Many ocean and freshwater species have been decimated by commercial fishing during the last few decades, some to the point of near-or-total extinction. If you decide to keep fish and shellfish as part your diet, I strongly urge you to research this issue in more depth than is possible in this brief article. Watch End of the Line; read The World Is Blue. Learn about issues like bycatch and pollution from fish farming.
While you do that, there are some easy ways to make lower-impact choices if you do still choose to consume some fish or shellfish. First of all, like with other animal products, remember that less is more. View it as an occasional rather than a regular or staple food, for less impact on the global ocean and your local waterways.
Monterey Bay Aquarium offers some helpful resource for choosing less-versus-more problematic seafood; often the lower on the food chain you eat, the lower the environmental impact will be. So clams, oysters, mussels, and plant-eating fish such as tilapia often represent more sustainable choices than sea bass, tuna, or swordfish. It’s not that simple, though: shrimp are low on the food chain, but an environmental disaster; and farmed tilapia can contribute to significant environmental problems, depending on country of origin.
If you live inland, consider seeking out farmed freshwater fish instead of seafood… but read about mercury.
The Marine Stewardship Council claims to certify fisheries that follow best ethical fishing practices; so you can look for that stamp of approval — but everyone who’s ever asked for approval has gotten it! So it seems to be more of a rubber-stamp fee-related marketing strategy, rather than a meaningful reflection of sustainable fishing practices.
If you’re going to continue to include seafood or freshwater fish and shellfish in your diet, learn all you can about the issues involved, and try to make the best choices possible — remember, one of those possible choices is to not eat it at all! But if you’re not ready to make that choice yet: read about the issues involved; download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s pocket guide; do the best you can to avoid the most threatened species, and make less harmful seafood choices.
The waters are pretty murky regarding what the best choices actually are, when it comes to seafood. We’ve messed it up in a pretty big way, with our appetite for cheap and constantly available ocean food. But like so many things in life, you’ll get better results if you try than if you don’t try!
Allow for Non-Junk Splurges
Inevitably, there will be times when you want something a little indulgent. Resist the impulse to frame the old way of eating as ‘splurging’ or ‘cheating.’ You wouldn’t be cheating anyone but yourself, by stopping for that fast food or popping a Twinkie in your mouth! Look for real food that feels indulgent: fruit ices, homemade cookies, or banana-chocolate-peanutbutter smoothies taste divine, but are made of actual food. If you have to take the trouble to fry potato chips yourself, you’re going to eat them less. Plus they’ll taste better, and won’t warp your taste buds with MSG or other artificial ingredients.
The force of habit has its own inertia, and change is always a challenging adventure. But in this case the benefits far outweigh the costs: by shifting to a real food, whole food, plant centered diet you optimize your health, maximize your energy, and take control of your environmental footprint.
Be patient with yourself as you make the transition, and don’t stop trying. Plan ahead, and crowd out the junk with healthy foods. Embrace physical activity: your body’s metabolism can’t work well without it, whatever diet you follow. Perhaps most important, keep learning about all the reasons that food choices matter — and then put your own best ideas into action!
Viva la (food) revolucion!