Friday, October 17, 2008

Bostonist: Know yr pescado!

Last week I did a post on the Boston-based "Teach a Man to Fish" project. I had heard about it via my Chocolate & Zuccini newsletter, and it turns out that my foodie pal J.J. Gonson knew the brains behind it: Jacqueline Church of the Leather District Gourmet. Before I knew it I was sitting down to some delicious Cantonese food with her at Gourmet Dumpling House, and we were swapping tales of being vegetarian in foreign places (she's not a veggie now, but somehow survived as one for over a year in Germany). As we walked back toward her 'hood and my office through the brand-new park on Chinatown's slice of the Greenway (and I snapped the picture below) we finally got around to discussing her project.

Jacqueline, or "Jackie", started her "Teach a Man to Fish" project a year ago, after diving (ha) into the world of food writing and sustainability. A "recovering attorney", she's new to the food blogging scene, but as a traveler and a conoisseur of world cuisines, she's got her bona fides down (she's even been to Antartica, where I'd imagine the only ones fishing are the penguins). The idea of this project -- at least as I see it -- is to not only hold yourself accountable for what you're buying, but to ask questions of those who are buying it for you - the fishmongers and seafood restaurants of your local scene.

Ideally, your conversation would be pleasant.

"So, where do you get your fish?"
"Oh, we source ours through a variety of small, sustainable, local producers. Here are their names..."

Unfortunately, it does not always go that way. More often, as it did on Wednesday with another place I was reviewing, I asked,

"So, where does your fish come from?"
Waitress: "Uh, I'm not sure! Let me get the owner."
Owner: "Uh, I'm not sure. We get a price sheet every day. It's different all the time."
Me: "Is it local?"
Owner: "It's from all different changes every day. I'm not sure. It's whatever's cheapest, or freshest.." [Trails off]

Or similar. It should be a simple question, but it is anything but simple.

However, as Margaret Anderson once endearingly said,
I wasn't born to be a figher. I was born with a gentle nature, a flexible character and an organism as equilibrated as it is judged hysterical. I shouldn't have been forced to fight constantly and ferociously. The causes I have fought for have invariably been causes that should have been gained by a delicate suggestions. Since they never were, I made myself into a fighter.
This is how I feel often, in so many areas of my life. Shouldn't environmentally responsible food sourcing practices and comprehensive knowledge of ones own vendors be important to every restaurant owner? Why should we, the customers, have to work so hard to make this the minimum requirement for every place we patronize? Why should I have to initiate a conversation with a person who has just given me a good meal, when the conversation may turn awkward if he/she gives me the "wrong" answer? Why do I feel so angry about this when I'm sure in my own life there are things that I don't know, that I could be doing better?

However, the alternative is to not care, to not work, to not take responsibility. So, bloggers like C&Z's Dusoulier and LD Gourmet's Jacqueline Church and myself and hopefully other, more responsible restaurants and fish purveyors will have to fight the good fight, even though I'm sure we would all much prefer to be talking in pleasant tones over a good bottle of (dare I say sustainable?) red wine.

So, with that in mind, I'll be posting next on how chef J.J. Gonson makes her sustainable clam chowdah.


Blogger JacquelineC said...

Ryan, such a good post. I have to share my nightmare at the fishmonger's story. Also, how did you make me look glam when I was on so little sleep? I'm craving that eggplant again, too. Call me next time you're up for a Ctown lunch!

Stay tuned for news of the French Culinary Institute's Sustainable Sushi launch. Environmental Defense Fund, Blue Ocean Institute and Seafood Watch folks all coming together to feed ME sustainable sushi. Okay, there were others invited, too. And I wasn't the sole reason...but I'll be posting on it soon.

10:59 AM  
Blogger JacquelineC said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:59 AM  
Blogger JacquelineC said...

Your blog header reminded me of this:
"Let us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both."

~Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine
thought you'd enjoy it

12:47 AM  

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