A buffet of food debates

(While I’ve been grading nonstop,) there have been a number of interesting debates and forums on food policy over the last few weeks: the Washington Post‘s Future of Food Summit, the NY Times online debate on farm animal cruelty, and, from a rather different corner, the Animal Ag Alliance’s 10th annual stakeholder summit. So I thought it would be a good time to talk about some recent food issues. Specifically, Forks Over Knives, weekday vegetarianism, and the debate over tilapia. Oh, and the above video is mostly unrelated, although I do think it obliquely speaks to our throwaway food culture.

I look forward to seeing Forks Over Knives, but was especially interested in Ebert’s review: “You are addicted to fat, salt, sugar and corn syrup. Your body has established a narcotic-like dependence on them, and you’re comfortable with that, just like smokers know why they keep on smoking…The bottom line: I am convinced this message is true. A plant-based whole foods diet is healthy. Animal protein is not necessary, or should be used sparingly as Asians did, as a flavoring and not a main course.” This is spot-on, and I hope Ebert’s thumb up will do a good deal in spreading the word.

I also think that things like meatless Mondays and weekday vegetarianism provide a more realistic approach to reducing meat and dairy consumption than alternatives like Francione’s Vegan 1-2-3 (although different approaches will of course work for different people). From the perspective of net benefit, of course, it doesn’t matter if someone’s a weekday vegetarian or a Wednesday-through-Tuesday vegetarian, but it does have the benefit of being heuristically catchy and allowing for special occasions.

On tilapia (I’ll be setting aside the issue of fish pain and sentience, here – but not because it’s not important): a recent NY Times broadside god a lot of attention in the food policy blogoverse, and with good reason — the authors questioned the green credentials of a fish that’s often lauded for having a high growth rate, omnivorous diet, and stocking density (and it has no planktonic phase). The article points out, though that there are other, more negative, reasons it has the name ‘aquatic chicken’: concerns about pollution and nutritional quality. Large-scale tilapia operations in China wreak havoc on local ecosystems, and the fish has far fewer of the sought after Omega-3s than the fattier fish that are generally less palatable to Americans. (Although I have no idea why…I think sardines and mackerel are delicious, which is good, because I try to eat fish that are trophically low on the ecological food pyramid. This is also why tilapia’s omnivorousness is an environmental bonus over farmed carnivorous fish, that have to eat fishmeal which is often trawled from wild catch operations.)

In light of all this, I read Helene York’s qualified defense of tilapia with great interest. Especially when looking at global seafood demand projects from the FAO, large-scale aquaculture seems like a necessary evil, at least until we can guide more and more people towards a plant-based diet–and this article raises a lot of the usual questions about scalability and whether this is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the topic to be able to make a definitive judgment. In the meantime, however, it looks like I’ll be laying off the frozen tilapia fillets.

In semi-related news, this Atlantic Wire breakdown of the French response to Foer’s Eating Animals is, well, so very French.

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