If the The Oceanic Crisis” in The Monthly Review had one clear (and often heard) message, it was this: things are far more interconnected than we know – or even than we think we know. And if we’re not more careful, we’re going to really mess things up. (If we haven’t already.)*

It’s not a new message, and if it weren’t written in terms of specifics and with educated authority, I’d be tempted to ignore it: “I know, I know. Circle of life.  Yeah yeah.” But there’s something more persuasive about the facts that Clark and Clauson pull from.  Just knowing that they (or somebody) has tried to give this issue the comprehensive look it deserves makes me give it my attention.  I don’t have much patience for touchy-feely moralizing, not without some rock solid reasons for paying attention.

And so it’s interesting to evaluate the other articles we were assigned this week by the same bar: written for greatest effect and to rouse the largest number of rabble – or are they, perhaps, maybe, on to something I can take seriously?

Take the Michael Pollan article in The Nation, for example. He had a perspective I hadn’t heard before:

When change depends on overcoming the influence of an entrenched power, it helps to have another powerful interest in your corner—an interest that stands to gain from reform.

We simply can’t afford the healthcare costs incurred by the current system of cheap food—which is why, sooner or later, we will find the political will to change it.

– Michael Pollan

But in the comments below, there was this contradictory and revealing reaction:

This article revealed absolutely no information on who controls food, what their plans are for the immediate future, or anything about how to end this control. Every word above was capitulation nor resistance. Every word above was acceptance of the current status quo of ownership and control of food.

I agree, for the most part. This article might have been written for a particular audience – one who can afford to wait until things get figured out by the powers that be, but I think the comment is misdirected when it implies that waiting for things to get figured out is necessarily passive. And, paraphrasing from an earlier part of the comment, I’m not sure that a full revolution is always the best machine for changing “this control.” I have doubts about the longevity and workability of a sudden change. Not to say that it can’t, but that perhaps when things happen gradually, and you have win over individuals and corporate interests, you find a solution/compromise that everyone can get behind, for whatever reason, Mother Earth or budget lines.  Or perhaps it’s the case that the longer the battle, the more knotted the bureaucratic tape.

And part of changing people’s minds is advertising. Marketing. Maybe even exotic marketing.  I too, I think like Jacob, think that companies need to be more forthright with why they’re doing something, or why they’re choosing to sell their product/service/idea in the manner they’re selling it.  When they dissemble, it makes me mistrust them, which isn’t doing their cause any good. Maybe portraying something as “exotic” or “sexy” or “hip” is the way to get people to pay attention.  Does it matter that they’re attracted for the quote “wrong” reasons as long as they’re paying attention and change is happening? Perhaps Speak Shop should employ local, second-generation Spanish speakers to tutor their clients.  Or perhaps the influence/population Cindy and Clay Cooper want to affect are Guatemalan.  But why, specifically? Be clear.

Similarly, Bamboo Sushi’s doing a hell of a job selling itself as a sustainable destination.  So what if they’re investing in a fish refuge in the Bahamas, when their salmon is coming from the PNW? (I have to think they’ve thought this through more carefully though, there must be a specific reason they’ve chosen that location.) At least fish are being saved.

Because after all – we’re all connected, no?



* I’d prefer to think that we haven’t messed everything up irrevocably just yet. ‘Cause if we have, then our mission changes from “how can we as a species and a planet survive most responsibly?” to “how can we suffer less than we’re going to?” And that’s not going to help anyone. Not really.

Celebritizeing Goodness

The global business of glorifying the simple act of being a decent human being is loathsome. It makes me afraid for humanity that we have sold off our rights of sustenance to corporate intermediaries who are feeding us food that comes from a laboratory rather than the dirt.

I guess that is how humanity has spread goodness to begin with, religious figures are exactly that, a glorified hero which we are encouraged to base our life’s decisions around. The fact that we need to actually hold public panels, define a culinary revolution, and make heroes of people who maintain the standard of eating right is rather depressing.

Food is life. (period) among every other topic we have consulted over this course I have been willing to grant wiggle room. Designed objects, South American tea, learning a second language, whatever, none of these things are as fundamentally important as food. Don’t Fuck with food! It is quite possibly the most important necessity for sustaining life. With this declaration I am willing to respect the individuals who maintain this high level of stewardship towards food but I am only willing to do that, respect them. These people are not breaking new ground, the things they are campaigning for are something that was simply the standard two generations ago.

The responsibility that Bamboo sushi has taken for the fish it serves is admirable. It should be a legal requirement for every food proprietor to be that focused to maintaining a standard that high. However, I am not so sure that serving sushi is ethically responsible to begin with. The resource consumption of the fishing industry is gluttonous from the start.

“If the fishing industry were a country, it would rank with the Netherlands as the world’s 18th-largest oil consumer” – Cornelia Dean,  NY Times

Owning a responsibility to maintaining fish populations simply so you can eat more of them is no noble deed, it is simply being business savvy. We are so apt to applaud someone simply for being smart, furthermore we veil it as heroic. The same goes for Bamboo’s statement about sustainably harvested teak chopsticks. Although Plantation Teak grown in Latin America is a more sustainable option to Indonesian old growth teak,  it still comes from much farther away than an Oregon black walnut tree. It is the glorification of social entrepreneurs actions by their own personal declarations as well as journalists praise that instantly places these practices under a high level of scrutiny.

I guess what I am trying to say is stop bragging about doing things that are simply ones obligation as citizens of the earth. If you want to eat threatened fish from far away make sure you don’t eat too many. If you want exotic hardwood eating utensils plant a tree for every one you cut down. But stop bragging about it, no one would respect Michael Phelps if he wore his eight Olympic gold medals everyday. When is doing the right thing just going to become the standard?

“Look at me, I’m the best!”

A pescetarian’s view on coral reefs…….

I was educated by some alarming information on coral reefs about two years ago when I watched an IMAX movie at OMSI on how human interference has caused an enormous threat to coral reefs. The movie made me appreciate the marvels of nature’s creations, so breathtakingly gorgeous and morphologically perfected however on the other hand how the ecological integrity of the reefs is compromised by the destructive practices of overfishing and marine pollution.

Coral reefs are often referred to as the “rainforests of the oceans” and also known to be the largest, complex ecological community of biological origin that grow slowly while building deposits of calcium carbonate. The organisms that make up the coral  colonies are stationary and get their nourishment from reaching out their tentacles to small fish and plankton as their food. The coral reefs also provide a habitat for food and shelter for the diverse sea life and in such a way a very symbiotic relationship is formed. Any imbalance caused to this  natural system greatly upsets not only the marine life but also the ecosystem at large with effects like changes in temperature, chemical and water quality, erosion control; reefs are not able to withstand long-term stress.

The current statics show that more than half of the world’s reefs are at medium to high risk of destruction and exhibit little recovery from this damage.  The Great Barrier Reef along the coastline of north-eastern Australia located in the Coral Sea is the world’s largest single structure made by living organisms. A lot of revenue is generated from the tourism industry associated with the Great Barrier Reef. It is under serious peril of deterioration due to rise in temperature of the waters cause of global warming as corals thrive within a specific range of temperatures (77-80 degrees fahrenheit) optimum for their calcification of structures. The increase in carbon dioxide in the water changes the PH value of the water causing what is  known as ocean acidification. This causes coral bleaching when they shed the algae that live in their tissue which impart the brilliant hues to the corals and the corals are flushed out of any colorations and become white. Another reason the Great Barrier reef is on the brink of irrecoverable stress is the nitrogen-based pesticide runoff released in the ocean from the local farming communities further deteriorates the water quality.

A number of countries such as Australia, France, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, Sweden, U.K. and U.S. are part of the international efforts to address the issues related to coral reef degradation with a governing body that was formed in 1994 called the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). Under this governance various programs are formed to conserve and restore the use of coral reefs and develop and research programs that will monitor the coral reef environments. Although ICRI is not a funding organization, it is able to take measures to develop policies and legislation to protect the coral reefs and the environments that are affected by it.


Our various readings glorify marine ‘activist efforts’ like certification from ‘Marine Stewardship council’, consumer regeneration, subsistence fishing, ecological aquaculture in the name of ‘Blue Revolution’, can they truly alleviate the domino effect damage we have brought about or is human extinction truly the answer? Maybe our association with nature calls for a more humble approach to behave in a symbiotic relationship akin to the coral ecosystem where we mutually respect our place on this planet.

Not sure after this blog and being aware of some atrocious acts that our species have been carrying out in the name of ‘fishing’ if I will be able to find my tuna sandwich pretty palatable!

Ecosystem Overfishing – where fishing becomes unsustainable at the ecosystem level

Waste not. Want not.

The thing that struck me about this weeks readings is the disgusting amount of waste that happens in the fishing industry: “As much as half of all fish caught never make it to the table” acknowledges the Goldmark in the Most Sustainable Sushi Restaurant in America. And in the article The Oceanic Crisis: Capitalism and the Degradation of Marine Ecosystem the author, Brett Clark states: “[Industrialized capitalist fishing] leads to an immense amount of non-target marine life-bycatch- being captured. Bycatch are commercially unviable species, thus they are seen as waste. The “trash fish” are often ground up and thrown back into the ocean. Part of the bycatch includes juveniles of the target fish…it is estimated that an average of 27 million tons of fish are discarded each year in commercial fisheries around the world, and that the US has a .28 ratio of bycatch discard of landings.” This is outrageous! Over-consumption and greed is one thing- at least it is feeding people, but to intentionally waste that much marine life is atrocious!

I grew up fishing with my dad and there are strict regulations in place on the amount and size of fish you can keep-even for weekend anglers who use a hook and line to catch fish. These regulations are enforced with pretty good success by the state D.N.R. We always happily adhered to these limits because we knew it was for a good reason-to keep the fish population healthy. So I wondered why there are not similar regulations in place for commercial fisheries? Even if you accidentally caught fish you can always release them, right?

As it turns out, many bycatch fish die in the release process, so that is not necessarily the only answer. However, I did find out that there are actually federal regulations in place and ways to reduce the amounts of bycatch. According to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, regulatory law limiting the amount of bycatch has significantly reduced the amount by approximately 460 million pounds, but the amount of groundfish thrown over board in today’s  fisheries still represents excessive and unnecessary waste. http://www.akmarine.org/our-work/conserve-fisheries-marine-life/solutions-to-minimize-bycatch

I also found out that many fishing operations dump the bycatch rather than bring it to shore, because it is more cost effective to fill the space in the boat with saleable fish. Or, fish like halibut and salmon that have a higher market value. In the same article, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council states that: The new federal regulation requires Bering Sea and Aleutian Island bottom trawl catcher/processor vessels that are over 125 feet long to retain an increasing portion of their overall catch. It requires that vessels retain at least 65% of their catch in 2008 and 85% of their catch by 2011. While some vessels already retain 65% or more, others throw away over 50% of their catch at times. http://www.akmarine.org/our-work/conserve-fisheries-marine-life/solutions-to-minimize-bycatch

There are also different types of nets and practices that reduce the damage to fish and the marine floor, while reducing the amount of bycatch. This example from the Louisiana State University relates to the shrimping industry: Currently available to shrimpers are NMFS-approved bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), which have openings called fisheyes and funnels sewn into trawls. Fish entering the trawls swim out of the openings along with some shrimp. The size and economic impact of the loss will be a continuing concern to fishermen and regulators. The full document is attached for further reference.

This is good news and I am happy to see that there is some consciousness surrounding the issues, however, I’m sure more can be done. I am happy to be more aware of these issues and will be sure to check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s fish watch for more info on ocean-friendly seafood and sushi. They even have a fishwatch app that you can download onto your smart phone to help make smart purchases. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org

Gotta love sushi

“In a year, we will go through 4,000 pounds of albacore, 5,500 of salmon, 3,500 pounds of tuna…” Kristofor Lofgren’s busy sushi restaurant uses incredible amounts of fish. “It’s probably eight tons of seafood that we serve, so we feel it’s our jobs to make sure we have a positive impact.” To compensate for that drain on the ocean’s resources, Lofgren wants to add all that and more back into the ocean, so every ounce of spicy tuna roll you eat puts twice as much live tuna back in the sea.

How is it that we have not depleted the fish supply yet? I ponder this question when I was traveling in Japan last December. Fish was every where I went: either on a menu at a restaurant, in markets, on conveyor belts (sushi), salty snacks that tasted like fish, and even cold for breakfast. Eating cold fish for breakfast was a true challenge; I never got use to it, nor did I enjoy eating it. I researched more on the amount of fish being consumed in Japan, and it’s importance to East Asian culture. Fish contributes a significant amount of nutrition to the East Asian diet, containing higher amounts of protein than meat and milk, and providing a good source of amino-acids, vitamins A, D, and B.

The Wall Street Journal states, “Put aside all those stories of global battles spurred by Japan’s reputation as a voracious seafood-eating nation. Here in Japan, the trend that’s causing buzz is quite the opposite: Fish consumption has been steadily declining. Per capita fish-eating fell below that of meat for the first time in 2006. The average monthly household spending on seafood has dropped 23% since 2000, to $74 last year.”

So a decline in fish consumption could also be related to children of Japan would rather eat spaghetti than squid sashimi or stewed sole. The elders are worried about choking on the sharp bones. This perhaps has a negative impact to consumption of fish. However, a song about fish called “Fish Heaven” by Gyoko was used by the Fisheries Agency in 2008 and now it is played all over the supermarkets in Japan: “Fish. Fish. Fish. You get smart when you eat fish. Smart Smart Smart. Fish Fish Fish. You get healthy when you eat fish. Healthy. Healthy. Healthy.” I did not personally hear this song because ironically they were playing christmas songs in english when I was visiting in Japan. I found a video of the Gyoko talking about Illegal Fishing in Japan through music and working at a Fishery.


Imperialistic sustainability

Diego Garcia

Like a lot of what we have covered in this class so far, as well as much of Entrepreneurial Studies, Kristofer Lofgren’s Bamboo Sushi’s support of a fish bank smells like Exotification Marketing.  One of Exotification Marketing’s biggest pitfalls is its inability to develop wholly positive feedback loops.  Where business models such as Speak Shop and Guyaki purport to offer environmental and social benefits alongside the product or service, they are only utilizing the appearance of those benefits.  Speak Shop, rather than hiring tutors in Guatemala to teach middle class Americans Spanish, should be hiring local second generation young Latinos who may be at a higher risk for unemployment.  They have been translating for and tutoring their parents in a second language as they learned English.  I am skeptical that Guyaki’s purported rainforest saving scheme and potential Mate’ plantations in the United States really only end up benefiting the two hippy kids who started the company.  They trick consumers with images of faraway lands in peril to purchase their product, pandering to their customers white guilt.

Bamboo Sushi is about to officially buy their first marine protected area. It will be 100 square kilometers, about 405,000 acres, in the Bahamas. Planning for the second one, closer to home in the Pacific Northwest, is already underway.

This is where I end up with Bamboo Sushi’s grand plan to fund the protection of tracts of ocean.  First of all, how is it sustainable, or even reasonable, for an American company to regulate the marine ecosystem’s surrounding the Bahamas.  Alex Goldmark’s article starts out, “In a year, we will go through 4,000 pounds of albacore, 5,500 of salmon, 3,500 pounds of tuna…” Kristofor Lofgren’s busy sushi restaurant uses incredible amounts of fish., well kind of, Albacore is a tuna and therefore I am unsure what exactly that means tuna is.  Salmon do not live in the Bahamas.  They need the cool waters of the Northern Pacific and Northern Atlantic.  They are found other places globally, but only in cool waters such as Southern Australia and Northern Europe.  Not in the Bahamas.  This is where I got really confused.  If Bamboo Sushi is preparing to invest in a Marine Protected Area why isn’t it located where their product is sourced?

“We are going to take a portion of every dollar spent at Bamboo Sushi, and work with the Nature Conservancy, WWF, Monterey Bay Aquarium… [and others] to buy those areas of ocean, turning them into ‘fish banks’ for research.”

I am really unclear on what this means.  Superficially, this sounds great.  Areas of the ocean will be set aside and human exploitation will be regulated.  There are outstanding examples of success from implementing a Marine Protected Area.  The Phoenix Islands Protected Area may be one of the last untouched reef systems in the world.  As with so many domestic and international efforts to preserve ecosystems the compromise often ends up watering down the goals of these efforts until paper is all that’s left.  Amongst the US State Department cables released by Wikileaks there is evidence of an MPA being used to promote neo-imperialism to protect US and British military interests on the Chagros Islands in the Indian Ocean.

This cable discloses how in spite of the claims of their proponents that “marine protected areas” are designed to “protect” the ocean fisheries and ecosystem, they are in fact often used as racist tools to dispossess indigenous people of their human rights. The move by the British and U.S. governments to green wash their imperialist policies by depriving the Chagrossians their rights has a direct parallel to the violation of indigenous rights that have occurred in the creation of marine protected areas in the U.S and Mexico.   indybay

There are too many uncertainties surrounding Marine Protected Areas, too many opportunities for an MPA to be used as a neo-imperial tool. There are too many grey areas such as spill over, the movement of species through an MPA. The MPA that Bamboo Sushi is trying to help fund is about twice the size of Hillsboro, Oregon or .000000277% of the worlds oceans.

The implementation of this Exotification Marketing again falls short of its stated goals.  Rather than using your spending power as a way to exercise agency within the Wicked Problems we are faced with, a consumer ends up being pimped by a restaurant like Bamboo Sushi.  Kristofor Lofgren’s heart might be in the right place but part of me hopes he hasn’t bamboozled himself with the aspects of his business and marketing strategies that seem to be designed to pander to some sort of emotional response to environmental degradation.  If, like me, you have a fairly constant craving for sushi put your money where your mouth is, not where you think your heart may be.

Is anyone else concerned that the slow food videos were sponsored by BP?


Diversity of Food: Appalachia

The Appalachian mountain regions of North Carolina, East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky contain a long history of cultivation of heirloom varieties of fruits and intense wildcrafting.  (Wildcrafting is defined as gathering herbs, fungi and plants from the wild.)
This mountain range has been inhabited by people for many centuries and is known for it’s agrobiodiversity.  Much of this diversity springs from the agricultural practices of the Native American groups such as the Cherokee.

The Appalachians are full of yummy foods such as Muscadine grapes (great for jams and wine), the October bean, apples (eating, cooking and cider), sweet potatoes, pawpaws (a favorite of my grandmother), squashes, pumpkins, berries, grains, mushrooms, etc.

“Apples are abundant among the region’s 1,412 food varieties.”

—-James R. Veteto, contributor and editor – Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

“The place-based foods of the Southern and Central Appalachia region are treasures of global importance, just as much as the bluegrass music of the same region.”

——Gary Paul Nabhan, founder of Renewing America’s Food Traditions Alliance and editor
of Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

With the ever looming risks of climate change, farmers are carefully observing which varieties of plants are hearty and resilient through past extreme shifts in climate.  These flexible contenders are being used to bring variety to their fields.  Thankfully, monoculture is rare here.  The food systems are more in tune with the natural cycles of the region and what the soils can produce.

Some researchers speculate that there is danger of the most active gardeners and cultivators in the region of dying out and traditions dying out too.  But there is a return to the ideas of self-sufficiency and sustainability.  According to James Veteto in Place-Based Foods, “ Droves of young people are returning to the land in western North Carolina through the sustainable agriculture movement.  Conservation efforts through the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Center for Cherokee Plants and The Southern Seed Legacy Project are generating an enormous amount of interest in heirloom seeds, wild foods, and heritage breeds.”

With all the readings this week about slow food, sustainable sushi and the tragedy of over-fishing and oceanic dead zones, I kept trying to think of an area that might embody practices for food growing that might somehow be more inherently healthy or environmentally sustainable and I kept thinking of Appalachia.  Slow food and self sufficiency seems to be a way of life there.  Maybe we all just need to slow down?  Maybe we don’t need sushi every week?

-Editor and contributor to Place-Based Foods, Gary Paul Nabhan, has also written “Endangered Foods of the Gulf South” and was featured on Slow Food NOLA’s blog.

-James R. Veteto also has written “The Slaw and the Slow Cooked.”

Another interesting site is: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

From the ASAP site’s FAQ:

“At ASAP, we believe the labor and environmental issues associated with agriculture are important. Supporting local agriculture is a powerful way to shape the food system and impact the kind of environmental and labor standards you want to see. Localizing agriculture connects farmers and community members; it means that consumers are in direct contact with the farmers that grow their food or are only one or two steps removed. With this kind of close connection, you can make informed choices about the food you eat and in turn foster greater economic, social, and environmental health. We encourage you to get to know the farmers that grow your food. If you have direct contact with farmers, you can ask them directly about their production and business practices. If you buy your food through a retailer, produce managers are often knowledgeable about the local farms that supply their store. “