I Eat Sustainably Because I Care

NAEM President

Kelvin Roth

Some people have asked why I’m writing about food on a blog ostensibly dedicated to EHS and Sustainability business matters. Well here’s my short answer – because I care.

As Joe Fiksel so nicely pointed out in his recent post, there are several approaches to sustainability from a corporate perspective. But I firmly believe that sustainability is a ground-up grassroots individual-driven issue. No company is “sustainable” because of government regulations, shareholder referendums or board resolutions. Those may all eventually happen, but sparks of “sustainability” occur when someone in the organization cares and they are able to express it’s importance and get others involved.

Although people often equate sustainability with sacrifice and compromise,  food is the one area where it’s relatively easy to do the right thing. A friend of mine once said that if he started on a quest to find the most sustainably-raised shrimp and I started on a quest to find the tastiest shrimp, we would end up in the same place with the same shrimp. This is true about so many items within our food chain. The Slow Food movement has summed up this experience in a common saying – “Eat it to save it!” – and I like to modify that a little bit to “Eat the best to save the best.”

Food sustainability is something that we can all participate in every day. This has never been truer than for the Gulf fishers and foragers who have survived this summer’s catastrophic spill. Shrimp season is now open and Gulf shrimp are not only some of the tastiest shrimp you can get, but also some of the most sustainably raised/harvested shrimp. Gulf shrimp fisheries have been effective in maintaining stocks, researching habitat effects, and addressing by-catch issues.

This presents us with a true “eat it to save it” opportunity: The largest potential damage to the Gulf fishing/food community may, like the oil spill itself, be man-made – a marketplace that is hollowed out by fear of contaminated food, even if it’s actually safe to eat.

Although many fishers and foragers were (are still) directly affected by the Gulf oil spill, the Gulf food community is not dead. Shrimp, shellfish, and other seafood from the Gulf that have been green-lighted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program are still making their way to market and to restaurants near you.

There are many safeguards in place, not the least of which is a community of proud artisans who care not only about the profits, but the craft of their labors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also been sampling seafood both in closed and open waters, and sending it off for chemical testing. There are even “seafood sniffers” – state and local inspectors who have been trained to literally sniff out traces of oil contamination on seafood.

“There’s nothing wrong with Gulf seafood, because it’s tested probably more than any seafood that’s being removed right now,” retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen told reporters during a press briefing last week (August 18).

So if you can find Gulf-area food at a market or restaurant near you, buy it and feel good about supporting fishers, foragers and a food community in dire straits. There may be no better time for eaters, foodies and chefs to support an important economic backbone of the Gulf and country – and you can do it all by eating something tasty… how easy is that?

About NAEM Staff

The National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), is a non-profit professional association that empowers corporate leaders to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability. As the largest network for environmental, health and safety (EHS), and sustainability decision-makers, we provide peer-led educational conferences and an active network for sharing solutions to today’s corporate EHS and sustainability management challenges. Visit NAEM online at www.naem.org.

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  1. Jenn

    August 27, 2010

    Nicely written. I had not seen ‘Gulf shrimp’ specifically before in the grocery stores. Not sure if they just don’t label it that way or what. But, I’ll certainly keep an eye out for it.
    Thanks for sharing this important information!
    Jenn. 🙂

  2. Stephen Evanoff

    August 28, 2010


    Thanks for making the case for continued indulgence in the seafood delicacies of Our Gulf Coast. Admittedly, mine was among the households that initially reacted with suspicion about future consumption of Gulf seafood. Your well-reasoned essay will impact the thinking in my household. I hope the news media gives ample coverage to all of the work NOAA and Department of Interior are doing to ensure seafood harvested in the future is safe.

    And wouldn’t it be great if, in our lifetime, the day came where we could once again enjoy Chesapeake Bay oysters!

  3. Kelvin

    August 28, 2010

    @ Jenn – ask where they get the wild-caught shrimp… typically this is Gulf shrimp

    @ Steve – I would love to see Chesapeake Bay or even Jamaica Bay oysters again

  4. Joshua

    September 2, 2010

    1. You’re one hell of a good writer, man.
    2. I hate shrimp
    3. I consider Cows Slow Food. They can’t run. This justifies my burger addiction.

  5. jon

    September 10, 2010

    My impression (just googled it again) is that overall the fisheries in the Gulf are on the decline, not sustainable. And the reason shrimp harvests have been stable, is because non Gulf sources priced out some of the demand.

    That said, I did see various initiatives are being started to maintain (sustain) the quality of what is there. I hope the fishering industry picks up on them.

    Just saying, I hope we can preserve what is left…because the populaton just keeps growing.

  6. Roberta Macklin

    September 15, 2010

    Interesting piece. I must say I remained highly skeptical concerning the efficacy of the testing. My concern stems from reading that there is not a test for the dispersant. Secondly, I can’t imagine that a sniff test is really sensitive enough of a test to detect light contamination. While the toxicity levels might be low enough in a single meal to be of no concern. I still would not normally sign up to consume some of the chemicals found in the crude nor the dispersants.

    Unfortunately much of the shrimp that comes in farm raised from Asia is exposed to chemicals and not tested. So for me for awhile I am just going light on the shrimp.

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