Why I Don't Think Seafood is "Better" (and a Recipe for a Tuna-free Seared "Ahi" Salad)
Recently, a friend of mine mentioned having had seared ahi tuna for dinner and commented that "It almost tastes like steak!" A few days later, this conversation came back to me, and I realized that while I have certainly enjoyed ahi tuna on numerous occasions, it had also been with the assumption that the meaty fish, quickly seared and served rare, was a "better" option than beef. But, was this true? Was it "better" for my health? Was it "better" for the environment?
Until recently, I had never questioned the notion that seafood was "health food" through and through. "Eat more fish!" seems to be the standard refrain. From an environmental standpoint, fish also seemed to be pretty A-OK. They don't belch methane and foul up the land with lakes of manure like cows tend to do. However, after reading Jonathan Safran's book "Eating Animals" I began to look at fish in a new light.
While I disagree with the author's conclusion that meat-eating is indefensible, I do agree that the predominating methods of meat production represent the apogee of short-shortsightedness and moral "selective hearing". While I am well-versed in the shortcomings of factory farms, CAFOs, and other land-based means of raising animals, I had not realized the devastation levied upon our oceans by industrial fishing methods.
Representing the last source of truly "wild" food, the ocean's vastness and heretofore productivity have inclined us to consider it a limitless resource. In essence, we have been "mining" (or perhaps more accurately, waging war against) the ocean with advanced technology and sophisticated methods or bio-mass extraction. The same efficiencies that make seafood cheap and plentiful at the market are depleting fish-stocks faster than they can regenerate, ultimately threatening the very existence of this valuable food source.
The true value of fish and other seafood is also taken for granted because so much of the process is invisible to us. To clarify this point, consider what it takes for a rancher to raise a beef steer. One must purchase or breed the animal, provide it with a long period of adequate food and shelter, and eventually sell or butcher the animal. A fisherman on the other hand is able to effectively "outsource" the breeding and raising of his quarry to the ocean itself, only intervening at the last possible moment to capture the fish and bring it to market. In other words, the ocean is currently doing a lot of "free" work.
The sheer amount of productivity that is being extracted from the ocean is hard to imagine. The massive quantities of seafood products that end up on our plate represent only the tip of the iceberg. For each marketable specimen harvested, there is a multitude of "bycatch" that isn't just limited to other fish species. Sea-turtles, cetaceans (dolphins and whales), corals, and sea birds die alongside the numerous sharks, rays, and juvenile fish.
Looking at tuna in particular, these large apex predators represent a particularly vital niche in the overall oceanic ecosystem. Additionally, by sitting at the top of the food chain they tend to accumulate large amounts of heavy metals like mercury in their flesh, leading to guidelines that recommend eating a canned tuna only sporadically and possibly the poisoning of actor Jeremy Piven.
Compare this again to beef, and particularly a grass-raised animals that have been humanely slaughtered. The market price of grass-fed beef more accurately reflects the actual costs of production unlike tuna which is subsidized by mother nature. Beef production is also free of bycatch and well-managed pasture lands can be a sustainable resource. Like tuna, grass-fed beef contains omega-3 fatty acids and although beef eating may have a bad rap with regards to heart health, even this point has been repudiated by a meta-analysis of studies on saturated fat consumption and heart disease.
With all of this in mind, I can say with confidence that if I want do something "better", I'll skip the sushi-grade tuna and go for grass-fed beef!
"Ahi" Beef Steak Salad
1lb grass-fed top sirloin (aka "London Broil")
Wasabi Horseradish sauce (In a food processor, combine a handful of fresh basil, 1 tsp lime juice, and coconut milk. Add powdered wasabi and sea salt to taste.)
Fresh ground black pepper
Salad fixins (lettuce, red onion, carrot, roasted pumpkin seeds, etc.)
Sesame oil and coconut aminos (for salad dressing)
Generously salt the steak on both sides and put in a foil lined oven-safe dish. Broil on high for 10 minutes on each side to create a nice sear. Let the steak rest while you prepare the salad.
Using a serrated knife, cut the steak across the grain in the thinnest slices you can.
Dress the salad and season with fresh black pepper. Top with sliced steak and wasabi sauce before serving.