- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Canadian First edition (April 21 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0002007819
- ISBN-13: 978-0002007818
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 662 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,498,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Bottomfeeder Hardcover – Apr 21 2008
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“Research that brings muckraking books such as Fast Food Nation to mind.” ―Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Grescoe takes us on an international tour of controversial cuisines--shark fin soup in China, whale sashimi in Japan, monkfish tail in New York City--meanwhile offering an overview of the corrupt practices that have put the oceans (and our health) in danger.” ―Salon
“Grescoe's tale hits all the right notes. It's an entrée you'll remember.” ―Fortune Small Business
“Bottomfeeder is Grescoe's story…a starting point for reflecting on where each of us draws the line about what's acceptable to eat and what's not.” ―Gastronomica--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Taras Grescoe is the author of the national bestseller The Devil's Picnic; The End of Elsewhere, a book about the horrors of travelling; and SacrÉ Blues, winner of the Edna Staebler Award, the Quebec Writers' Federation Book Award and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction. He is a Montreal-based journalist whose work appears in such publications as The New York Times and National Geographic.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Most of the book was not what I expected. Grescoe does not give a solid overview of the issue, only providing information between stories, which could confuse someone unfamiliar with the problems. He does not explain the concept of "bottomfeeding," and even makes it sound like a bad thing a couple of times! Finally, he can be rather condemning of the people he interviews, and of other cultures, even calling a Chinese culinary practice "just stupid." While the oceans are very mistreated by people, it's important to acknowledge there are reasons we do so.
Overall, a helpful book. Paul Greenberg's Four Fish is much better written, but does not give the reader as much guidance about what action to take.
It's organized by fish or issue: monkfish, oysters, British fish and chips, the real bouillabaisse, sardines, toxic shrimp farming, the tragedy of shark fin soup, bluefin tuna, farmed Atlantic (ha) salmon, and the origin of "fish sticks." An appendix discusses how to choose sustainable seafood, and notes some troubling trends with the Marine Stewardship Council with its certification program.
But author Taras Grescoe says it best in his own words, and I can't summarize this book any better:
"Entire cultures have built elaborate identities around the cooking and consumption of seafood" (p. 5).
"As I set out, the list of seafoods that I enjoyed eating was long. I knew it was going to get shorter, but I figured the process would be worth it. I was going to acquire a simple but crucial skill: how to eat nutritious food ethically" (p. 13).
"We are. in effect, clear-cutting the oceans: sea bottom scars two and a half miles wide have been found off Norway, where 40 percent of cold-water reefs have already been damaged by trawls. Off the coats of Florida bottom-trawling has ground 90 percent of the state's fragile Oculina coral reef into rubble" (p. 27).
"It is impossible to overstate what a bad idea fishing for such a deepwater species [orange roughy] is. The fact that we are dragging nets one and a half miles below the surface should suggest how difficult it has become for humanity to find wild-caught protein. It is as if, after shooting most of the birds in Europe and North America, we have resorted to burning down the Amazon so we can catch the fleeing parrots and macaws in butterfly nets. And then eat them" (p. 29).
"We are reaching the 'day of reckoning' predicted by Garrett Hardin in his seminal paper: the carrying capacity of too many ecosystems has been surpassed. We have gotten too good at catching fish, and tragedy is striking our global commons" (p. 53).
"For most of human history, our relationship with the sea has been predicated on the erroneous belief that, even if we wanted to, we could never make a dent in fish populations" (p. 74). "We now know that worldwide, total catches peaked at 78 million tonnes in 1988, and have been declining by about half a million tonnes a year ever since" (p. 75).
"The term [shifting baselines syndrome] refers to the very human tendency to take the ecosystem as one first encounters it as the baseline for a pristine environment... Incrementally, over the course of many lifetimes, the baseline shifts without anybody noticing, and natural abundance is gradually whittled away to zero" (p. 76).
"It took five hundred years, but the world's greatest fishery has disappeared, probably forever" (p. 77).
"The discarding of fish is one of the fishing industry's most shameful practices. Fishing vessels the world over are trailed by miles of floating fish, 'bycatch' tossed overboard, dead, because they happen to be too small or the wrong species. Some scientists believe one third of the world's catch is discarded this way" (p. 78).
"... in restaurants and fishmongers, I had started to ask a crucial question: where exactly did you catch of the day come from? (p. 123).
"Economists have calculated that fishing for sardines and other abundant coastal species produces far fewer greenhouse gases than the cultivation and transport of spinach" (p. 130).
"The simple fact is, if you are eating cheap shrimp today, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide-and-antibiotic-filled, virus-ridden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world's poorest countries" (p. 151). "One study has found that up to 38 percent of mangrove loss worldwide can be attributed to shrimp farming" (p. 160).
"Of all the varieties [of canned tuna] on sale, only non-longline-caught skipjack (marketed as 'light') tuna, which is low in mercury and relatively abundant in the oceans, can conceivably be considered a healthy, sustainable choice" (p. 117).
"Forty-three percent of the fish eaten in the world are now farmed, according to the United Nations, and the industry has been growing by an astonishing nine percent a year for the last three decades. By 2010 world aquaculture output is expected to surpass beef production" (p. 221).
"Personally, I cannot face another piece of farmed salmon. The herringbone pattern of flesh, barely held together by creamy, saliva-gooey fat - the vehicle for some of the worst toxins known to humanity - has lately been making me choke" (p. 147). "If you must buy farmed salmon, according to food safety writer Marion Nestle, you should grill or broil the fish until the juices run off, then remove the skin. That way, she writes in her book What To Eat, you can get rid of much of the toxin-conveying fat and with it half of the PCBs" (p. 147).
"According to United Nations figures, population growth means the world will need an additional 25 million tonnes of farmed seafood by 2015. If at least some of that seafood is going to be sustainably and ethically harvested, consumers are going to have to start asking a fundamental question. It is the one I got used to asking in my travels: Where, exactly, did this fish come from? And refusing to take 'I'm not sure' for an answer" (p. 261).
"Wallet cards and eco-lapels, though great tools, are only a beginning. One of the most effective measures for empowering consumers would also be the simplest to enact: policy makers need to demand more transparency from the dangerously opaque seafood industry. As long as consumers are kept in the dark about where their fish come from, they will never be able to make sound purchasing decisions" (p. 277).
"Government, not industry, has to oversee both food safety and fisheries, and they should be favoring the advice of fisheries scientists, ecologists, and resident, small-scale fisherman rather than industrial 'stakeholders' whose ultimate concern will always be the bottom line" (p. 300).
"More than ever, we need a system of vigorously protected marine parks off our shores and on the high seas" (p. 302).
In the Appendix, author Grescoe lists "principles to follow when buying seafood," and "Questions to ask your waiter or fishmonger." He also has a section on "Fishing methods: the good, the not-so-good, and the really ugly" as well as his personal list of fish never to eat, sometimes to eat ("it depends"), and always to eat.
Scary. Important. Purchase a copy of this book for yourself, plus a copy to share. Carry a Seafood Watch card in your wallet or purse. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council lapel.
Vote with your dollars. Vote with your appetite. Vote for sustainability in our oceans.
I've long been bothered how food arrives at my plate. I'm not opposed to eating meat or fish, but I want to do it in an ethical manner. After reading "Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer I doubt that is possible with meat purchased from most sources available to me. I saw seafood as a good alternative. Then I stumbled across this book.
A telling section of the book summarizes his message, "In the unilateral arms race against the fish, our neutron bombs have already been deployed: the bottom-trawls that can devastate seamounts, the longlines that trail dozens of miles of hooks, the giant purse-seine nets big enough to handily pull in a half-dozen Los Angles class nuclear submarines. Fishing technology has gotten too good."
As I read the book I began to wonder at the stupidity of mankind. We are not an unintelligent species, but we show little or no foresight when he comes to so many things. This unfortunately, includes fisheries. Grescoe details one collapsed or collapsing fishery after another. It some aspects it was very depressing to read. We could do such much better. We just do not.
I had always assumed that aquaculture was more or less a good thing, a viable alternative to depleting the oceans. After reading his descriptions of shrimp farming in Asia I have eaten my last shrimp. It is almost a guarantee that the shrimp we eat in the USA are from this source. Farmed salmon is nearly as noxious a proposition. What I thought was ethical, healthy eating is not.
All is not lost though; he does provide what he sees as very viable methods to reverse the depletion of our oceans. I am not holding out a lot of hope that we can get past greed and turf to institute some of his suggestions. I would like to be proven wrong.
In the meantime as concerned consumers we can play our part by avoiding certain fish. He details those, but also details those that we can eat in good conscience.
Unless you just want to totally stick your head in the sand this is a wonderful book that describes the issues, poses some possible solutions, and gives the consumer some alternate choices when it comes to dining on seafood.