We address this week by its proper name, but we experience it more joyously as the Festival of Flourishing Fish! The Marine Mardi Gras! Or, maybe, Crab-tember? No. I’ve never been good at naming things, and this last one doesn’t work at all. What can work, my pescatarian chum, is this: Seafood Sustainability Week.
This week of awareness can work. Even with so many other noble awareness weeks, days and months crammed into the calendar. Even when we suspect that awareness of many kinds might be a little over-poached.
You might suspect this; scholars confirm it. Awareness campaigns can prevent change, or even reverse good change already made. It’s not laziness that leads us to do little or nothing after we become “aware” of a need for action. It’s our human inclination. We are social and so, we think not just as individuals but as part of a social group. We say to ourselves: well, there’s so much awareness about, somebody must be keeping an eye on things.
This is why I often miss bin night and write far too few angry letters to my local MP. I unconsciously believe that someone else is aware and is acting when action is needed.
This phenomenon even has a name: the bystander effect. It permits me to do nothing in so many situations. But, so rarely at the oven. I don’t think I’ve ever unconsciously trusted that my partner would be “aware” of the scones.
Food is persuasive. We are far more likely, in my unscholarly view, to take action when a good meal is under threat.
Awareness campaigns can prevent change, or even reverse good change already made. It’s not laziness that leads us to do little or nothing after we become “aware” of a need for action. It’s our human inclination.
Tell me that the seas are out of whack, and I might think, “Well, obviously people are aware and cleaning it all up”. Tell me that belly sashimi may one day be a food only served in dreams, and I’m out there. Telling any soul who’ll listen that “dolphin friendly” should not be understood to mean “ocean friendly”, and that the tuna is a troubled species. Yes, it has an unctuous, meaty mouth-feel and a flavour formed to please the fussiest ocean goddess. If you want it again, Helen, remember it is a 'sometimes food'. Remember that you’d better go and help clean that beach.
Our oceans are no longer stuffed with fish, but simply stuffed. Even if this imbalance is of little concern to policymakers and other persons who may prefer to pop fingers in their ears and sing “la la la” than address the fact of a planet whose systems have been strained by industry, it remains one of grave concern to influential palates. Which is to say: people love fish.
Some people love these fruits of the sea so much, they pretend they are vegetables. How often have we seen a professed vegetarian tuck into a baked snapper? One with all its little fish fins and eyes? “I’m vegetarian, but I eat fish,” is a statement that is wrong and one, I imagine, a topic of discussion by snappers.
This is the transformative power of fish, and of tasty food quite generally. Its promise can persuade us to think and to act as we normally don’t. We can pacify children with an oath of sweets-to-come. Partners, parents and politicians all use food as diplomacy.
Protesters, like Carlo Petrini, have used its soft power to make a point. When a US chain restaurant opened in central Rome, he offered passers-by handmade pasta. The placard that declares “Go Home Corporate Burger” just doesn’t have the force of food. This was day one of Slow Food, a movement that continues to exist and continues to raise small crops, not awareness.
Make a change to your menu this week, certainly. Become “aware” of the foods that can be best sustained. But, maybe, think and act as you normally wouldn’t. Think hard. Is your best fish dish fine enough to unplug the ears of a leader of government or industry? It might be. Perhaps you can cook for our future, before the future is cooked.
Helen Razer is your frugal food enthusiast, guiding you to the good eats, minus the pretension and price tag in her weekly Friday column, Cheap Tart. Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.
Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.
Binge-watch the entire series of What's The Catch with Matthew Evans:
Firm white fish fillets are poached gently in a spiced broth and served with blanched bok choy.
A dish influenced by one of my best friends, fellow chef, Louis Tikaram. Louis has a Fijian background and he once told me about one of Fiji’s national dishes, called kokoda, which incorporates coconut milk into a ceviche mix. This is my take on kokoda (pronounced kokonda), which infuses some of my Vietnamese heritage into the dish. When I asked Louis what he thought about me doing that, he said: ‘Sounds tasty.’ And that’s what the food at Ms G’s is all about: tasty.
Mackerel would have to be one of the most underrated fish in Australia. Ironically, most of the catch is ground into food for farmed fish, which end up with nowhere near the incredible flavour and texture of mackerel. Grilled slowly over coals, it offers a wonderful eating experience: the natural oils in the fish mean it stays juicy and succulent, and the flesh absorbs the smokiness from the grill.