“We are what we eat, we are told. But we Americans do not eat what we truly are.”

It is hard to pick one topic to highlight for a book review on American Catch. In fact, as a total non-fiction nerd, it is impossible to pick only one topic to highlight in this book so I will do my best to focus only on a few.

In American Catch, author Paul Greenberg beautifully illustrates how the fight for local seafood in America has many obstacles in its path: environmental degradation, pollution, and a global marketplace with low cost imports.

He takes the reader on a journey across the Unite States and its foodscape by highlighting three important and highly consumed seafood species; oysters, shrimp, and sockeye salmon. Each seafood item allows Greenberg to dig deeper into the history of the American food system and further understand how people have greatly shaped what we eat and where it comes from.

Starting out with the great New York oyster, this book takes us back in time to before the waterways of New York City were polluted and one could purchase locally grown oysters for a penny a piece. Today, wild oyster reefs are considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in America. Also, oysters grown within the bays surrounding New York are both illegal and hazardous to consume. As the waterways changed, people adapted and grew accustomed to consume oysters from different regions. The New York oyster thus had a quiet funeral and was briefly mourned by very few.

Author Paul Greenberg’s American Catch.

Travelling down to southern United States, Greenberg argues that low cost global production makes it extremely difficult to produce a local market for seafood such as Louisiana shrimp. Where is the incentive to purchase locally produced shrimp when one can purchase pond raised shrimp from China for a fraction of the price? But, as most Vancouverites know, there is great value in promoting a market for local shrimp, as can be witnessed every May during the highly celebrated Spot Prawn Festival.

Of the 15 pounds of seafood consumed annually by each American, 13 of those pounds are from imported options. In spite of these shocking numbers, local seafood success is something which is building momentum across North America. This focus on locally produced seafood helps to build healthier local economies with a greater understanding of the local producers. In fact, it is the loss of connecting to the local seafood system which has led to a de-valuing of food and the people who produce it, hence no mourning for the New York oyster.

The Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise program is an excellent way to re-connect people to the food system by learning about many of the local and sustainable seafood options in a simple and accessible way (i.e. the Ocean Wise symbol on a menu).

And for the final example that Greenberg explores: sockeye salmon in Alaska – you are just going to have to read the book.

Aquablog by Isabella Sulpizio, Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise coordinator, Eastern Canada

Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. With more than 675 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca

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