Chefs and home cooks all over America know and at least sometimes pay attention to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, an annually updated series of lists, national and regional, for recommendations for sustainable seafood purchases. The lists group numerous popular fish and shellfish varieties under the headings Avoid (red), Good Alternatives (yellow), and Best Choices (green) — with a recently added Super Green category for items both sustainable and particularly beneficial to health.
This annual event brings together scientists, winemakers, seafood merchants, and members of the press to discuss not just the state of the world's fisheries but other issues relating to sustainable food production and consumption.
The 2013 conference kicked off Thursday morning, May 16, with a greeting from Julie Packard, the aquarium's executive director (and one of The Daily Meal's 50 Most Powerful People in Food), who reminded Institute participants, who filled every seat in the aquarium auditorium, that "Our mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean." Kids walk in every day, she said (the facility welcomes almost 2 million people annually), who live 10 miles away and have never seen the Pacific. "Oceans are essential to everything about our lives," she continues. "Oceans are our life support system, and oceans are changing, at least partly because of things that take place inland, in our factories and farms." Stressing that the key to Seafood Watch is "a grounding in rigorous science," Packard listed some successes the aquarium has had: "Today, most major American retailers depend on Seafood Watch, more than 17,500 seafood sellers and food service operations across the nation. We have a new partnership with the Mars company, which besides candy bars, makes pet foods, and will be introducing the first line of sustainable pet food products. And the last legal shark fins in California will be sold about a month from today, and we're working on banning them in other states."
The first of two keynote addresses was given by David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and creator of the Oberlin Project, which seeks to transform this Ohio Rust Belt college town into a model of sustainable living. "I'm here under false pretenses," he began. "I don't cook. I represent the 7.2 billion people on the planet who eat." Ohio is behind the curve in culinary terms, he continued. "California invented the salad bar in, what, 1947? The first one opened in Ohio last week."(Right photo: Keynote speaker David Orr, Photo Courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium)
Orr went on to talk eloquently about the whole concept of sustainability. "The assumption is that the word implies a systems approach, but that's not how we've approached it. We can't look at it as a siloed business, we need full-spectrum sustainability, with the parts reinforcing the resilience of the whole. What this means is you're going to have to have lunch with a lot of different people — farmers, bankers, the poor — and learn a lot of different languages, the languages of policy and law, economic revitalization, community mobilization, renewable energy, education, agriculture…." He is particularly proud of his campus's Lewis building — officially the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies — a solar-powered, waste-neutral edifice that has been called one of the most important 20th-century buildings in America. His big project now is a 13-acre downtown Green Arts District, to include a hotel and conference center, a food depot, affordable housing, and a public school, among other things. This will be the centerpiece of a 20,000-acre green belt, and ultimately of a Lake Erie Regional Innovation Center corridor, which will extend from Detroit and Flint, Mich., through Toledo, Cleveland, and Youngstown. He concluded, "We need to secede from big oil, agribusiness, urban sprawl, banks…."