Fair 5: Seafood Edition
This weekend the husband and I celebrated our six year wedding anniversary. A lot has changed in six years. In that time the husband received his PhD, we moved from California to Arizona, I completed my master’s degree, we became parents, and bought a house. We even got to replace the roof and AC in the house we bought!. I think we are for real adults now.
These six years have been full of fun, challenges and adventures. But this weekend I reminisced on a “simpler” time. The husband is from a small beach town on the southwestern tip of Washington State. We got married in the small town of Ilwaco, Washington overlooking where the Columbia River meets the ocean. Simply beautiful.
As you might imagine, that part of the northwest has a bounty of delicious fresh seafood. Our family helped cook the food and we had a northwest-style clam bake along with fresh caught salmon cooked on a large trailer BBQ. Uncle Bob graciously volunteered his skills and it was delicious. I have the clam bake picture framed in our kitchen to remember that celebration and the wonderful food that we had.
We grew up with fresh seafood in the Pacific Northwest (especially the husband, who can spot farm-raised salmon from a half-mile away). Then we moved to Arizona, which is, for obvious reasons, not known for its seafood bounty. While it may be easy to find, let’s just say the seafood isn’t always super fresh.
We’re not the only ones who love seafood, either: in 2014 Americans ate more than 14 pounds per person of seafood and of that 90% of the seafood was imported. We love shrimp the most—1.3 billion pounds every year (4 pounds per person). That is a lot of seafood! There is a lot of work that goes into fishing and harvesting seafood for us to enjoy. Have you ever watched Deadliest Catch? Those guys are crazy!
At our wedding we got our seafood straight from the source. But if you can’t get it straight from the source (like us folk without direct access to an ocean in Arizona) where is it coming from? The chances are good that it is coming from a place like Thailand, where in 2015 the AP reported that global supermarkets were selling shrimp produced by slave labor. You may have heard this before—this was a big discovery. Men were forced to work 20 hour days and shoved in sheds with 50-100 others and not allowed to leave. The shrimp they produced was tracked to such stores as Whole Foods, Walmart, Kroger and restaurants too. As a result of this investigation more than 2,000 fishermen have been freed.
But it isn’t just shrimp. The US Department of Labor, via their Sweat and Toil App (or via their website) reports that 9 countries have forced and/or child labor in fishing including Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Peru, Philippines and Thailand. Shellfish uses child labor in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and shrimp uses child and/or forced labor in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia and Thailand.
This is an issue, and most US grocery stores have yet to fully address the situation. Why? Local seafood is more expensive (if it’s available at all). We as Americans tend to value the convenience of seeing a seafood counter at whichever store we shop, and the direct result of supporting our demand for low, low prices is a complicated supply chain where the producers are incentivized to resort to these conditions to meet their committed delivery volumes and price points. In addition, by complicating supply chains we can have the illusion of ignorance when we open up our frozen shrimp cocktail platters.
Despite all this, there is slow progress being made. Fair Trade USA has started their Seafood Certification Program in conjunction with Safeway. Within this network are two companies: Anova Food (who is working in Indonesia), and Del Pacifico Seafood (you can even trace where your lot came from). Additionally, Safeway dedicated to sustainable and fair seafood by the end of 2015. Target also made the dedication, and to date their goal is 97% complete. In sustainability for seafood rankings, Whole Foods tops the list for 2015. The Fair Trade USA Seafood Certification is helping and will improve transparency and options.
So, Fair 5 Challenge Seafood edition: where do we go now? I am taking the following steps for the seafood challenge. Will you join me?
- Purchasing local or direct when possible (for you people near oceans or natural water, like Pike’s Place in Seattle, a local farmer’s market, or the fish counter )
- Shop smart—at the grocery store shop the Fair Trade Certified brands mentioned above
- Shop the stores with the best track record—Safeway, Target and Whole Foods (as if you needed another reason to go to Target)
- Look at country of origin on frozen products. Avoid the hot bed countries mentioned above unless they are Fair Trade Certified
- Eating out? Ask about where the seafood came from (if you are an introvert like me, this is a hard one)
In case you haven’t read of my other blog posts (and if you haven’t- get to work), there is a common message forming: we can make small changes to our habits to greatly affect global impact. There are more options now than ever for Fair Trade and demand for transparency is increasing.
I came across this quote from author and poet Wendell Berry:
“’The sense of the holiness of life’ is not compatible with an exploitative economy. You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility….Probably the most urgent question now faced by people who would adhere to the Bible is this: what sort of economy would be responsible to the holiness of life?”
Can we say we value life if we participate in an economy that is exploitative? I believe Adventure God is calling me to affect change in an exploitative economy. We can use prophetic imagination and work to create an economy that value the holiness of life. Will you join me? This week, let’s work on seafood. Now talk to me. What are your challenges with seafood, or other ethical products? What is your favorite seafood? What concerns you most about trafficking and exploitation?
P.S. I have posted the Live Fair Resources with my favorite resources and tools for creating impact, and encouraging an ethical lifestyle from websites and organizations, to books, food and products. Check it out and let me know what you think.