The Perfect Protein: Q&A with Andy Sharpless

Where food comes from, how it impacts the environment, and ultimately, our health, all make for a very intricate and complex topic. Sometimes, trying to make the best choices for you and the environment can make one’s head spin. I have often felt that way about seafood. I know about farmed salmon but what about other fish and seafood? Is farmed shrimp ok? So it was refreshing to read The Perfect Protein: The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World (Rodale) by Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. In this slim book, you’ll find a clear and succinct message that implores you to look to the sea for food, not just for health reasons but for environmental ones, too. And when faced with indecision, Sharpless guides you toward making the best choices. He took some time to explain why the outlook for some of the world’s largest fisheries isn’t so grim, why you really shouldn’t eat shrimp, and why eating a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is making a statement. Epicurious: You write that seafood–fish, crustaceans, mollusks–is the perfect protein. Other than omega-3’s, which is probably the reason so many people eat fish, what other nutrients does seafood offer? Andy Sharpless: Your doctor will refer to the fish because of the omega-3 and omega-6. But if you’re swapping red meat out and putting fish in, medical studies show that you’ll get a reduction in obesity and cancer and heart disease, so there’s a bunch of other benefits that come along with eating fish. And then of course, we’re emphasizing that eating seafood is good because doing so is good for the planet. This is a way to get animal protein into your diet that–if it comes from an abundant ocean–is really the best, least-stressful way for the planet. Epi: You write about trying to find that balance between the growing populations and their needs to make a living and to feed their families, and the need to preserve the ocean’s ecology and allowing fish populations to grow. But with climate change, unstable economies, and political instability all around the world, how much harder will it be, if at all, to achieve harmony between humans and ocean life? AS: We’re very optimistic about this. One of the reasons is that people are used to thinking that food production is at war with protecting biodiversity, because that’s the way it is on land. Expanding agriculture is the primary driver of biodiversity loss on the land. But that framework misleads you when you think about the ocean because in the ocean, we’re eating a wild creature. We’re eating wild fish! So the things that we would do to make sure there are a lot of wild fish to eat as food would also serve to protect the ocean’s fundamental biodiversity. You need the natural system to be strong, abundant, and diverse in order to have lots of food to eat. So I think message number one is that what used to be enemies…

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