'Sustainable Food': Catchphrase or Lifestyle?

    • Sysco Foods: I found out they even have a V.P. of sustainability, Craig Watson. The V.P. of corporate communications, Mark Palmer said sustainability is a pure business decision. It cannot be a public relations stunt, since it is far too important to meet the needs of their customers.

Even Whole Foods, although it labels fish as green (best choice) and yellow (good choice), still carries some unsustainable choices. It is a process, and if we understand the definition and we buy the best choices and good alternatives, eventually it will fall into place.

I have mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch program and how serious they are. Their scientists research government reports, journal articles, and white papers, and they also contact fishery and fish farm experts. After a thorough review, they apply their sustainability criteria to develop an in-depth Seafood Watch Report. A panel of experts then reviews all reports. Their reports are available on their website, www.seafoodwatch.org.

Because of their scientific approach, they are cautious about making a call on the current Gulf seafood situation. I spoke with Sheila Bowman from Seafood Watch, and she said that it is important that we continue to be robust in our testing of Gulf seafood, although we are all hopeful. We must continue to work on our habits of sustainability, as we must have healthy fisheries at the end of the day.

I genuinely believe that sustainability is not just a catchphrase but a lifestyle that is becoming part of our American culture.

Chef John Besh is on the front lines as a New Orleans restaurant owner, and his reply contained more frustration, as he is living it every day. In his words, "The short term effects of the spill has meant short supply of oysters with hefty price tags to match, irregular supplies of fin fish, smaller crabs due to the oversaturation of inland crabbing, and a modest supply of shrimp at the lowest prices I'd seen in years as a result of nationwide poor public perception of the state of our fisheries, which by the way have never been more scrutinized by various local, state & federal authorities."

I also spoke with Ashley Roth with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. They have many sustainability plans in place and in the works. She said that Gulf Coast seafood is the most tested seafood you can find and it is safe. The unfortunate thing is the perception that it is not. It is an ongoing marketing and branding problem. We will overcome this—we just have to get the consumers outside our region to dig a bit deeper for the answers and not assume the worst. There is a great website with updates to validate you in your choice to eat Gulf seafood: www.louisianaseafoodnews.com. Gulf oysters, for example, were harmed by the diversion of fresh water into the marshes following the spill, not oil.

Sustainability can be traced to a 1987 U.N. conference, which defined sustainable developments as those that "meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Of all the definitions I have read, I remember someone with the surname of Rosenbaum from Washington State University, who coined it best: "'Sustainable' means using methods, systems, and materials that won't deplete resources or harm natural cycles."

Understanding the definition of sustainable is half the battle. I genuinely believe that sustainability is not just a catchphrase but a lifestyle that is becoming part of our American culture as more and more people jump on the sustainable bandwagon.

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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