Food Activism I: Slow Fish & Organic Standards

David Sim)
Fish at the Market (Photo credit: David Sim)

The Route to Sustainable Seafood …

Food activism began when pioneers like Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and Sylvester Graham expressed concern over the poor diets of many Americans in the late nineteenth century, and really took off with the scathing work of socialist Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, a fictional exposé of Chicago’s meat-packing plants — Sinclair Lewis pilloried Upton Sinclair in his It Can’t Happen Here.  I’ve always thought that the coincidence of both of them sharing the name “Sinclair” a bit interesting.

And now people concerned about the world’s fish supply — natural and farmed — are raising their voices and discussing very real fears about the future of the fish in the sea. There may not be more fish in the sea if we keep on going the way we have been … (Click here for a link to a commentary about Fish Farm Fallacies, just for another perspective. More here.) All of a sudden, it seems like everybody is hot on the trail with words about fish, including Mark Bittman of the New York Times, with his piece, “A Food Snob Ponders the Future of Fish.”

From November 7 – 9, 2008, Bremen, Germany hosted “Slow Fisch,” a three-day extravaganza celebrating sustainable fisheries and fishing. Part of the growing international “Slow Food” movement, “Slow Fisch” provided attendees with support and information for making fishing a viable and achievable.

According to the program page,

25,000 visitors are expected this weekend at a fair to promote sustainable fisheries in Northern Europe – the first regional Slow Food exhibition of this kind following the international Slow Fish event, held biannually in Genoa, Italy. The three-day event opens today at the Bremen Exhibition Centre, offering visitors the chance to enjoy artisan-made, sustainable products from the region whilst learning how to make good, clean and fair choices in their daily shopping.

Octopus (Used with permission.)
Octopus (Used with permission.)

A wide range of products are on display at SlowFisch: from hand gathered oysters from the Dutch Wadden Sea to shrimps from the Galician Fishermen’s cooperative “Mardelira”, from sea urchins to scallops, from catfish to herrings, as well as preserved fish and complementary herbs, spices, side dishes, marinades, wines and beers.

A centerpiece of the fair is the “fish mile”, where producers who are committed to fair, sustainable fishing and processing display and sell their products. Making their way along the mile, visitors can: compare various shellfish at the oyster and mussel bar; try traditionally smoked products and observe various smoking methods; learn how to fillet various fish; and increase their seafood cooking repertoire through a series of interesting culinary demonstrations.

A program of Taste Workshops offers visitors a more intense experience of particular products, increasing consumers’ sensorial understanding and knowledge about quality production. These sessions are lead by experts and cover themes such as “Smoked Fish and Beer”, “Trout and Wine”, “Herring in 1001 Varieties”, catfish and caviar. A special workshops for young people is focused on sensory training, asking them to not only taste fish but to sharpen their senses by describing the product’s qualities through smell, touch and sight.

In addition, a number of lectures on fish and health, sustainability and species conservation are being presented over the weekend, discussing questions such as: How does eating fish for lunch stimulate thinking?; What are today’s current fish stocks?; and, Which fish can be enjoyed today – and tomorrow?

Fishing Equipment (Used with permission.)
Fishing Equipment (Used with permission.)


Another Slow Fish event will take place April 17-20, 2009 at the Fiera di Genova. The following information covers the 2007 event:

Awareness, knowledge, education, everyday life: these words encapsulate the essence of Slow Fish 2007. It is not just a fair but an event that also aims to make people think and become aware of issues relating to our waters, fishing and fish consumption.

What should we do about the worrying loss of biodiversity in the seas particularly the Mediterranean, which is at risk of becoming irreversible? The first step is awareness of the state of our waters and their ecosystem by reflecting on the situation.

Slow Fish wants to inform people about the state of affairs, and provide examples of ecologically sustainable-and replicable-types of fishing and consumption. These examples respect seasonal availability and favor species found in the waters nearest to us: they are fresh, good and healthy. The event aims to promote a different attitude.

The event aims to promote a different attitude.

Education has to address food issues, but also has to consider the environment and the sea. If consumption is aware and sustainable and if behavior is directed towards safeguarding marine ecosystems, we can begin to turn the situation around.

Slow Fish aims also to connect the environmental problems affecting our waters to the everyday behavior of the general public. In line with the philosophy pursued by Slow Food in its 20 years of activity, theory always has to be backed by; Slow Fish will give practical indications about consumption and lifestyles which everyone can adopt in their everyday lives.

Ellie van Houtte)
Fish in the Market (Photo credit: Ellie van Houtte)

And the nitty-gritty details sound seductive, too:

This innovative event provides a meeting opportunity for fishing communities from all over the world, while involving the large public on subjects that are absolutely crucial for the survival of fish species and the preservation of local identities and specific products and traditions. This is why Slow Fish, which also benefits from being one of the various events organised within the framework of Slow Food’s activities, is becoming increasingly well-known at an international level. The Islands of Taste are tasting stalls where you can sample the finest seafood from Italian regions and other countries processed and prepared by chefs and food artisans. The Seafood Osterias are veritable syntheses of local gastronomic expression. Each day the osteria menus will offer regional fish specialties and recipes – from the simplest to the most complex, from the best known to the most unfamiliar, from the most traditional to the most innovative.  The same will be true of the wines, thanks to a vast range of possible and original combinations.

We should all be thankful to the people who support these programs, those who carry them out, and the fishermen who risk their lives to supply us with fish. And we ought to be grateful, as well, to the fish that provide us with sustenance.

Pu`uhonua O Honaunau in Hawaii Sacred Fishing Pond (Used with permission.)
Pu`uhonua O Honaunau in Hawaii Sacred Fishing Pond (Used with permission.)
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