The way chef Amy Cramer and author Lisa McComsey describe it, this makes perfect sense.
The co-authors of 2013’s popular The Vegan Cheat Sheet are back at it again with their newest cookbook and resource for eaters looking to adapt to a plant-based lifestyle. But this time around there’s an octopus in the room: The duo is making a case for incorporating seafood into a diet otherwise free of meat or any other animal products.
Cramer and McComsey are aware their stance on seafood, which generally does not have the best environmental reputation, might be tough for some eaters — particularly ethical vegans — to swallow. But their new book, Seagan Eating, makes a strong case for those looking for a healthier diet but unable to go “whole-hog” vegan to take the plunge — so long as they stick to sustainably-fished, low-mercury seafood.
But how can we know our seafood of choice has been ethically sourced? It can be complicated. But in Seagan Eating, Cramer and McComsey present a helpful, detailed guide to separating the “good” catches from the “bad.”
And what about those of us who have no idea how to cook the stuff? The duo also outlines a number of straightforward recipes and tips for the previously uninitiated and fish-phobic among us to feel more comfortable buying and preparing seafood.
The Huffington Post recently spoke to the co-authors to learn more about the benefits of living “seagan.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This whole idea — identifying as “vegan” while also eating seafood — is totally contrary to why many people choose to go vegan. And seafood doesn’t have a good record environmentally either. How do you respond to folks who simply can’t reconcile this?
Amy Cramer: We absolutely honor and admire them, the ethical vegans. We became vegans for health reasons, but this is absolutely not for ethical vegans. As far as the environmental issues go, basically that was one of the reservations for us to write this book. Like, OK, so you can eat fish, but which fish? Which fish aren’t becoming extinct, which are being safely caught and aren’t being overfished? Which fish have less mercury and other contaminants? Answering those concerns was one of our main motivations with this.
Lisa McComsey: We staunchly promote eating only sustainably-caught fish but, as you know and we mention in the book, meat is terribly harmful to the environment for many different reasons. If you look at it, if everybody became vegan and stopped eating meat, the environment would be much better off.
GrubStreet just ran a piece about how most foods are either bad for you or bad for the world at large and the “rules” on this are always changing. How does this idea of “good” fish and “bad” fish to eat fit into that paradigm?
LM: Eating has gotten so confusing and so complicated, and even in researching for this book, I just threw my hands up and said, “We just can’t eat anything!” We are knowledgeable and have always been very health conscious. We really study this field and can imagine for people who don’t have that knowledge, it can be overwhelming.
But we’re really promoting getting back to the basics. Eat your fruits and vegetables and have some fish, too. Of course, we want to be careful about where that fish comes from and whether something is organic and what you eat that’s organic or not. That’s why we have a whole section on reading labels, because many people don’t understand them.
It’s my perception that many people, in the U.S. especially, are sort of fish-phobic, especially if they didn’t grow up eating it — why do you think that is? If that’s you, how do you overcome that?
LM: I think people are afraid it will taste fishy. That’s something I hear from my non-fish eating friends. As with anything else, I would suggest easing into it. Amy has created really great recipes for this book, so maybe you can try some shrimp bisque or crab and spinach enchiladas where the fish is a little bit hidden and it’s not like you’re just diving into a slab.
AC: Fish is such an amazing and healthy source of fat and protein and omega-3 fatty acids, I think the best way to get over that is education. So we really try to get across which fish you should eat and how you should eat it. It’s best to keep it simple. Fresh fish when cooked well is not fishy. And there are some fish that are much more mild than others that help you start to develop a palate for it.
There are so many new words we are increasingly using to describe what we do and don’t eat, and often those terms — climatarian, reducetarian and now seagan — involve sustainability. Why do we need all these?
AC: It’s hard to find a name for what you are and it’s fun to say “I am this.” and hopefully people will understand. I think “seagan” fits a huge need for vegans who want variety and, for health reasons, they now realize they can eat this. For regular people who want a healthy diet and want to maximize their health, they now can order the salmon at a restaurant instead of just ordering the vegetables. I think there’s a need for all these terms. For climatarians, one of their big things is trying your best to buy everything locally to reduce your impact on the environment. Everyone should do that.
LM: Some of these diets do sound so ideal and there are so many people in our country who don’t have access to that, so that’s really key to the type of diet that works for you, too.
AC: And canned seafood is a great resource for people who don’t have access to fresh. If you look at tuna, canned light skipjack tuna is great, as a matter of fact. You can find that in most grocery stores and keep it in your pantry.
There’s so much conflicting information out there about what we should and shouldn’t be eating in general — what is one overarching thing both of you hope people will take away from reading the book?
LM: Getting back to the basics is so critical. Just eat all your fruits and vegetables and legumes and that should be the main part of your diet. If you can’t buy fresh, frozen is great. And get to know your local fish monger because that person is a wealth of information. When you go to buy fish, you don’t have to think about whether it’s sustainable or where it came from — they should know all that. That’s key.
AC: Spend all your time in the vegetable aisle and buy whatever you want. Eat the rainbow, grab some nuts, beans and whole grains, then walk over to the fish counter. Sometimes you may know your fish monger or you may not. But smell it, pick it out and cook it up. Wrap it in foil with a splash of wine or whatever vegetables you want and it’s done.
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.