Bottomfeeder And The Salsa Ecosystem.

24 Feb

In continuing my understanding of what goes in my stomach, I found myself reading this book,
by Taras Grescoe ».

Similar to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” », the author writes about his journey in understanding where his food comes from. In this case, this author is a piscivore, so he writes about fish and other seafood.

It seems the more of these types of books I read, the less appetizing my food becomes. The author is still eating fish, but from his travels and first-hand observations, he now favours fish and seafood that are lower on the food chain, thus the title of his book. He’s successfully put me off most shrimp, farmed salmon, and most cod. I’m now more inclined to choose mackerel, pollock, and sardines.

One of the more surprising insights from this book, is that McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is mostly made from Alaskan pollock, which is a sustainable stock = good. When I was a kid, I used to love McDonald’s. Why do I shun fast food, now that I’m all grown-up? Maybe it was that one-week road trip, when all I ate was fast food, and this was well before the release of the film, “Super Size Me” ». Try it some time. You’ll hate me for it.

Another surprising insight is that Alaskan fisheries seem to be well managed. This includes, Alaskan Pacific cod », Alaskan pollock », and Alaskan salmon ». Canadian fisheries, on the other hand, have an abysmal track record with its mismanagement of Atlantic cod, and now seem to be making a mistake of a similar magnitude with its mismanagement of BC farmed salmon ».

Pages 245, 266:
… Were it not for artifical colorants, the flesh of farmed salmon would be an unappetizing gray, yellow, or khaki. In the wild, salmon owe their pink hue to krill and shrimp, which contain the organic pigments astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. In salmon farms, artificial versions, synthesized from algae or yeast, are added directly to the feed. Pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche makes a convenient color chart, like the chips used to select paint colors in hardware stores, called the SalmoFan, which allows farmers to choose shades of flesh between pale salmon pink (#20) and bright orange-red (#34) …

… “If it doesn’t say ‘wild’, which is a selling point, you can pretty much assume it’s farmed. I talked to a fish farmer about the artificial color they put in farmed salmon and trout; he told me one company has a monopoly on the food coloring, and it’s incredibly expensive, like twenty to thirty percent of the production cost.” …

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Pages 245, 266

I have to admit, that I found this book a bit more labourious to read than “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but not so much that I didn’t want to finish it. Different authors, different styles. The mini history lessons of various fisheries are well done, and the Canadian perspective is also appreciated. Where I felt something lacking was in the judgement. Rather than present the material and let the reader come to his own judgement, the author has a tendency to want to help the reader choose.

For example, in the box above, the information about “artificial colorants” was surprising, but this is then followed by “unappetizing gray, yellow, or khaki“. When I initially read it, my reaction was probably one the author was hoping for, but then when I thought about it, isn’t a lot of raw fish gray- or khaki-coloured? If there is a problem with the colorant supposedly being toxic, maybe the problem is not in the use of colorant, but in consumers’ expectation for salmon being pink or orange-red. If you slapped an “organic” label on it, charged double, and had some celebrity chef feature it on his cooking show, I’m sure that would go a long way in changing consumers’ perception of the colours gray or khaki. Sort of like how the author describes, “organic pigments astaxanthin » and canthaxanthin »“. Whether these pigments are consumed from organic sources or from synthesized sources, are they not the same pigments, thus equally toxic or equally beneficial? Is the problem the differing quantity of pigments? Or is the problem that a “Pharmaceutical giant” makes it, or has a monopoly on it? Not sure, but I think I’m just supposed to feel bad about this.

Am I being too tough on this book? Aren’t we toughest on the ones who we want to love the most? To be fair, I can’t even remember the last time I shopped for salmon, farmed or otherwise, so couldn’t tell you what colour it is these days, or how it’s labeled. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did have it cooked for me recently, and was surprised how cheap it was from the grocery, and also noticed how oily it was, and how brightly-coloured it was. It tasted pretty good too, but based on the other research the author presents, the author has successfully put me off farmed salmon. So regardless my nitpicking of the author’s prose, this reader didn’t find it too difficult to agree with the choices the author was promoting. The Appendix and Sources at the back of the book, alone, are worth the weight of this book.

Some useful websites listed in the Appendix and Sources:
SeaChoice »
Marine Stewardship Council »
Got Mercury »
Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture »

Final Thoughts

Time to bring it back to salsa? I suppose the salsa scene can be described as an ecosystem. Hierarchies, food chains, sustainability. What makes a salsa ecosystem sustainable? From a salsa gigolo’s perspective, trophic levels » for salseras may look something like this:

4.0 Most attractive advanced salseras.
3.0 Least attractive advanced salseras.
2.0 Most attractive novice salseras.
1.0 Least attractive novice salseras.

From a salsera’s perspective:

4.0 Most attractive advanced salsa gigolos
3.0 Least attractive advanced salsa gigolos
2.0 Most attractive novice salsa gigolos
1.0 Least attractive novice salsa gigolos

The 4.0 and 1.0 trophic levels are intuitive. Less intuitive are the 3.0 and 2.0 trophic levels, and whether ‘Least attractive advanced salseras’ or ‘Most attractive novice salseras’ are more likely to eat a salsa gigolo for breakfast. My guess is that advanced salseras, regardless of attractiveness, are more likely to eat a salsa gigolo for breakfast, thus they are higher on the food chain. However, being higher on the food chain does not necessarily make one a more desireable dance partner. From observation, salsa gigolos tend to naturally gravitate to trophic level 2.0.

To be a “bottomfeeder” then, a salsa gigolo should choose salseras at the lower trophic levels, i.e. at trophic levels 2.0 or 1.0. Then as these salseras ascend to trophic levels 4.0 or 3.0, a salsa gigolo should seek out new salseras at the lower trophic levels. In other words, for a sustainable salsa ecosystem, salsa gigolos should always be dancing with beginners. Same goes for salseras.

Other ecosystems might rely on the foundation species » of kelp and corals, to convert the sun’s energy into biomass. In the salsa ecosystem, novice salseras and salsa gigolos are our foundation species. Beginners bring fresh enthusiasm and new energy to the salsa ecosystem. When salsa gigolos and salseras dance with beginners, the overall biomass in the salsa ecosystem rises. When salsa gigolos and salseras stop dancing with beginners, a salsa ecosystem loses its source of new energy, and thus its sustainability.

Does this hypothesis hold water?
Salsa Gigolometer 80


9 Responses to “Bottomfeeder And The Salsa Ecosystem.”

  1. salsagigolo March 13, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    “Salmon Confidential”, a documentary:


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