Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The 11,000 Mile Local Crab

Living in the Pacific Northwest means I have the benefit of local seafood. But, what if something is caught locally, processed elsewhere and then returned to its home? By then it's lost all the benefits of being local - the freshness, the lack of energy spent moving it around the world...

I was thinking about all of this last week while standing at the seafood counter. My son was going to a party where there was going to be crab - a food we never eat since my husband is allergic to it. I wanted my son to try the new food with us first just to make sure he wasn't allergic. I was thinking about getting a small amount (since I wasn't sure who was actually going to be eating it), but was shocked by the price - $29/pound for crabmeat vs. $5.99/pound for a whole crab. I know that you're paying for the shell there as well, but still - the price difference was huge!

Later that night, I was leafing through my son's copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma which has all kinds of cool pictures and charts that weren't in my book, when I read that much of the Seattle crab gets sent to China for processing. China?!? That's an 11,000 mile roundtrip for a local crab. I originally thought that was the reason for the high price on the processed meat. Partially, but apparently the reason they are shipped there is to save money.

This really does happen and it isn't just crab. According to Food & Water Watch, 15% of wild-caught salmon and 12% of cod were processed in China and shipped back into the US in 2006. If it's all about the cost of labor, I would guess the outsourcing trend has only continued since then.

My initial thought was that all this meat must be getting turned into crabcakes or fishsticks or something, but actually I think it may be that wild-caught fish I'm buying at my local grocery store. According to a report from the Seattle Times, some of the work is just de-boning and cutting it into portion sizes. There is no requirement for a "Processed in China" sticker, but it sure seems like there should be.

How do you make sure your local seafood is local? Buy from the source - farmer's markets, waterfront seafood markets - and ask questions. Was this caught here? Was it processed here? Also, buy it fresh. The processed seafood is frozen when it's caught, partially thawed to allow for processing, and then frozen again. Sounds like a food safety issue just waiting to happen...

For our meal, I went with the whole crab and the kids had a great time cracking the legs and fishing for the meat. Only one of them ended up liking it, but we didn't identify any new allergies, so it was a success in my book!

1 comment:

  1. Nice story and good information about our seafood becoming part of industry, not a part of our local and natural economy.

    You owe it to your family to go catch a crab next time you want to have a truly wonderful Northwestern Feast! Same with salmon or clams or just about anything ready wthen the tide is low and the table is set! There are conscientious grocers and fish markets, but there is nothing like treating kids to truly fresh, self caught and prepared meals from the sea!

    Ron Hirschi
    Marrowstone Island