When you eat fish, if you think about where it comes from, what do you imagine? You might guess that it was caught by a fisherman, sold to a store or restaurant, and then enjoyed by a diner. Yet almost always, the path your fish takes from the sea to the table is anything but simple. In the traditional supply chain, fish passes through many hands before arriving on your plate, and the freshest fish on the market is at least six days old. Over 90% of the fish consumed in the U.S. is imported, and it's not unusual for fish caught in the U.S. to be sent overseas for processing and imported back. In such a convoluted supply chain, any connection to the fisherman who caught your fish is no more than myth.
Good fish is about freshness, but thanks to the long traditional supply chain fresh seafood is often impossible to find. As Omaha chef Clayton Chapman explains, "In the Midwest...we have access to some of the best meat and produce in the country, but it's hard to find seafood that hasn't been on a truck for a week." It's not uncommon for a chef to know the name of the person who grew his tomatoes, but most chefs have yet to apply that same farm-to-table approach to their seafood. Why is this? With a broken seafood supply chain chefs can't get a fast, transparent connection to the source and fishermen can't get proper value for their hard work.
Luckily for diners, chefs all around the country are beginning to make choices that support independent fishermen and sustainable fisheries. In Nebraska, far from any coastline, Chef Chapman can name the fisherman, boat, and time of landing of every fish he serves. New York City chef Peter Hoffman is another great example of how chefs can support small producers beyond their own backyard. Hoffman is known as the locavore of locavores, but recently he served salmon from Bristol Bay, Alaska, the most sustainable source of wild salmon on the planet. And while far from being local, Hoffman understands that even from afar he could make choices that uphold his standards of excellence. From Virginia to Arkansas, Texas to New York, we're seeing chefs adopt a "sea-to-table" approach to sourcing fish.
There are people on both ends of the chain doing the right thing: farmers growing the right vegetables, fishermen catching the right fish, chefs and diners cooking and eating the right food. When it comes down to it, the biggest challenge is connecting the two, and disrupting the industrial food model that keeps producers and consumers distant from one another. We can't all ride our bicycle down to the dock to buy our fish, but we can think outside of the box and support a new, transparent system that provides a direct connection to the source of our food. It's that kind of commitment that will ultimately revolutionize the way we eat.
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