The Guardian wouldn't publish recipes for golden eagle or nightjar or wildcat. So why is it considered acceptable to publish recipes for equally endangered creatures of the sea?Because golden eagles, nightjars and wildcats are all protected species. Monkfish, John Dory and halibut aren’t. Next question?
I ask this because recently I had a very short discussion with the eminent chef Angela Hartnett, after reading her recipe for a monkfish (or John Dory or halibut) stew. I tweeted her as follows:
To @angelahartnett: Love your work, but please stop publishing recipes for endangered species. Thank you. — GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) October 17, 2012No wonder it was a ‘short discussion’! I suspect if it had been her mentor, Gordon Ramsay, it’d have been even shorter!
Someone else replied, saying: "would that not be censorship? Surely Guardian readers have the nous to apply a bit of common sense?"Oh, hardly!
Angela picked up this response, and wrote: "agree Guardian readers are savvy buy from a sustainable source like @fishforthought".But George wasn’t happy with that. What a shocker, eh?
…here's why I believe it is inadequate:Take a deep breath…
If she wants people to buy from Fish for Thought (a Cornish supplier that tries, when it can, to sell what it calls "sustainable" fish), why doesn't she say so when she publishes her recipes?Ummm, because it’s advertising, George? And most publications have to be careful about that?
I contacted Fish for Thought and asked them whether the monkfish they sell has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. (This is the only guarantee of anything approaching "sustainable"). They told me: "No – our monkfish is not MSC-certified. I don't know whether there is any MSC monkfish anywhere to be honest."Clearly, since there’s no shortage of monkfish, George is the only person in the UK worried about this!
As Fish for Thought freely admits, buying from this company is no guarantee of sustainability. I noticed, for example, that they're promoting scallops on their website. They told me that the scallops are caught by dredging. This is one of the most damaging of all kinds of fishing…But they taste so good pan-fried with bacon and black pudding!
The Good Fish Guide says the following about monkfish: "Scientists say they have such poor data about the number of fish that are caught that it is impossible to produce accurate advice on the status of the stocks, and they are calling for much more stringent monitoring of these fisheries … The species is targeted by a number of modern fishing gears, making this species vulnerable throughout its range."Right, so if not monkfish…what?
Buying halibut is likely to be even worse than buying monkfish. The Good Fish Guide reports that wild Atlantic halibut are "heavily overfished and listed as an endangered species". The guide gives it a rating of 5: the highest level of environmental damage.*sighs* What’s left? Pilchards?
I would love to believe that Guardian readers are savvy about the fish they buy, but I'm constantly amazed by the number of right-on, socially conscious people who don't think twice about buying rare species. Or perhaps it's not so amazing. If the papers keep telling them that cooking these animals is normal and acceptable, by specifying their use in recipes, it's easy for people to imagine that there can't be a problem.Or perhaps they just think life’s too short to worry about the long-term sustainability of fish?
I don't mean to single her out, as almost all the chefs who write for the papers include vulnerable or endangered species in their recipes. The notable exception at the Guardian is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I find it astonishing that his excellent and highly visible campaigns seem to have had so little impact on other people who work for this newspaper and its sister publication, the Observer.Oh, chefs! Why can’t you all be just like Hugh?
What's the point of telling us how to cook a species we shouldn't eat?Angela and Nigel Slater wisely decided to ignore his further interrogation, but Yotam Ottolenghi responded:
"My main point is that my top priority is to deliver delicious recipes. That is, to share with my readers all the wonderful food the world has got to offer. I am not a campaigner. When it comes to choosing my ingredients, I try to keep myself informed and not use particularly contentious ingredients. I believe that different readers will make their own ethical choices – whether to buy any imported, CO2-heavy ingredients, only free-range animals, organic produce, sustainable fish varieties, fair trade, shop in small shops, etc etc. "I have been pretty consistent over the years saying that reducing your animal protein intake is, in general, a good thing to do both for our world and for ourselves. I say this all the time and I have been acting on this by offering recipes that are heavy on vegetables, pulses and grains. Many people who bought my books and read my column tell me that these have made a radical change on their diet and that they now consume much less meat or fish. I believe that this is as valuable as any campaign. Otherwise, I prefer that the informed reader makes his or her own choice and decides which of many current and important causes to follow."Well, Yotam, if you thought allowing people to make their own choices was a good thing, then guess again! It’s George’s way, or the highway!
All this is commendable. But it does not sit easily with promoting the consumption of rare animal species, and species whose extraction is ecologically devastating. Most of the time I'm proud to be associated with the Guardian and the Observer. But our participation in the destruction of the ecology of the seas makes me ashamed. To titillate the palates of prosperous people (those who can afford to buy monkfish, halibut or tiger prawns are likely to be prosperous), chefs writing for these papers are helping to power one of the fastest and most extensive degradations of the natural world in human history.I buy monkfish, halibut and tiger prawns. Quite often. Am I ‘prosperous’? Gosh!
I'd like to suggest that the Guardian and Observer implement – as soon as possible – a policy of not specifying any fish which has an environmental damage rating higher than 2 on the Good Fish Guide. And that whenever a recipe for fish or other seafood is published, it should include a note urging people to buy only from a stock certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. If your fishmonger doesn't have certified stock, cook something else. Does that amount to "censorship"? Or is it just a sensible and minimal response to one of the most urgent threats to the natural world?No, no. It sounds eminently sensible. You go right ahead. I'm sure we’ll manage to find Angela’s and Nigel’s recipes in other publications, on TV shows, on the Internet.
After all, the day I look to the ‘Guardian’ or ‘Observer’ for ethical advice on what to put in my mouth (or anything, really) is the day I probably stop eating forever…
Update: From Robert the Biker, a song for George:
*To the tune of 'When the boat comes in'*
Who shall have the fishy
On the little dishy
Not you says the Moonbat
'Cos that fucker's rare