Whoever said "it was a brave man who first ate an oyster" was a fool. From the salty suck of the brine to the oceanic tang of the flesh, oysters are a culinary pleasure without equal. Like wine grapes, they take their shape and flavor from the locale--from the flux and flow of minerals and microscopic life in the waters around them. And they are justly known by the bays from which they're pulled, whether Novia Scotia's Cape North (briny), Chesapeake's York River (buttery), or Texas's Galveston Bay ("umami"--like the sea). Paired with champagne at a beachside cafe, they make a vacation out of a meal.
For all these reasons, oysters are the poster shellfish of the Eat Local movement and the latest addition to NRDC Smarter Living's Eat Local tool, designed to help you find in-season seafood, fruit, vegetables and more at your local farmers' market. With the summer harvests rolling in, these next few months you'll find the very best your area has to offer--whether Asian pears or sweet corn--laid out in the stalls by those who work the lands and waterways that surround you.
Yet oysters are just as much a warning about running roughshod over sea life. In the centuries we've harvested them in America, we've come close to wiping the shellfish out with industrial and agricultural pollution in Cheseapeake Bay and overfishing in New York and Rhode Island. The sea isn't an infinite resource, but through more thougtful aquaculture programs and eliminating at least some of the pollutants in waterways, we are seeing oysters on the return in many places. In fact, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists farmed oysters as a Green List "Best Choice" seafood purchase, and the Blue Ocean Institute lists both Eastern and Pacific farmed oysters in their highest sustainability category. We need more of these successes with other sealife and NRDC is working to help, including a current effort to stop Iceland"s rogue whaling.
So pluck up whatever courage it takes to eat a platter of heart-healthy, nutritious oysters (they're packed with omega-3s, vitamins and minerals), enjoy the pleasures of summer while they last and check out Eat Local for more on how to buy, store and prepare this most local of seafoods.