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Sorry Salmon

June 10, 2009

I never would have imagined that I would need to write about farmed salmon.

Mostly because it has been written about extensively.  By actual journalists.  In big newspapers and in national magazines.  I know people in upstate New York still read the New York Times.

So it would seem that either the message never made it through, or that people just don’t care.  Now here I am.  Putting the message out there.  Again.  And hopefully, this time, getting people to care.

Here is the news flash:
If you see the word salmon on a piece of fish in the store or on the menu at a restaurant, and it doesn’t explicitly say “wild” you are most likely eating farmed salmon (sometimes called Atlantic salmon – even at sushi bars their sake is usually farmed).

Here is the executive summary of farmed salmon:
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch says to avoid it.
The Environmental Defense Fund’s Health Alert urges to limit consumption due to PCBs.
Eating Well reported that the fish “are vaccinated against an array of infectious diseases, which are a constant threat in the crowded net pen.”
The NYT reported, “If they were not fed artificial colors they would range from gray or khaki to pale yellow.”

Knowing what I know (and what I hope you will read up on further) I have no interest in putting this in my body.  I have no interest in supporting this industry or practice.  And I think it has no place on the menus of fine dining establishments that claim to provide the finest ingredients.  Frankly, I think it’s entirely unappetizing.

Now this is not to say that all farmed fish is bad.  On the contrary, some farmed fish is fantastic.  American catfish is a perfect example of responsible practice that produces a tasty product.

Yes, it can get complicated.  So let’s just focus on one thing at a time.  Let’s stop eating farmed salmon.

Now that you know, perhaps you will more inclined to notice the generic label of “salmon” on the menu in fine restaurants.  And now that you are looking for it, you will see it everywhere.  It is really kind of amazing.  Shocking even.

If you are at a restaurant and see it on the menu feel free to casually mention to your dining companions, “I never expected a nice place like this to use farmed salmon.”  Request the wait staff to clarify when the menu just says salmon.  Put them on the spot and ask, “Is your salmon wild or farmed?”  Perhaps they will have to go back to the kitchen and ask.  Perhaps a chef will come out and try to explain it is the only way they can get fresh salmon all year round.  Which is true.  But real chefs know what I am saying is right.

The thing is that farmed salmon is a cheap protein.  It is why you see it everywhere.  People see salmon on the menu, and a switch clicks in their brain.  The brain says, “Oh, that’s the fish with those good healthy fats.  It’s a bit stinky to cook at home, but what a treat to have it at a restaurant.”  I also think there is some halo effect from when fresh wild salmon used to be more of a luxury good.

But farmed salmon is certainly not a luxury good.  Nor is it an epicurean delight.

The best choice when it comes to salmon is wild caught salmon from Alaska.  It does all the things that salmon needs to do to make it tasty.  Plus because of its northern waters it has significantly lower levels of PCBs.  Yes, some varieties are tastier than others, and it’s not available all year round.  But this is why you need to have a chef or fishmonger you trust.

In my opinion a chef that tries to pass off farmed salmon as a gourmet ingredient on a fine dining menu is abusing the trust of the restaurant’s patrons.

Now it is perfectly fair to suggest wild salmon from Alaska has a significant carbon footprint.  The fish does have to be transported all they way from Alaska.  It couldn’t possibly be as fresh as something more local.  And that is true.  But Atlantic salmon is a bit of a misnomer.  Atlantic salmon is the name of the fish.  According to Eating Well magazine, it is likely to come from a “fish farm in British Columbia or Washington, or possibly Scotland or Japan, or perhaps Chile or New Brunswick or New Zealand.”

If you prefer to walk away from salmon entirely, I’m ok with that.  Just do not be fooled into thinking that farmed salmon is necessarily a more local product.

I am no hippie.  Seriously, I am not.  I am not an activist either.  All I try to be is an ethical eater.  Down the road we’ll talk some more about this, and how it relates to other ingredients as well.

But for now, let’s just focus on avoiding farmed salmon in all its forms.  Sorry.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2009 3:18 pm

    Word. Sometimes I mistakenly buy farmed, but for the most part wild just tastes more salmon-y. I guess it’s kind of like grass fed vs. factory farmed cattle.

    • June 10, 2009 11:33 pm

      The grass fed vs. factory farmed cattle analogy is close, but it misses a major point. Factory farmed cattle are not a danger to the existence of their healthier cousins. There is some serious suspicion that sea lice from a salmon farm decimated nearby wild stocks that were not inoculated against the parasite. And there are also people who are concerned about escaped farmed fish intermingling with wild stocks, and the risks those could have on the fisheries.

      A more accurate example might be GMO corn versus organic heirloom corn. My understanding is that it only takes is a strong wind to blow the GMO crop’s pollen into the next field. And it has the potential to destroy what an organic farmer may have been working decades to produce and protect.

      There is a lot to be concerned about. But we’ll take it one step at a time. Let’s just try to remember that it’s not elitist or snobish to pass on farmed salmon.

  2. renee permalink
    August 12, 2009 3:14 pm

    “All I try to be is an ethical eater.”

    Now THERE’s a can of worms you’ve gone and opened…

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