Last week, a study came out that found a correlation between lower levels of dementia and the Mediterranean diet. Time and time again, it seems to come back to the regime featuring foods filled with antioxidants, nutrients and good fats like our healthy omega-3s. These are found primarily in fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil, all of which are heartily featured in the Mediterranean diet. As a result, we seem to live long, healthy, lean lives full of vitality, good health, good moods and now good memory.
Salmon is famous for its tender, antioxidant-rich flesh that takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in. Though some salmon populations have suffered as a result of overfishing, climate change and human influence on their environments, increased demand has driven fish farming or pisciculture, also referred to as aquaculture, into one of the fastest growing areas of animal cultivation to date. In 2020, nearly half of the world’s supply of fish, crustaceans and mollusks was farmed rather than caught, a 23 percent increase over two decades.
Like factory farming, it seems a world away. We think about breakfast, lunch or dinner and how tasty our meals will be. We don’t think about the way in which meat is raised if we can help it, myself included. If we haven’t raised it ourselves, we buy it, cook it and don’t even think twice. When it comes to fish farming (and harvested meat in general), what implications do the conditions in which these animals are kept affect the flesh that we eat?
As an actor in New York, I took most jobs I could get, as long as they were above board. One morning, I sat in the audience of a now forgotten talk show where the twins from “Everybody Loves Raymond” were interviewed. I was paid a whopping $65 and was told when to laugh, clap or cry. During one commercial break, there was a contest among the audience. As part of the game, a bagged goldfish was tossed into the crowd of waving, grabbing hands and was given to one lucky and very unassuming winner as a prize. Although the fish was initially caught, it was tossed from one person to another, no one wanting to assume responsibility for it. Just as the bag with its hostage inside could take no more, it came toward me. I yelled for someone to pass it to me and they did, with relief. It was final. I had unwittingly adopted a goldfish.
I wasn’t in the market for a fish. I was 23. My application to adopt a cat had already been denied. The friend that my roommate and I had listed on the form didn’t know she was a reference. “A cat? Kat and Taz?” She hooted and hollered and may have hung up on the inquiring party. No cat for us. But now I had a fish! I named him Ferdinand.
On the way home from the West Side studios, my friend and I stopped at a pet store. We got Ferdinand a large fish tank so he’d have room to roam. He needed a filtration system with charcoal, rocks and a sunken pirate ship. He needed food, of course, and I figured he needed a friend or two to keep him company. I spent much more than I had made that morning and two hours later, I was back in my fifth-floor walk-up, erecting my fish tank and settling my fish into their new home.
What a disaster. Ferdinand ate all of his friends and over time turned upside down because of some virus or bacterial condition. He wasn’t dead … he was just upside down. I gave him antibiotics. I gave him fancy food. I stopped buying him friends and gave him another course of antibiotics. Finally, I was over it.
I needed to re-home him. I approached my new found friend at the pet store, who loved fish, and asked him to take Ferdinand off my hands. He said he would, but because of store policy, I had to pay for him … (what?) … so I handed him another $15, bid farewell to Ferdinand and was on my way to adopt a cat. The whole time I was a fish mom, I was astounded at how dirty the tank got and how often I had to clean it. With one tiny fish! Now just imagine the over-packed fisheries.
Factory fish farms
It’s impossible not to run into farmed fish. Stores, fish markets or restaurants — farmed fish make up most of our choices. But just how healthy are these options?
A little fatty
Farmed salmon are much fattier than wild caught salmon simply because they don’t have much room to move around in. They don’t migrate, they don’t swim upstream to spawn and eventually die. This higher level of fat may sound like a good thing since we seek salmon out for their omega-3 content, but not all salmon is created equal. Farm-raised salmon has 15 grams of fat per portion whereas wild caught only has five grams. Their omega-3 and 6 ratio differ from salmon in the wild as well.
Farmed salmon are just like Ferdinand. They are fed grain pellets derived from things like corn, wheat and soy, none of which are natural foods for fish. They aren’t treated to delicacies like krill and shrimp like they would be in the wild, so do not have that pink hue wild salmon do. Instead, they’re supplemented with a compound called astaxanthin (found naturally in shrimp and krill) or fed dye pellets. Without these color treatments, the fish in these farms would be an unrecognizable shade of grey. Yuk.
Unfortunately, when a vast number of animals are incarcerated in any pen, be it in water or on land, they breed disease and have pest issues.
For that reason, farmed fish are often treated with pesticides and antibiotics. This could potentially increase not only our exposure to pesticides, but our resistance to antibiotics as well.
Plastic is everywhere. You’ll find it in both wild and farmed fish, though it’s in higher levels in the latter. When in doubt, buy wild-caught.
Salmon can be very expensive, but wild canned salmon is a great option. Sockeye salmon is not farmed, so it’s a safe option as well, even if it’s not labeled “wild-caught.”
But this miso cod recipe might just have you off salmon entirely!
Miso (wild) cod
½ cup sake
½ cup mirin
2 tablespoons organic white miso paste
4 filets cod
In a medium bowl, mix together the sake, mirin and miso until combined.
Add filets of fish. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook (up to 24 hours).
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425°F.
Remove fish from bowl and set on a parchment covered baking sheet.
Bake fish for 20 minutes.
While fish bakes, put remaining marinade and in small pot. Bring to simmer and continue to cook over low heat until thick.
Remove fish from oven and brush with miso sauce.
Broil for 3 minutes or until crisp and brown.