There is a big difference between food found locally and true local food, especially when it comes to fish.
While it may seem obvious that seafood comes from rivers, streams and oceans, it's not always so simple when consumers are accustomed to seeing it expertly trimmed and artfully displayed in grocery stores. Consider the ruby red salmon, often arranged center stage on a shimmering bed of ice. It looks as if it just leaped from a pristine river, mere inches from the swiping paws of a picture-perfect bear.
But unless it's labeled "wild caught," those posers actually were scooped from a massive breeding tank, some of them no closer to Alaska than Raleigh.
And that bag of bargain shrimp in the freezer case? Probably not from the Carolina coast or anywhere close. Check the fine print and you'll likely find it tagged from Thailand or one of many Southeast Asian operations with dubious environmental records. Mass industrialization has made common the practice of plumping meager shrimp with tripolyphosphate, a chemical that boosts portability but makes it weep milky water and become gummy when cooked.
Remember that the next time you crave "popcorn" shrimp, tiny versions of these same mass-produced creatures, which are made snackably crisp thanks only to deep-fried crust.
Paul Greenberg wants more consumers to learn not only how to recognize locally caught fish, but why purchasing it is so important. Author of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, which will be re-issued Tuesday in paperback, Greenberg says choosing fish from local waters not only delivers health and environmental benefits but also supports the fishermen who strive to ensure the long term sustainability of fisheries.
"People typically have thought of local food as land food. Know your farmer, know your food," says Greenberg, a featured speaker June 5 and 6 at the upcoming three-day Farm to Fork event, which celebrates local growers, providers and chefs. "But that circle of concern needs to be widened to include the coast and working waterfronts and fishermen."
Greenberg acknowledges that media scrutiny rightly fell on some fishermen in the 1980s and '90s because of overfishing at-risk species. Today, buying from fishmongers with relationships to fishermen who respect regulations that have improved conditions in the U.S.—and avoiding seafood grown in places that harm the environment by destroying mangrove forests and using bycatch for feed—is good for the whole world, he says.
"Do we want to outsource our fish, buying from countries that don't have good regulations or good environmental stewardship around aquaculture? Or do we want to pay a little bit more to responsible fishmongers by doing something that is good for the local economy and good for the overall environment we're trying to protect?" he says. "To me, the answer is clear that we need to support the work of local fishermen."
Greenberg credits the Triangle for being more savvy about sustainable seafood than much of the nation, thanks in large part to the Walking Fish CSF (community supported fishery), which began in 2009 at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment before taking its current structure in 2011. Its success led to other thriving businesses, notably Raleigh-based Locals Seafood.
"This movement was kind of born here," he says, stating that Walking Fish may have been the first contemporary venture in the nation to unite coastal fishermen to bring fresh catch to interested inland consumers who subscribe to weekly deliveries.
"Of course, once upon a time, we didn't have to call it CSF. It was just fishermen going out fishing and then you bought the fish," Greenberg says. "But because the commodity chain has gotten so long, we've had to create these sorts of things that seem radical in today's marketplace. The more local fisheries and fishermen who are supported, the better off we'll all be."
Friday, June 5, 6:30–9 p.m.: Bestselling author and sustainable fisheries advocate Paul Greenberg is guest of honor at a dinner prepared by five North Carolina chefs: Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer, Kinston; Chris Coleman of The Asbury, Charlotte; Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery, Durham; Jay Pierce of Rocksalt, Charlotte; and David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow, Asheville. Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St., Durham
Saturday, June 6, 5–8:30 p.m.: A dinner prepared by chefs Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, and James Clark of The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill. Then Greenberg speaks about the state of the U.S. fishing industry followed by a panel discussion featuring North Carolina industry experts. The Rickhouse, 609 Foster St., Durham
Sunday, June 7, 4–7 p.m.: Farm to Fork Picnic pairs more than 30 chefs and 30 farmers for food tastings complemented by craft brewers, wine distributors and coffee producers. WC Breeze Family Farm, Hurdle Mills
For tickets and more information: www.farmtoforknc.com
This article appeared in print with the headline "Go coastal."