Mumbling Mommy

By Elizabeth

Lent kicks off this week and tomorrow will be the first of
seven Fridays that many people will commemorate by not eating meat. Whether or not you recognize the season in your home, you’ll notice
that a lot of seafood goes on sale as a result.

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The season of the “fish fry” is here.
Photo via wbean.blogspot.com

Fish has numerous health
benefits, and any dietitian will promote “more fish, less meat.” But, if you’re
trying to balance health, economics, and ecological responsibility, the choices
get a lot more complicated. For example, tuna is cheap, but the best cuts have
high mercury levels, and the variety with the lowest mercury has the worst
environmental record.

Then there’s the issue of wild vs. farmed. Which is
better? (The answer: depends on the type of fish.) The last thing you want for
Lent is an extra helping of guilt, so here are a few resources to help you.

First, how can you buy sustainable fish? Where do you get
it? Here is a good article debunking “7 Myths of Sustainable Seafood,” written
by a practicing nutritionist.  Think that
the fish behind the counter is always better than the stuff in the freezers?
Think again.

So which fish should you buy? The Environmental Defense
Fund has put together a handy pocket guide you can print up and take to the
store. This guide lists popular fish alphabetically and lists specific varieties
according to 3 categories: Eco-Best, Eco-Ok, and Eco-Worst. It also puts a
heart next to those high in Omega-3’s and a warning red triangle next to those
with high mercury levels (pregnant or new mamas, take note of those
especially).

But what if you want more information or your tastes are
more exotic than salmon or tilapia? (And why does no one talk about sustainable
octopus?) The Monterrey Bay Aquarium website is a great resource for all things
sustainable seafood, including a “search” function. Each type has a quick rating plus a longer segment that
describes the fish, its history, and the current state of its population. They
rank by “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and “Avoid.” You can also download
a pocket guide from this website that is organized by region:  

What about the budget issue? Rainbow trout is healthy and
sustainable, and it’s my personal favorite, but it’s not cheap. One option is
to stretch the seafood with breadcrumbs, making “burgers” or “cakes” instead of
serving whole fillets. Or you can make a pasta or rice dish, with the “meat” as
a flavoring. Tuna Alfredo, anyone?

But I think the best choice is to try new varieties in new
ways. Don’t just stick to the usual salmon, tilapia, or tuna.   Catfish—yes, catfish!—is a great
alternative. It’s cheap, sustainable, American-made, and healthy. And the new
farmed catfish does not have that intense “muddy” flavor like the stuff your
grandpa used to catch in the family pond. Alton Brown dedicated an episode of
“Good Eats” to the humble catfish, including 3 recipes that are linked in this informative article: Catfish Ceviche, Catfish Soup (a Thai-style dish), and of
course, Southern Fried Catfish.

Ah, fried catfish. Happy Lent and happy eating, everyone!

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