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  

The Big Oyster

by Mark Kurlansky

While the book is subtitled, History on the Half Shell, it is more appropriately narrowed down to History of the Half Shell and New York, as that’s where the book’s focus is.  Despite the fact that mankind has eaten oysters all over the world, likely for thousands of years, that part of history is only mentioned in passing.   I would have enjoyed the book more had it taken a broader view of oyster and mankind.

I am not sure why I picked up this book, as I have stopped eating oyster after learning the fact that the animal is still alive until my teeth chop it to pieces.  I guess I just couldn’t resist a foodie book. 

The book does provide some interesting knowledge.  Such as how inexpensive oysters were in those days.  For the price of 6 cents you could have all-you-can-eat oysters in the 19th century.  The price of one hot dog could buy you a whole platter of half shells.  The price of one strawberry a bucket.  And caviar was very lowly too.  They were used in bars, as free snacks for people to encourage them to drink more…

Another thing that definitely stays with me is how much man has polluted the environment.  It was amazing to read the accounts written by the first Europeans who arrived in New York.  The beautiful nature, the abundance of flora and fauna.  And in such a short time, the harbor was so polluted that when people try to plant some oysters back into the bay, they discovered, two weeks later, that not only the oysters died, their shells were eroded by the acid.  Urgh. 

Published in: on January 25, 2008 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Adam’s Curse

by Bryan Skyes
I must stay this book has quite some interesting facts. For example, the use of Y-Chromosome to trace family history (getting a glimpse of family prosperity and fidelity meanwhile); the spread of Genghis Khan’s descedants from Asian Pacific coast to eastern Europe and estimated at 16 million today; the swimming speed of sperms from different m-DNA clusters; the apparent preference of one sex in some families. Is everything a battle between the Y chromosome (in men) and mitochondrial DNA (in women) or plain probability at work? The book also brushes on the hereditary nature of homosexuality, how different species determine sex (or just don’t bother with sexing themselves.); and how some deadly genetic diseases continue to get passed on.

The book is like a journey with many twist and turns, you follow the author as he goes around visiting libraries, labs and shcools in villages and cities in his research. For someone not particularly educated in genetic biology, each turn of corner offers me interesting tib-bits to share with my husband. The author sees reproduction as a a genetic battle and even speculates that male humans are doomed to demise in about 125,000 years. (I prefer not. It won’t be fun to not have men around to put blames on!)

Published in: on February 2, 2006 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment