order to continue use.
NNAMDIBarton, thank you so much for visiting with us.
SEAVERIt's always a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIBarton Seaver is a chef, cookbook author, environmental activist. He's a Washington native and National Geographic fellow, and his new cookbook is called, "For Cod and Country."
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brenden Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Tayla Burney, with assistance from A.C. Valdez, Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein, and Maggie Lafoss (sp?) . Our engineers today, Andrew Chadwick and Kellan Quigley. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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