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When Did Eating Get So Complex?

It’s complicated.

Boy, is it.

When it comes to eating these days, it seems like it’s never been harder to try to do the right thing.

This past weekend at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a bevy of journalists, scientists, environmentalists, farmers, chefs, and yours truly gathered together for the annual “Cooking For Solutions” event that’s dedicated to promoting sustainability on land, sea and air.

Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles was honored as “Chef of the Year” by the aquarium. And Chef Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Topolobampo and Frontera Grill was named “Educator of the Year.”

They were joined at the event by a roster of big-name chefs, including Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas; Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill in Atlanta and “Top Chef” fame; Gerald Hirigoyen of Piperade and Bocadillos, both in San Francisco; Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston.

The event was a festive affair with gourmet eats and drinks — all sustainable, organic or biodynamic, of course.  But it was also a sobering affair as experts weighed in on how our eating choices have affected the planet.

Food for thought:

Over the past 50 years, we’ve gone from consuming 10 kilos of fish per person annually to 17 kilos.

Half of our seafood consumption now comes from aquaculture, not wild species. Eighty percent of the fresh and frozen salmon consumed in the United States is farmed. Seventy-five percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States is farmed. A great majority of our farmed seafood is produced in Asia, where standards may be less stringent than in other parts of the world.

Most farmed fish are fed pellets made of fish meal. Although carp and tilapia can subsist on plant-based diets, about 50 percent of carp that’s farmed and more than 80 percent of tilapia that’s farmed end up being fed fish meal.

Fish farms in the ocean can lead to pollution, disease and escapement of these fish into the wild. But experts say that even on-land, enclosed fish farms have escapement issues with tiny fish making their way into drains.

Livestock create 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases a year.

Thirty percent of all truck traffic is the direct result of transporting food.

Not all grass-fed beef is what’s it cut out to be. Some of it is now being raised in the fragile rain forest of Brazil.

Prior to the 1970s, we consumed about 3,200 calories per capita per day. In the 1970s and 1980s, after farm subsidies grew rampant and with it the output of crops such as corn,  our calories per capita per day rose to 4,000.

More than a third of adults in the United States are now obese. In the past 30 years, the number of obese children in the country has tripled.

So what to eat? Or not to eat?

It’s complicated.

There are no easy answers. But we can do our part by asking questions, staying informed and simply eating less.

If there was one clear, overriding sentiment of the conference, it is that we as a nation eat too much. If we were to cut down on portion sizes especially with proteins, it would mean fewer wild seafood species being caught, fewer farmed fish being grown, and an overall smaller carbon footprint marring our planet.

That’s not so hard to swallow, is it?

More: My Q&A with Chef Rick Moonen

More: Sustainable Sushi Guides

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