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Seafood is one of the most important ingredients to know. Seafood that is raised in a non-sustainable manner can contain unhealthy substances and can have very negative impact on the environment. It is also one of the most difficult to know because about one third of seafood served in restaurants is mislabeled – you aren’t eating what you think you are eating. Recently a restaurant in San Jose, CA was fined $120,000 for serving tilapia that was being sold as Petrale sole over at least three years.
Shrimp is particularly important because it is so widely eaten. Americans consume four pounds of shrimp annually, and consumption is growing fast. Most shrimp consumed in the US is eaten in restaurants, so you are taking the restaurants word when you order a shrimp dish off the menu. 90% of the shrimp served in the US is farm raised, typically imported from Southeast Asia. These shrimps can be injected with gel to add weight and inflate their size. Tests often reveal the presence of antibiotics, used because they are raised in overpopulated farming pens. Not only is this unhealthy for you, but the farming practices wreak havoc on the environment and are simply not sustainable.
The Gulf of Mexico is a major source of shrimp caught in the US. Wild shrimp are the best choice, because they have a natural diet which not only creates better flavor, but is more healthful. Wild shrimp will likely be smaller than farm raised, but they pack much more flavor. Some commercial fishers use TED (turtle excluder device) equipped trawling nets to ensure sea turtles are not inadvertently caught.
Next time you go out to eat, ask about where the shrimp you are ordering come from. And then take the answer with a grain of salt – there’s a one in three chance you are being misinformed.