Friday, August 21, 2009

Where is the World is Your Salmon From?

My first meal upon arriving on PEI back in June featured a delicious Atlantic salmon fillet grilled on the BBQ. As I savored its delightfully familiar, rich taste, I asked my mother where it was from, expecting her to say 'Sobeys' or 'the Superstore'. I was completely thrown off when she replied 'Chile'. What?? But this is Atlantic salmon isn't it?? I was confused. My geography is not that great, but I was pretty sure that:

a) Chile was on the Pacific ocean; and
b) Chile was located in the Southern hemisphere.

Well, it seems that the Chileans are now farming the Atlantic salmon and shipping it all around the world, including the East Coast of Canada - which is (or at least I thought was) synonymous with 'fresh seafood'. Incidentally, I am in Pittsburgh as I write this and just had grilled salmon at Bahama Breeze, a small chain of restaurants serving Carribean food. The salmon they served me was also from Chile (I asked before I's always good to ask!). After a bit of memory jogging, I recalled that during my visit to Vancouver in May, I was shocked to find that Atlantic salmon was a good $6 cheaper per kilo than its West coast counterpart, Pacific salmon. At the time, this made no sense to me, since I assumed the Atlantic salmon was from Eastern Canada, where it could be presumed that costs of production (labour, feed, materials, etc.) would be somewhat comparable. Now it makes sense, that Atlantic salmon was ALSO from the West coast..just a bit further south than the Pacific salmon. Well, I really shouldn't be surprised. I have read enough exposes of the global food industry to know that its tentacles extend to every edible morsel that the earth or, more often, a laboratory, produces. Procuring food has become yet another 'system' that most of us know little about and are highly dependent upon.

My current read 'Eat Your Heart Out', by Felicity Lawrence is jam packed full of statistics and findings that reinforce a very, very basic fact that few people seem to be aware of: We have become dependent on an abundance of cheap food and a false sense of food security that are perilously dependent upon the continued supply of cheap oil. And so it is with salmon, as it is with corn, soy, beef and a myriad of other foods whose production has been outsourced to the lowest cost producer - regardless of where in the world that producer might be, because apparently even with the costs of oil factored in for transportation, manufacture and processing it is still cheaper to grow things or harvest them in far off lands or seas where cheap labor is abundant and, perhaps, environmental laws are lax.

And it's not just the 'where' that one might want to ponder next time they order 'Atlantic salmon' from a restaurant or pick it up at the supermarket, but also 'how'. It seems that the ever-growing surplus of corn in America is now making its way into the diet of the Atlantic salmon. This, again, should not surprise me. Corn makes up a far, far greater proportion of the typical North American diet than most people are aware. It is in everything, from Coke (corn syrup) to cereaal (and not just Corn Flakes, but pretty much any box cereal you find at the supermarket) to hamburgers. Cows, which naturally evolved to munch on grass (that's why they have four stomachs) are now routinely being fed corn, soy and a bunch of anti-biotics which are used to combat the cows' reactions to stress from its unnatural living and diet conditions. So now salmon farms are starting to include corn in their feed mix. Last time I checked, corn didn't grow in seas or oceans, so it's safe to assume that corn is not a natural part of the salmon's diet. In the wild, salmon feed off other fish. This new foray into feeding salmon corn, on top of the controversy concerning the high levels of PCBs in farmed salmon versus wild salmon, is enough to make one take a long pause before ordering what is a seemingly healthy menu choice.

Once you start asking questions, it's hard to stop. The next one you might want to ask is 'what about the wild salmon? wouldn't it be cheaper to fish those, since there wouldn't be the expense of feeding them and maintaining them until maturity? ' I'm not sure what the answer to this question is, but I suspect part of the challenge is that stocks of wild salmon are depleting. It's also my observation that the food 'industry' prefers to control every facet of production, starting with the growing or farming of its products (i.e. animals, vegetables, grains, etc.), convinced that science , in the form of chemicals, breeding, dietary changes, etc., can do better than nature. If quantity in the very short term is the only measuring stick the food industry is using, they might actually be right. But, of course, short term supply should never be the only measuring stick for something as vital to life as nourishment.

Well, in any case, the latest on the West coast salmon stocks is neither encouraging nor surprising:

If you're thinking of ordering fish or buying it at the supermarket, here are some resources taht might help you figure out what would be the best bet for your health and the health of the planet:

David Suzuki Organization - Conserving Our Oceans

Happy fishing!

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