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.ร‚ย  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,ร‚ย  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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  • I think not only do we eat too much, but we buy too much. I think there is just so much waste, its a shame but i think we are all guilty of it at one point or another.
    Great post.
    *kisses* HH

  • It’s definitely complicated, and everyone seems to have different theories on what’s truly healthy and good for you. This looks like it was a fun event to attend!

  • Great food for thought…no pun intended. As a mom of 3…and feeding my growing family…I just try to focus on feeding them real, whole foods. I try to eat as organically as possible within our budget contraints. Enjoyed the post!

  • At times like this, I just want to throw my hands into the air and cry, “Screw it! I want my chilean bass, damn it!”

    But we have. We humans have screwed up with the earth and now eating, the most simple pleasure for man, has been turned into a complex battleground.


  • Great post – brings up more questions than answers, but I think it reminds us all how much we need to be more aware of what we eat. I totally agree with the idea of just eating less, especially eating less meat, as it leaves such a huge carbon footprint. Thanks for the great post!

  • Being a consumer these days, especially in the Bay Area, is very complicated. But I believe the bulk of the responsiblity for a better food chain shouldn’t be placed on the end-user or consumer. Attention really should focus on the front lines, i.e., the farmers and fishermen. As a consumer, when I see blue fin tuna on the menu, does it make a change if I choose not to eat it? The fish is already caught and dead, and if I choose not to eat it, then it goes to waste, no? Same with beef, someone already killed that cow and the meat is not going to go to waste unless someone consumes it. So the real answer should be to focus more attention on the front end, not the back end. Let’s put more pressure on governments to enact stricter regulations on farming and fishing so that responsible purveyors become caretakers of the Earth.

  • Thank you, Carolyn, for covering all aspects of the food revolution. As foodies, we need to consider all the aspects of what we eat.

    This article is great — it covers the food, complete with the usual almost-edible photos; the people behind the food; and the issues responsible eaters can consider.

  • A very lovely post to make me think. Sometimes I think at the rate we are eating, the earth will one day run out of resources. We may have to survive on pills then! But actually when I think of it, I think there are so much wastage around on top of overeating. While in some places there are too much to eat and in some places there’s too little to eat…just absurd. I guess everyone has to consider and take some personal responsibility.

  • Heavenly Housewife: You are quite right. We do buy too much, and we waste a lot of it. According to a 2004 University of Arizona study, the average American household wastes 14 percent of food purchases. And a 2005 study by the University of California at Davis found that one-third of all produce grown is never consumed by humans. A lot of it is simply thrown out because we haven’t used it or stored it properly before it’s deteriorated.

    I think we waste a lot, too, because the price of so much of our food is artificially low because of our wacky food policies. It’s pretty crazy when an over-processed, fast-food burger costs less than a pound of organic, locally grown asparagus.

  • Oh, I love Kevin! I love this post, too. People don’t usually think of fish when they think of factory farming, but, like you said, a large percentage of fish is farmed, not caught in the wild.

  • Fantastic Carolyn! I know that I am more careful than ever about not wasting, buying local and sustainable whenever possible, and consuming less. So, why am I fat? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Really great post and I like the Q and A with Rick…even though he gets on my last nerve on Top Chef master’s.

  • Carolyn,it was so good to have you dropping a comment at my blog otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to know yours. I do love this.

    As I was reading the article,a little buzz kept ringing in my brain, we eat too much… and invertiably waste too much too. I am sure I am guilty too but I think I am also a little more aware than others… especially with reminders like this coming my way. Thanks.

  • Great post, Carolyn. And it certainly looked like a very educational event.

    I think anyone who regularly reads this blog has a decent grasp on the issues we face, and the vast majority of us are doing the right thing. I think our main focus should be to spread our education on this topic to the general public who don’t already know what the future has in store for them if they continue to eat and waste like they have been.

    I recently had Martin Reed from ilovebluesea.com on my show and he educated my audience on sustainable seafood options. It’s astonishing to realize how many people simply don’t realize how damaging our trips to the table have become.

    It’s my intent to continue to spread the knowledge of Martin, and Top Chefs Kevin, Rick Moonen,and Rick Bayless. I think we owe it to ourselves, the American public, and (ultimately) Mother Earth.

  • This article is great รขโ‚ฌโ€ it covers the food, awesome topic and the pictures are just fabulous..Really great post ..Ty ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Oops, we already don’t eat so much fish and meat nowadays…gosh, I need to find other sources of proteins. My palate kinda adjusted when I stayed with my friends (one of them a vegetarian) so I think I can handle with less meat now but…I don’t think the other one at home can…
    And when I eat less meat, I try to eat more fish but more there are fish issues…..:O

  • great post about a meaningful (and obviously well-attended–love me some rick bayless!) event, carolyn!

  • Fantastic post Carolyn. It is quite alarming and fascinating when you delve into topics like sustainability and how our choices affect so many other things around the world.

  • Oh dear, guilty as charged! I just came off of an Alaskan cruise where I was so bored I ate 8 times in one day! I promise I will try to cut back from now on (for the sake of the environment and so I can fit back into my jeans LOL). What an exciting (and informative) sustainable seafood event! I admire so many of the chefs that were honored. I attended a similar event in Vancouver last year hosted by SeaChoice and the local Slow Food chapter. Eating sustainably IS terribly complicated, I just faced a bit of dilemma recently when I learned that monkfish is endangered (after I’d just fallen deep in love with monkfish liver at a Japanese izakaya). And I’ve given up farmed tiger prawns for good after learning about the bi-catch, pollution and other damaging effects prawn farming has on developing nations, opting for spot prawns instead or US freshwater shrimp/prawns. But not sure what’s going to happen now with the devastating effect the BP oil spill is having on the Gulf eco-system.

  • don’t you think its strange to be eating fish at an aquarium? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    how fun for you to meet all those cool chefs. i love rick bayless. one of my classmates quit his job working on the line at rick’s place Xoco to come to my culinary school!

  • Chef Barbie: Hah! You have a point there. Wonder what all the creatures swimming around behind glass thought about their relatives being turned into hors d’oeuvres? Ack.

  • I’m with you guys there, I always feel like a hungry predator at the aquarium… Nice shot of you with chef hirigoyen too and the food looks very delicious. At least dining at that event you know you are enjoying impeccably PC seafood…

  • p.s., are those tiny baby radishes on the lead picture? how adorable!

  • Yes, it is complicated and there are no easy answers. I think making people aware that what we eat affects the environment and that our choices matter is important. We all make choices each time we buy food. They may not always be “perfect” but if we are conscious we are likely to make better choices. My family and I have been eating a lot less animal protein in the last year and are continuing to change our diet to make better choices.

    Your food pictures are gorgeous as always! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • OMG! this is such an awesome event! pure of luxury as the people there is fantastic!

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