That Fish Isn't What You Think It Is

Restaurant buyers who get fish on ice from dealers often have no idea that that fish was caught 40 days ago an ocean away and had been frozen until the distributor defrosted it


Happy Food Day! I'm off to hear Tom Menino, mayor of Boston, give an address at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts, which I hope will say more about the city's support of a year-round public food market, something we've taken the lead on and something that exists in far too few cities. The city and state have already given money and other encouragement for a building right in the center of Boston with a target date of next year; and Boston has been ahead of other cities in putting farmers markets in underserved areas and partnering with Wholesome Wave -- including "bounty bucks" and "veggie prescriptions," two of several ways to make SNAP and other public-assistance dollars go farther when people use them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as I wrote about here. I hope you've found your own activity to join in on, and if you haven't, you can get ideas from Food Day's creator, Michael Jacobson, who wrote about why he came up with the idea for us last week. 

[Update: just back from the talk, in which the mayor announced an RFP for the year-round market, which makes the long-announced opening target date of next fall actually look possible. He also highlighted the designation of "enterprise zones" for community gardens, including the successful revival of a dormant greenhouse in Roxbury. Also, Menino has been probably the country's leader in setting a comprehensive policy for food trucks, of which he and City Council president Mike Ross are champions, ensuring that they don't unfairly compete with each other or, crucially, bricks-and-mortar restaurants; for more on who makes all those trucks, see the piece on Atlantic Cities today here.]

Meanwhile, the piece you can't miss goes perfectly with our own observation of Food Day, Helene York's reminder that whenever we think about sustainability and food we need to think about fish, too (and as for professing concern about animal welfare and buying supermarket chicken and meat, see James McWilliams on convenient conscience oblivion this morning.) It's a two-part investigation the Boston Globe spent five months conducting on just how extensive mislabeling of fish has become on restaurant menus -- some of it willful, much of it not. (First part here, today's conclusion here.) 

In classic sting fashion, the reporters, Jenn Abelson and Beth Daley, sent samples of fish from 134 Massachusetts restaurants to a DNA-sampling lab in Guelph, Ontario, and found that a full 48 percent were mislabeled on the menu. "Cod," a catchall term at best, is seldom cod but usually haddock (very good, just less known) or hake (a "trash fish" because it's mushy, but one that should be used more often). Red snapper is the far cheaper ocean perch or, especially at sushi restaurants, tilapia. Grouper is Vietnamese catfish. "Day boat scrod" is previously-frozen Pacific cod. Even our own Ming Tsai called sablefish -- a lush Pacific fish also called ling cod that anyone who grew up on Jewish deli knew as the good, expensive stuff that went before the whitefish -- butterfish, because he thinks it "sounds better." (What's wrong with the buttery feel of sable? Maybe those animal-welfare types in ritzy Wellesley don't like fur anymore. James McWilliams would have some questions for them about what they're buying at the meat counter.)

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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