Mercury. PCBs. Omega 3s. Heart Healthy. Industrial pollutants. Wild caught. Farmed. Organic farmed. Atlantic. Pacific. Domestic. Asian. South American. It’ll make you live forever. It’ll give you cancer. Eat it at least three times per week. Don’t have more than one serving per year. It’s sustainable. Eating it destroys the ecosystem.
I find the evening news to be a very poor place in general to catch comprehensive advice on whether a food has a net risk or net benefit, and I try not to fall hook, line and sinker for the bait thrown out to enhance tv ratings. Trolling the internet is overwhelming. There’s an ocean of information out there, some focused on health effects, some on environmental issues, some on economic or political concerns, and it’s up to the consumer to figure out how the scales tip overall.
Fish, in general, is good for you. Problem is, fish can swim in polluted water and eat stuff that’s bad for you, hence becoming bad for you. Certain farming practices with certain species of fish can be healthy and sustainable, and certain farming practices can be unhealthy for humans and cause environmental problems. Certain wild (non-farmed) fishing practices can likewise have healthy/sustainable results or toxic results.
Unfortunately, there’s no consistent rule-of-thumb as to whether wild-caught or farmed is better. Domestic or imported, Atlantic, Pacific, or other source – each one has good and bad food choices. Even different types of the same fish can vary significantly in safety and sustainability.
Most of the time, I try to use educated moderation when making food choices (see my recent post about eggs), but some of the seafood warnings are extreme enough for me to moderate my moderation and avoid certain items completely (e.g. I don’t feed my kids swordfish). The Environmental Defense Fund collaborates with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and compiles data from government databases and scientific studies on seafood contaminants to maintain lists of fish that are relatively safe for humans and for the environment. I tend to use the list on this page:http://apps.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=17694 to judge safety.
Stopping by the local fish market, it used to make me feel like I was up the creek without a paddle if they were out of Alaskan wild-caught salmon, but after consulting the guide in the above link multiple times, I’ve caught on to which fish I can feed my family without having them grow extra arms out of their foreheads. Tilapia seems to be a healthy choice, and when farmed in the U.S., it seems to be fairly environmentally responsible as well. Calamari is on the healthy list (it’s like eating a tire, but it’s low in contaminates). Halibut is currently on the safe list and is delicious, but it’s quite pricey. Chunk light packaged tuna (low sodium) is on the healthy list, and mixes wonderfully with pesto sauce over pasta.
When in Boston, I will allow myself to indulge in a very occasional meal of grilled bluefish, and I am not worried that this will cause me to grow a third eye or to keel over. But for now I’ll skip the bluefin tuna and walleye. And I’ll try to stay hooked into reliable sources of information.