Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

by Taras Grescoe

This is the type of book that you will keep quoting from to share with your friends and families, as you discover one nugget of fascinating information after another. You are, however, most likely told to shut up as you would totally ruin their appetite, and most people prefer to enjoy life with a conveniently ignorant but easier conscious.

Wanting to enjoy seafood with a good conscious, Taras Grescoe set out on a nine-month, worldwide search for a delicious—and humane—plate of seafood. From North American Red Lobsters to fish farms and research centers in China, Bottomfeeder takes readers on an illuminating tour through the $55-billion-dollar-a-year seafood industry. Grescoe examines how out-of-control pollution, unregulated fishing practices, and climate change affect what ends up on our plate.

For those who are interested in the subject of how man’s action affect the ocean, and the world at large, this is a book not to miss. It makes me shameful how men treats the environment, the lives of other animals and even the lives of other human beings. Needless to say, it makes me view a plate of seafood with new eyes and understanding. This is an eye-opening look at aquaculture that does for seafood what Fast Food Nation did for beef.

If a restaurant puts out a menu with dishes prepared from the meat of panda, jaguar, chimpanzee and grey wolf, most of us will feel indignant and a picket line will form outside th establishment. However, hardly anybody protests when a restaurant offers the seafood equivalent of such menu. In fact, diners may be delighted and considered this an indicator that this is a high calibre restaurant capable of offering such rare delicacies.

Maybe it’s because everything is hidden under the ocean, and what’s out of sight is out of mind? Just as most people can comfortably push out of their mind the question of how their meat comes onto their plate? Or maybe fish doesn’t look as cute as pandas and seal pups so it’s harder to stir up our urge to save it from distinction? Maybe the ocean is so vast that we fail to contemplate it could have a limited supply?

With farmed salmons, we create a system where we input more protein than the output. We are taking food away from fishermen living along seacoasts worldwide. We weaken the wild salmon stock. With farmed shrimps, we create a toxic environment that poisons water supplies in villages, causes lesions and sicknesses in villagers, turns marsh and rice fields into wastelands. Does all that help with ending world hunger? No. It just allows the greedy consumers in developed countries cheap salmon sashimi and cocktail shrimps at buffets. Cheap and very unhealthy. For the farmed salmons, due to lack of exercise and a diet of vegetable oil and soy, their flesh is an unappertizing grey, which has to be colored up… with addictives offered in a convenient chart of colors ranging from salmon pink to neon orange. And farmed shrimps are likely the most chemical laden seafood you can find.

I consider this book excellent, as it does not just scare the reader, but rather offer something practical. The author shows what we could do: from being a more conscience consumer and pay attention to what we eat, to fishermen adopting a more conversing approach to fishing.

If you can’t go vegetarian, if you want to continue eating seafood, at least do yourself a favor: read this book and know better what to avoid.

ETA April 11, 2010: I came across an article about Shark Fin Soup, and here’s my blog post about it:
You can also sign the petition at

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate

by Felicity Lawrence

This book is written by a British author, and while I have read plenty of books about the sad state of our food industry: unsustainable industrial farming, farm animal abuse, illegal immigrant workers, harmful addictives, obesity crisis, food mileage, and so forth, I figure it would be interesting to read about the same issues from a different perspective.

In some way, you can call it “comforting” to know that we Americans don’t face these problems alone. Nonetheless, in some way I have, like many Americans, a more picturesque image of Europe. We think of the French, the Italian and the Spanish cuisine when we hear the word gourmet… excellent wine from vineyards older than our country, homemade dishes prepared for hours by loving matriachs, farmers markets selling the freshest pick of the season, rustic bread from brick ovens, lunch and dinner enjoyed at a leisurely pace. It is therefore, a sad and rude awakening to know that the pasture is not that much greener on the other side of the pond.

This book is however much better than I thought, and I gleamed a lot of new knowledge. When it started out with the meat processing plant and undocumented labor, I was like, oh yeah, I read that ten million times already (though American’s labor is from South America, not Eastern Europe and Middle East), but after that it was one eye-opener after the next. For example:

Chicken meat can be “beefed up” with hydrolyzed beef protein (make from cow waste) so it can hold up to 50% water in weight, though latest technology can break up the bovine protein so much that DNA testing may not reveal its presence. Some chicken nuggets were found to be made up of as little as 16% chicken, and a good portion of that from chicken skin and mechanically recovered meat.

In prepacked salad leaves using modified atmosphere packaging to increase shelf life, the chemcial used to disinfect the leaves may cause cancer, not to mention that a study found that people who eat these salad leaves show no increase in antioxidants in their blood sample, compare to a control group who ate regular lettuce leaves.

In 2002 the British grocery retailers accounted for nearly 1 billion kilometers of food transportation. And England is no bigger than a small state in size! It’s too mind boggling to even begin to do the math for the United States. No wonder it’s said that eating local helps save the environment a lot more than driving less.

Traditional bread baking requires the dough to be left to ferment and prove over extended periods. In industrial baking, they incorporate air and water into the dough with intense energy at high speed, and by adding chemical oxidants (to get the gas in), higher level of salt (as there is no time to develop flavor as in traditional dough fermentation) and hydrogenated fat (to provide structure) they save time, labor, and have higher yield (usually it contains 8% more water than bread made from traditional method). It is however found that the traditional fermentation allows the wheat to become digestible, and modern methods of baking bread may be the cuplit for increased cases of gluten allergies.

In the chapter titled Apples and Bananas, the book mentioned how fruits and vegetables are not selected for their flavors. An apple has to go through a “beauty parade”. A machine has cameras to take up t seventy pictures of each apple as it passe along a conveyor belt to grade it by size and color. If the specs call for 15-17% blush red on green, an apple that is 18% or 14% red will be rejected, and end up either as fruit juice or just go to waste. Another machine, the penetrometer, will measure the firmness of the fruit. A buyer told a farmer that while his apples taste great, they don’t pass the test, and so the fruits are rejected. To measure up to the ripeness requirement will mean fruits that are picked too early.

The narrow specifications also mean that plenty of food go to waste if they don’t measure up to the standards. For every 30 tonnes of carrots harvested, just 10 tonnes are used. Only 35% of green beans meet the supermarket grade: they may be curved, too long, too short, too thick, or too thin. The high cosmetic standards also require heavy use of chemicals to achieve.

The part about coffee planters make me especially sad. The farmer kept thinking that the translator made a mistake as he couldn’t fathom how a product he sells for 200 Ugandan shillings a kilo can end up in a London cafe for 5000 shillings a cup. Meanwhile, he couldn’t pay the 5000 shillings needed for medicines for his children with malaria, and his children have to drop out of school when he couldn’t pay tuition, dashing any hope that the next generation can get educated and move out of poverty.

I kept reading it to my hubby till he complained that his appetite was totally ruined. I read it to several coworkers (during lunch time no less)… Really a good book worth sharing.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  

French Women Don’t Get Fat

by Mireille Guiliano

Happy Bastille Day! Perfect timing to finish the book!

I read the Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat, and can’t help comparing the two.  (Same story – happy young girls go to America, their bodies just balloon up till they revert back to their native diet.  I guess there could be a whole series on this.) The Japanese one is more organized, though the French author seems to pride herself for not laying out the book in point-by-point format.  I like the French recipe better because the ingredients are more available. The tidbit info about French food is interesting and I’d love more of that.

The idea is sound and even though I am not particularly trying to lose weight, her general suggestion for a healthier lifestyle is worth following.  I tried it this weekend at a dinner restaurant, and I found myself being disappointed with the blandness of the tomato served, and noticing other things I didn’t before.  Hmm… it’s going to be harder to find a restaurant to dine at now!

Also a few years ago I started making dinner a smaller meal.  It’s hard, with the limited lunch hour at work, to make lunch the major meal of the day, but I tried to limit my dinner to no bigger than my lunch and it really helped.

Published in: on July 14, 2007 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

The True Power of Water

by Masaru Emoto

I was excited when I found this book at the library book sale.  I have read briefly about Dr Emoto’s work on the newspaper a few years back, saying how beautiful water crystals can be formed when playing classical music.  I didn’t know that a book has been written about it.  In fact, there turns out to be several books, CDs, and paraphelia such as stickers, water bottles and what not available for sale.

I thought other people would be as excited as I was, and found out I couldn’t be more wrong when I showed the book around.  Most people dismissed it as baloney, even people I classified as new-agey.  My husband said that as water doesn’t have ears, how could it listen to a piece of music?

Is the idea really so outlandish?

I find the idea of hado in line with Bach’s flower essence.  Dr Emoto uses a equipment to sense the hado of a person, and detects negative emotions such as fear and anxiety, which negative energy affects the body on a cellular level and manifests as physical ailments.  A speical water is prepared to cancel the waves, which is to be drunk diluted.  Doesn’t this sound very much like Bach’s flower essence?  The flower essence carries certain energy vibration that can cancel out the negative vibes of such emotions as fear, anger and worry.  It would be interesting to use the hado measuring device on the flower essence to see what comes of it.

I also do not feel it a big leap of faith to think that lovingly prepared food gives out more positive energy than a microwave dinner.   Or that classical music is more soothing to the mind and body thanheavy metal.  I have also heard from several qigong masters and energy workers saying that pork has a negative vibe and should be avoided.

If one can, however, suspend one’s incredulity for a moment and consider this: if our positive or negative words or thoughts can indeed affect water molecules, and if the known fact is that human being is 70% water and the earth is mostly covered with water, what implications would that be?

If nothing else, at least we can mutter a sincere word of thanks before we partake each meal, drink each sip of water.  As Dr. Emoto said, begin each day with an attitude of gratefulness and a positive affirmation “It was a good day.”   

I sincerely hope that more people can read this interesting work.

Meanwhile, here is a list of music title and what physical hado it corresponds to:

Pachelbel Canon – uterus, ovaries
Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Right cerebrum
Elgar March No. 1 – Spine, spinal cord
Time to Say Goodbye – Colon, rectum (not a very good association for such beautiful piece of music…)
Bizet Carmen Prelude – Circulatory system
Smetana The Moldau – lymph
Johann Strauss The Blue Danube – Central nervous system
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake Act 2 – joints

Published in: on May 30, 2007 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

(The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook) Living Among Meat Eaters

by Carol J. Adams

I’m a vegetarian wannabe, and my husband is a vegetarian wanna-wanna-oughta-shoulda-be, whose craving for meat always wins out. We will then end up at a restaurant where the only vegetarian items are my glass of water and the desserts.I heard of this book through some vegetarian online forums, and figure I will need it.

While this book has ammunition of comebacks to comments from meat eaters, the author states very clearly that smart retorts will only serve to alienate people further from vegetarians. She offers wise answers to defuse the tense situations. By categorizing different types of meat eater defense, she helps us target the correct response. There is also practical advice on handling situations when you have to eat out with a group of meat eaters.
Adams’s solution for treating meat eaters is to see them as blocked vegetarians. I don’t know if she was the one who coined the term, but it does help swift our view and consequently our reaction. I do like her attitude a lot better than some vegetarians who plainly display an air of hostility and superiority to meat eaters.

Published in: on July 18, 2006 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 3-Day Energy Fast

By Pamela SerureThis book is about a lot more than a fasting diet. There is a large section on preparation, to prepare your mind and body for the fast, (in fact, the actual fast is only the last third of the book) and a detailed section on post-fast. Besides several recipes of juices and broth, there are also a variety of yoga postures, meditation or guided imagery scripts, spiritual rituals such as journaling and making an altar, breathing exercises, as well as practices such as body scrubbing, leisure bathing, walking and affirmation. Even if you do not go on a fast, you are unlike to walk away from this book empty handed.

I did not follow the suggested menu. There is breakfast drink, mid morning drink, lunch drink… It may be good for someone very uncomfortable with the idea of doing with food; otherwise, as a reader commented on, she felt like the whole day was spent juicing, washing the juicer, and juicing again. I opt for the juice only in the morning.

The author goes to great length to be encouraging and comforting. You will feel good, you will feel energized when you wake up… She does not, however, mention much about what to do if you are not feeling great. Admittedly, I did not follow her diet. If I did, maybe I would have really felt great. I did remember that when I had my first fast, I threw up a lot on the second and third day. On the third day of my second fast, I sure did not feel peachy in the morning. If I were basing my diet on this book, I would have found no comfort in her upbeat encouragement. Or if I were gnawing my fingers with my craving for chips or ice cream, I probably could not sit still for some journaling and meditation on my relationship with food.

Published in: on July 11, 2006 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment