Pulling Sustainability Out of a Can
Our modern lives are busy. We pack as much as possible into the day and condense our meals to fit our crammed schedules. We tend to prioritize convenience above health and sustainability when making decisions about how and what to eat. I often hear the excuse, "I'm so busy I can't bother to eat sustainably." My response: Yes you can...with the can.You might find this fact surprising, but canned seafood represents one of the best opportunities we have to participate with sustainable fisheries. And I'm not just talking about tuna, some of which is great, like MSC-certified product from the American Albacore Fishing Association, and some of which has issues—all of which are being addressed. I want to draw attention to the whole range of tastes and textures available to us in the canned seafood aisle. Here are a few of my favorites that lend themselves to culinary versatility:
Pink salmon is one of the greatest products on supermarket shelves. The largest of the pink salmon fisheries is in Alaska, where stocks are managed responsibly and relatively little is used as fresh product. Canned pink salmon is loaded with calcium and omega-3s, which are good for heart health and neurological development. This salmon is also low in marine toxins such as methyl-mercury. It's delicious and inexpensive and can easily be substituted for canned tuna. Mix the salmon with a few simple ingredients and you'll have mouth-watering salmon cakes in minutes. (See recipe below.)
Canned sardines and anchovies are staples in our house. I add them to braises, salads, sandwiches, and nearly everything else because they add an unmistakable depth of flavor as well as heart-healthy fatty acids. Eggplant stuffed with an anchovy studded ratatouille is a perfect welcome for the warm weather ahead. (See recipe below). Canned and jarred mussels, oysters, and clams are also heart-healthy economical meals that are as easy as the flip of a lid. You can make a mean smoked mussel chowder with some half-and-half, celery, potatoes, herbs, and seasonings. That's it!
These often overlooked varieties of canned seafood typically comprise species that are less environmentally costly due to their high rates of productivity and low status on the marine food chain. Also, because they tend to be small, these species don't accumulate toxins like mercury, PCBs or dioxins, which are common in larger, longer-lived, predatory fish. And, unlike fresh seafood that's highly perishable and costly due to high rates of spoilage and waste, canned seafood is packed shortly after harvest and lasts on store shelves for months.
One of the prevailing arguments against a more sustainable food system is that "good food" costs too much and is largely inaccessible. My favorite quality of canned seafood is that it's available to everyone, everywhere. Pink salmon, anchovies, sardines and bivalves like clams and oysters are not only among the best foods we can eat for the health of our oceans, but also for the health of ourselves and our families. Canned seafood is sold at every grocery store, corner bodega and convenience store in America at very reasonably prices. So when you're planning your next meal or your doctor recommends eating more seafood, remember to think inside the can.
Barton Seaver's recipies for canned fish:
Pink Salmon Cakes with Dill and Mustard
Eggplant Stuffed with Smoky Tomato-Anchovy Ratatouille
READ MORE: Star Chef Barton Seaver's Sustainable Marinated Clams With Minted Lemon Marinade and Pine Nuts
Photo credit: Katie Stoops
Chef, author, and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver is on a mission to restore our relationship with the ocean, the land, and with each other—through dinner. He believes food is a crucial way for us to connect with the ecosystems, people, and cultures of our world.
Seaver explores these themes through healthful, planet-friendly recipes in his first book, For Cod & Country (Sterling Epicure, May 2011), and as host of both the National Geographic Web series Cook-Wise and the three-part TV series In Search of Food (Ovation, May 2011).
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and executive chef at some of the most celebrated restaurants in his native Washington, D.C., Seaver is known for his devotion to quality, culinary innovation, and sustainability. In 2008, he was honored as a "Seafood Champion" by the Seafood Choices Alliance and as "Rising Culinary Star of the Year" by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. He was named Esquire magazine's "Chef of the Year" in 2009.
As a National Geographic Fellow, Seaver works on ocean issues with Mission Blue to increase awareness and inspire action. He also works closely with D.C. Central Kitchen, the School Nutrition Association, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and Future of Fish.
Seaver's insights have been featured in Cooking Light, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post, Fortune, and Vanity Fair. He has appeared on CNN, NPR's All Things Considered, National Geographic Weekend, and Bloomberg Radio. In 2010, he gave a TED Talk aboard the National Geographic Endeavor. \