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Posts Tagged ‘eat locally Alabama’

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Shrimp might be called a staple for many Americans.  It’s often the seafood—or just plain protein—of choice for lunch, dinner, or cocktail snack because it’s sweet, nutritious, low in fat, and goes well with anything from mango salsa to garlicky oil.  What’s not to love?

A few things.  First of all, do you have any idea where most shrimp in supermarkets and restaurants comes from?  Probably Thailand, from which the U.S. imported 182,371 metric tons of shrimp in 2008 (and where intensive shrimp cultivation is endangering the mangrove forests and everything that lives in them).  Or maybe it’s from Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam, China, Mexico, or Malaysia.  We import anywhere from 84,000 to 30,000 metric tons of shrimp from these countries annually.  The energy demands of this shipping distance is one problem.  Another is the environmental degradation that results from such intensive farming in these places.  Then there is the problem of contamination.  Mega shrimp farms are constantly fighting off bacteria and fungi with antibiotics—including those that are banned in the U.S.   Heavy metals and other pollutants are also common contaminants.  And do you recall the contamination scandals of recent years, when thousands of pets and Chinese babies died from ingesting melamine?  The New York Times reported not too long ago that melamine is commonly used as a binding agent in the food pellets given to shrimp in China (and probably other places as well).   During the occasional inspection of shrimp imports by the FDA, contamination is almost sure to be found.  In another recent Times article about seafood from China, the reporter summed up the FDA report with these words: “Of the seafood that was refused at the border, filth was the top reason and salmonella was second, with shrimp accounting for about half of those.”  And did you know that the FDA inspects less than 2% of food imports?

These are some of the reasons I’m so excited about the shrimp I can get at Auburn University’s fish market.  The shrimp is raised in Gulf Shores, Alabama by the University’s Aquaculture department, whose programs focus on maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems and running their businesses sustainably.  (Another project of theirs I’m interested in is the restoration of the oyster beds around Dauphin Island, in the Gulf of Mexico.)  Gulf shrimp are the only domestic shrimp available.

fish-mkt

The fish market, just outside of town, is open on Saturday mornings, and often sells out of catfish by 8:30.   This past Saturday, it already felt like summer: the air was heavy, hot, and humid, and the sun was just burning off the haze around 10:00.  We pulled up to the little shack with $27 in cash.  The shrimp are frozen, and sold in huge bags.  Jack wanted to prove his strength by lugging the bag to the car:

Who are you calling shrimp?

Who are you calling shrimp?

I like to cook these shrimp in all kinds of combinations.  Last night we had it with cous cous and a mango-jalapeño and fresh herb salsa (with, yes, many non-local ingredients).  I also like to sauté it with the local shiitake mushrooms now in season, which lace the sweet shrimp an earthy umami yumminess.

shiitake

Often, the simplest preparation is the best.  Shrimp needs little more than to be sizzled in hot olive oil with crushed garlic and a dried chili for punch.  Salad, crusty bread, and some light wine are the only other things you need for this savory meal.

Some links and other points of interest regarding shrimp:

Green Prairie Aquafarms, which delights in its oxymoronic name, and which I heard about from my friend Jim McKelly, who is working on a film about sustainability projects in Alabama, is an inland shrimp-farming business in the salt ponds of west central Alabama.

Auburn’s Aquaculture Department: http://www.ag.auburn.edu/fish/facilities/index.php

Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/business/29fish-web.html?scp=10&sq=shrimp%20contamination&st=cse

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Over the next few months, I’ll be lucky enough to follow strawberry season north, as we go from Alabama, through New York and Massachusetts, to Vermont, where we’ll look forward to going to the strawberry festival at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford.  Here in Auburn, we had our first local organic strawberries yesterday, from Miles Berry Farm, in Baxley, Georgia.  Jack found a Siamese twin:

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Kids love strawberries, and for that reason, it’s particularly important to buy the organic ones.  Strawberries are at the top of the list of “the dirty dozen”—the fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide residues.  Here’s what Cindy Burke writes, in her meticulously researched book To Buy or Not to Buy Organic:

Some organic growers joke that conventionally grown strawberries are so full of chemicals, you could grind them up and use them as pesticide.  But pesticides are no laughing matter.  Sixty-five different pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides are registered for use on strawberries.
Strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop in California. Most commercial strawberry growers use methyl bromide, a toxic, ozone-depleting chemical, to eradicate all fungus, nematodes, microorganisms, and weeds, effectively killing every living thing in the soil where strawberry plants are grown.  For the remaining growth cycle, the berry plants are drip-fed chemical fertilizers.  Because methyl bromide can cause poisoning, neurological damage, and reproductive harm, the EPA classifies it as a Toxicity Category I compound, which is a classification reserved for the most deadly substances it regulates.
Nonorganic strawberries are highly likely to contain pesticide residue after harvest.  When the Pesticide Data Program releases its annual list of produce samples with residues that exceed tolerance levels, strawberries appear more often than any other fruit or vegetable. (84-5)

Wow!

Perhaps the best way to enjoy (organic!) strawberries is just to bite into them and slurp up the juice.  During rhubarb season, clearly, it’s pie time.  When I visited Spain in high school, the three sisters in my host family ate strawberries and cream for dessert every day.

But strawberries can be delicious additions to savory fare as well.  A classic salad consists of arugula tossed with goat cheese, strawberries, and a tangy vinaigrette.  A surprising appetizer can be made with a variation on this theme.  Here’s a little recipe:

Toast thin slices of baguette and drizzle a few drops of olive oil on them.
Spread goat cheese on the slices.
Top with thin slices of strawberry and a few leaves of rosemary.

When I make this later today, aside from the bread and olive oil, everything will be local. I’ll use my Georgia berries, goat cheese from Fromagerie Belle Chèvre in Elkmont, Alabama (217 miles away), and the rosemary Jack and I planted out back.

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