I try to be a socially-responsible eater, but it’s tough to take an absolute stand and commit to one of the usual categories. I’m not a locavore, a vegetarian, a vegan or an organics-only diner. The main problem is that, even if I could get on board from a taste perspective, I know I’ll never keep at it. Heck, I can’t even swear off eating human brains because I know that diet will go to shit during the inevitable zombie outbreak.
But one area I do try to do my best to make wise choices is when I purchase and eat seafood. The numbers are startling and the prognosis grim when it comes to the future of many of the most popular seafood choices. It’s no surprise when you hear about customers asking high-profile restaurants like Nobu to lay off the bluefin tuna.
The challenge for a responsible seafood eater is not just picking the right species of fish, but there are also considerations such as the location from which the seafood was taken (geography as well as farmed vs. wild) and the method by which it was taken, with some techniques vastly preferable to others. Keeping it all straight can be difficult.
Fortunately, the folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have made it considerably easier by issuing “Seafood Guide,” (iTunes link) a free iPhone application that provides diners and shoppers with the latest info about how to make choices that support sustainability. Armed with the necessary information, I wanted to see how easy it was to be a smart diner on a trip to Bonefish Grill, a national chain of seafood restaurants.
Monterey Bay Aquarium has long printed and distributed a wallet card that laid out what varieties were endangered and which made for better choices, but this application takes it all to a new level. The app has descriptions of the seafood and the reason for its rating and it breaks it down on a regional basis so you can see what choices are best for your area. There’s even a sushi guide which lays out the Japanese names of the fish. The “catch” is that, in order to use the app’s recommendations, it’s important to be able to get sourcing information about the seafood on the menu. I had an opportunity to dine at Bonefish Grill and decided to do the best I could armed with the application.
Before heading out, I checked out Bonefish Grill’s site for info on their environmental and sustainability information, and they do a very good job of making it available. A little less helpful was their menu, which wasn’t extremely clear on the origin of much of the seafood.
Mrs. TVFF and I ordered an appetizer of the Saucy Shrimp, a Mediterranean-style shrimp saute that was tasty and would have been quite good over linguine as an entree. As for the main course, we both chose from the grilled fish list, picking a fish that rated highly according to the application. Mrs. TVFF had the tilapia and I had the rainbow trout, each of which came with a signature sauce. Mrs. TVFF’s Pan Asian sauce was a nice, not-too-sweet soy/ginger/peanut sauce and my fish was nicely done, but I would have preferred my lemon butter sauce to be a little more heavy on the citrus.
In each of the instances — the shrimp, the tilapia and the trout — the application recommended the fish on the basis of its place of origin or its harvest method (farmed vs. wild), so not having the specifics meant that it wasn’t a completely informed decision. At least we knew to avoid the Chilean Sea Bass. Perhaps a handout or a manager who can provide additional information when asked would be more helpful, and the representatives of Bonefish Grill said that they continue to explore new ways to provide information to the diner.
Bonefish Grill…and other restaurants…are certainly making some strides toward providing a more responsible menu. But the ultimate responsibility for making smart choices — by not creating a demand for overfished populations — lies with the shoppers and diners. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s iPhone application goes a long way in making sure that you can make informed decisions.