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Barton Seaver: Sustainable seafood? Let's get smart

April 7, 2010

Chef Barton Seaver presents a modern dilemma: Seafood is one of our healthier protein options, but overfishing is desperately harming our oceans. He suggests a simple way to keep fish on the dinner table that includes every mom's favorite adage -- "Eat your vegetables!"

Barton Seaver - Chef
Barton Seaver is an advocate of sustainable seafood and a chef in Washington DC. His work tells the story of our common resources through the communion we all share – dinner. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Sustainability represents
00:15
the what, the where and the how
00:17
of what is caught.
00:19
The who and the why are what's important to me.
00:21
I want to know the people behind my dinner choices.
00:23
I want to know how I impact them.
00:25
I want to know how they impact me.
00:27
I want to know why they fish.
00:29
I want to know how they rely on the water's bounty
00:31
for their living.
00:33
Understanding all of this enables us
00:35
to shift our perception of seafood
00:37
away from a commodity
00:39
to an opportunity
00:41
to restore our ecosystem.
00:43
It allows for us to celebrate the seafood
00:45
that we're also so fortunate to eat.
00:47
So what do we call this?
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I think we call it restorative seafood.
00:51
Where sustainability is the capacity
00:54
to endure and maintain,
00:56
restorative is the ability to replenish and progress.
00:58
Restorative seafood allows for an evolving and dynamic system
01:01
and acknowledges our relationship with the ocean
01:04
as a resource,
01:06
suggesting that we engage to replenish the ocean
01:08
and to encourage its resiliency.
01:11
It is a more hopeful, it is a more human,
01:13
and is a more useful way of understanding our environment.
01:16
Wallet guides -- standard issue
01:20
by lots in the marine conservation world --
01:23
are very handy; they're a wonderful tool.
01:25
Green, yellow and red lists [of] seafood species.
01:28
The association is very easy: buy green, don't buy red,
01:31
think twice about yellow.
01:34
But in my mind, it's really not enough
01:36
to just eat green list.
01:38
We can't sustain this without the measure of our success
01:40
really changing the fate of the species
01:43
in the yellow and the red.
01:45
But what if we eat only in the green list?
01:47
You've got pole-caught yellowfin tuna here --
01:50
comes from sustainable stocks.
01:53
Pole caught -- no bycatch.
01:55
Great for fishermen. Lots of money. Supporting local economies.
01:57
But it's a lion of the sea. It's a top predator.
02:00
What's the context of this meal?
02:03
Am I sitting down in a steakhouse to a 16-ounce portion of this?
02:05
Do I do this three times a week?
02:08
I might still be in the green list,
02:10
but I'm not doing myself, or you,
02:12
or the oceans any favors.
02:14
The point is that we have to have a context,
02:18
a gauge for our actions in all this.
02:20
Example: I've heard that red wine is great for my health --
02:23
antioxidants and minerals -- heart healthy.
02:26
That's great! I love red wine!
02:28
I'm going to drink so much of it. I'm going to be so healthy.
02:30
Well, how many bottles is it
02:33
before you tell me that I have a problem?
02:35
Well folks, we have a protein problem.
02:37
We have lost this sensibility
02:39
when it regards our food,
02:41
and we are paying a cost.
02:43
The problem is we are hiding that cost beneath the waves.
02:45
We are hiding that cost
02:48
behind the social acceptance of expanding waistlines.
02:50
And we are hiding that cost behind monster profits.
02:52
So the first thing about this idea of restorative seafood
02:56
is that it really takes into account our needs.
02:58
Restorative seafood might best be represented
03:01
not by Jaws, or by Flipper, or the Gordon's fisherman,
03:03
but rather, by the Jolly Green Giant.
03:05
Vegetables:
03:08
they might yet save the oceans.
03:10
Sylvia likes to say that blue is the new green.
03:12
Well I'd like to respectfully submit
03:14
that broccoli green might then be the new blue.
03:16
We must continue to eat
03:20
the best seafood possible, if at all.
03:22
But we also must eat it with a ton of vegetables.
03:25
The best part about restorative seafood though
03:28
is that it comes on the half-shell
03:30
with a bottle of Tabasco and lemon wedges.
03:32
It comes in a five-ounce portion of tilapia
03:34
breaded with Dijon mustard and crispy, broiled breadcrumbs
03:36
and a steaming pile of pecan quinoa pilaf
03:39
with crunchy, grilled broccoli
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so soft and sweet and charred and smoky on the outside
03:43
with just a hint of chili flake.
03:45
Whooo!
03:47
This is an easy sell.
03:49
And the best part is all of those ingredients are available
03:51
to every family at the neighborhood Walmart.
03:53
Jamie Oliver is campaigning
03:56
to save America from the way we eat.
03:59
Sylvia is campaigning to save the oceans
04:02
from the way we eat.
04:05
There's a pattern here.
04:07
Forget nuclear holocaust;
04:09
it's the fork that we have to worry about.
04:11
We have ravaged our Earth
04:14
and then used the food that we've sourced
04:16
to handicap ourselves in more ways than one.
04:18
So I think we have this whole eating thing wrong.
04:21
And so I think it's time
04:24
we change what we expect from our food.
04:26
Sustainability is complicated
04:28
but dinner is a reality that we all very much understand.
04:30
So let's start there.
04:33
There's been a lot of movement recently in greening our food systems.
04:35
Dan Barber and Alice Waters
04:38
are leading passionately the green food Delicious Revolution.
04:40
But green foods often represent
04:43
a way for us to disregard
04:45
the responsibility as eaters.
04:47
Just because it comes from a green source
04:49
doesn't mean we can treat it with disregard on the plate.
04:51
We have eco-friendly shrimp.
04:55
We can make them; we have that technology.
04:57
But we can never have any eco-friendly all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet.
04:59
It doesn't work.
05:03
Heart-healthy dinner is a very important part
05:05
of restorative seafood.
05:08
While we try to manage declining marine populations,
05:10
the media's recommending increased consumption of seafood.
05:13
Studies say that tens of thousands
05:16
of American grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers and fathers
05:18
might be around for another birthday
05:20
if we included more seafood.
05:22
That's a reward I am not willing to pass up.
05:24
But it's not all about the seafood.
05:27
It's about the way that we look at our plates.
05:29
As a chef, I realize the easiest thing for me to do
05:32
is reduce the portion sizes on my plate.
05:34
A couple things happened.
05:37
I made more money.
05:39
People started buying appetizers and salads,
05:41
because they knew they weren't going to fill up on the entrees alone.
05:43
People spent more time engaging in their meals,
05:46
engaging with each other over their meals.
05:48
People got, in short, more of what they came there for
05:51
even though they got less protein.
05:54
They got more calories over the course of a diversified meal.
05:56
They got healthier. I made more money.
05:59
This is great.
06:01
Environmental consideration was served with every plate,
06:03
but it was served with a heaping mound
06:06
of consideration for human interests at the same time.
06:08
One of the other things we did
06:12
was begin to diversify the species that we served --
06:14
small silverfish, anchovies, mackerel, sardines were uncommon.
06:17
Shellfish, mussels, oysters,
06:20
clams, tilapia, char -- these were the common species.
06:22
We were directing tastes
06:25
towards more resilience, more restorative options.
06:27
This is what we need to favor.
06:31
This is what the green list says.
06:33
But this is also how we can actually begin to restore our environment.
06:35
But what of those big predators,
06:38
those fashionable species,
06:40
that green list tuna that I was talking about earlier?
06:42
Well, if you must, I have a recipe for you.
06:45
It pretty much works with any big fish in the ocean,
06:48
so here we go.
06:50
Start with a 16-ounce portion of big fish.
06:52
Get a knife. Cut it into four portions.
06:55
Put it on four plates.
06:58
Mound up those four plates with vegetables
07:00
and then open up the very best bottle of Burgundy you have,
07:02
light the candles and celebrate it.
07:04
Celebrate the opportunity you have to eat this.
07:07
Invite your friends and neighbors over
07:09
and repeat once a year,
07:11
maybe.
07:14
I expect a lot from food.
07:16
I expect health
07:18
and joy and family and community.
07:20
I expect that producing ingredients,
07:22
preparing dishes and eating meals
07:24
is all part of the communion of human interests.
07:27
I was lucky enough that my father was a fantastic cook.
07:30
And he taught me very early on
07:32
about the privilege that eating represents.
07:34
I remember well the meals of my childhood.
07:37
They were reasonable portions of protein
07:39
served with copious quantities of vegetables
07:41
and small amounts of starch, usually rice.
07:43
This is still how I largely eat today.
07:45
I get sick when I go to steakhouses.
07:48
I get the meat sweats.
07:51
It's like a hangover from protein.
07:53
It's disgusting.
07:55
But of all the dire news that you'll hear
07:58
and that you have heard about the state of our oceans,
08:01
I have the unfortunate burden of delivering to you
08:03
possibly the very worst of it
08:05
and that is this whole time
08:07
your mother was right.
08:09
Eat your vegetables.
08:11
It's pretty straightforward.
08:14
So what are we looking for in a meal?
08:16
Well for health, I'm looking for wholesome ingredients
08:18
that are good for my body.
08:21
For joy, I'm looking for butter and salt
08:23
and sexy things that make things taste less like penance.
08:25
For family, I'm looking for recipes
08:28
that genuflect to my own personal histories.
08:31
For community though, we start at the very beginning.
08:34
There's no escaping the fact
08:37
that everything we eat has a global impact.
08:39
So try and learn as best you can what that impact is
08:41
and then take the first step to minimize it.
08:43
We've seen an image of our blue planet,
08:47
our world bank.
08:49
But it is more than just a repository of our resources;
08:51
it's also the global geography
08:54
of the communion we call dinner.
08:57
So if we all take only what we need,
09:00
then we can begin to share the rest,
09:02
we can begin to celebrate,
09:05
we can begin to restore.
09:07
We need to savor vegetables.
09:09
We need to savor smaller portions of seafood.
09:11
And we need to save dinner.
09:14
Thank you.
09:16
(Applause)
09:18

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Barton Seaver - Chef
Barton Seaver is an advocate of sustainable seafood and a chef in Washington DC. His work tells the story of our common resources through the communion we all share – dinner.

Why you should listen

Barton Seaver has been at the helm of some of Washington, DC’s most acclaimed restaurants. He brought the idea of sustainable seafood to DC at Hook restaurant in Georgetown. After Hook, he opened Blue Ridge restaurant, where he was named as Esquire’s 2009 Chef of the Year.

His focus now is on larger issues of ocean sustainability as it relates to eating. He was recently named a Fellow with the Blue Ocean Institute, to help link the environmental community with real-life, delicious applications of an eco-friendly ethic. He works with the Ocean Now program at the National Geographic Society to influence the practices of large corporations and consumers alike toward a more responsible and sustainable sourcing ethic. Barton is an appointed member of the Mayor's Council on Nutrition in Washington, DC, where he is helping to craft a wellness policy for District residents.

His new cookbook is For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking >>

The original video is available on TED.com
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