So Long Salmon?

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  as reported by the Food Revolution Network:

“The FDA has been overwhelmed with more than a million comments and petition signers, many of them stressing massive health, environmental, and ethical concerns. Faced with such a deluge of response, the FDA decided this issue was hot enough that it warranted further examination, and has officially extended the comment period for another two months. “

This is an unusual opportunity to have your voice heard.  The public comment period has been extended until April 26, 2013. 

We spent Christmas Eve around a long dining room table at our friends’ house immersed in the abundance of a Seven Fishes Feast: seven courses of fish, followed by a dessert lasting until almost midnight is a marvelous way to welcome Christmas Day. I prepared the sides and helped serve the third course: smoked salmon (delicious, and highly nutritious, wild Alaskan salmon) with potato-celeriac-sunchoke mash, red and green cabbage slaw, and a caviar-creme fraiche dip.  While I was busy cooking, the FDA moved a step closer to approving genetically engineered salmon.

What we stand to gain from genetically modified (or GM) salmon is faster growing fish ready for market and consumption in about half the current time, as illustrated by the following image from Science Progress.

What we stand to lose includes unknown impacts to human health, wild ocean ecosystems and remaining wild salmon species.  Unlike existing GM foods (corn, soy and canola among the more common), against which there are plenty of objections, the genetic manipulation of a wild animal introduces new and additional concerns: the possible escape from farm enclosures and contamination of the wild population; untested health implications for the fish, oceanic ecosystems and human consumers; and the precedent for further manipulation of animals and other wild species.

Nevertheless, after a preliminary investigation, the FDA (the federal Food and Drug Administration) found GM salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts, to pose “no significant threat,” and moved it closer to full approval.

Senator Mark Begich (a Democrat from Alaska) called the FDA’s findings a joke, saying, “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects… People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon.” Republican Representative Don Young called the FDA’s decision “foolish and disturbing.”

The “finding of no significant impact” or FONSI focused only on environmental questions, since in 2010, the FDA had already declared Frankenfish “as safe as food from conventional salmon.” The full report on the human health impacts can be read here.  The environmental assessment, released on December 26, 2012, will be available for public comment for just 60 days.

Despite increasing public concern surrounding both the human health and ecological implications of genetically altering species, the Organic Consumers Association explains that “the FDA considers any genetically altered animal a “new animal drug” for approval purposes. That means the genetically modified animal – in this case a salmon intended as food for humans – is subjected to a less rigorous safety review than if it were classified as a food (for humans) additive.”

Unlike conventionally farmed salmon*, the GM fish would start as fertilized eggs in Canada. The all female population would then be transported to an inland tank facility in Panama where they would be grown to maturity, processed into filets and shipped to US markets.

As with other genetically modified foods, the US does not require any labeling, so when buying or ordering salmon, the consumer would not know if the fish is wild, conventionally farmed, or GM farmed. A poll conducted by Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio found that 93% of Americans would like all GM foods labeled and that only 35% would be willing to eat GM fish.

There are numerous ecological and healthy reasons to be concerned.  Monterey Bay Seafood WatchFood and Water Watch and Food Poisoning Bulletin are excellent resources for additional information about seafood safety.  To speak out against GM salmon, visit The Center for Food Safety’s GE Fish Campaign to sign petitions urging the FDA and Congress to stop genetically engineered fish.  You can also add your name to the Organic Consumers Association‘s petition against GM fish.

Interested in filling your freezer with freshly caught, wild Alaskan salmon? There are several online companies which sell directly to the consumer. I often order from Great Alaska Seafood (and recommend joining their mailing list to enjoy special pricing).

If approved, would you eat it?  Or would you avoid salmon all together, since it wouldn’t be labeled and wild sources may become contaminated?  Will the bagel with lox be lost?

* It is worth making the distinction between conventionally farmed and wild salmon.  While wild salmon feed mostly on highly nutritious krill, providing Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other difficult to find antioxidants, and contributing to the fishes’ naturally vibrant pink color as well as heart, brain and anti-inflammatory benefits for the consumer, farmed salmon is feed everything from wild fish (sometimes more fish than it produces) to corn and soy (safe to assume of the GM variety), turning the fish an unappealing shade of grey, which is then corrected with red food coloring. Instead of containing the desired Omega-3 fatty acids, farmed salmon often contains more Omega-6s, which generally trigger inflammation. You may want to read this, if you eat farmed salmon.

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Fiddleheads: Springtime Goods from the Woods

In New England, West Virginia, and as it turns out, many temperate woodsy places around the world, people have long welcomed spring with a short season specialty: fiddleheads. Named for their physical resemblance to the top of a violin, these emerging fern leaves are fun and easy to harvest and offer a very welcome bright green burst of freshness after a long winter. Highly nutritious, they are an outstanding source of vitamin A and fiber, and a good one of vitamin C, potassium, niacin and iron.

They were eaten by Native Americans and native people in modern day Japan, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand all recognized fiddleheads for their early season fresh taste and nutrition.  This time of year, I look forward to a walk in the woods, with a bag tucked into my pocket, in search of new ferns not yet fully extended. I pick just two or three furled fronds from each fern plant and dream up what I will cook with them.

Despite differing opinions about what to do next, my experience has taught me to clean them well, and cook them quickly (as opposed to eating them raw).  Not too long or you will lose the bright color, crisp crunch and many valuable nutrients.  If you are buying them at the market, you’ll see they are not the cheapest thing to eat in April, but for a food which is only available for a few weeks, has been eaten this time of year for ages and puts gorgeous spirals of natural art on your plate, isn’t it worth it?

Last night I made a simple fiddlehead fried rice.  I washed the fiddleheads while I was heating up a pot of salted water.  Once it was boiling I cooked the fiddleheads for several minutes, then rinsed them under cool water. I sautéed scallions and minced garlic in butter for a few minutes. I added the fiddleheads, cooked them for another minute and then stirred in cooked rice I had left over from the night before. I seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and allowed all to cook together for another minute or two. I served it on small plates with a good dusting of grated parmesan cheese. Delicious. The leftovers were enjoyed for breakfast, refried, with an egg (which turned out to be a double-yoker) on top.

As soon as I gather some more, I look forward to trying these great looking recipes:

From my friend, Cheryl Willoughby, previously the Classical Music Director of Vermont Public Radio and now in Boston at WGBH, this recipe for Cream of Fiddlehead Soup.  And, this Vermont family recipe for Fiddlehead Cheddar Cheese Pie.

If you don’t mark it with a fiddlehead dish, is there another food with which you welcome spring each year?

Meatless Monday is on a Roll: A Ramp ‘n’ Greens Roll

The days are getting longer, lighter and warmer, but eating from the garden is still a good while off.  At this time of year, I want to spend as much time as I can outside (so quick-fix dinners is what we’re having), and I love to incorporate the few wild and cultivated foods which can be harvested already.

Springtime Ramp ‘n’ Greens Roll with Grilled Ramps

Springtime Ramp ‘n’ Greens Rolls

  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a large bunch (a Ball jar full) of ramps*, washed and sliced (bulbs and leaves)
  • a large bunch of spinach (or 1/2 bunch and the equivalent amount of another fresh green, such as sorrel, baby kale or nettles), washed and chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 15 sheets of filo dough, thawed

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet, add ramps and sauté until starting to soften, add chopped greens and sauté several minutes longer.
  3. Take off heat and allow to cool. Break eggs into skillet, add ricotta cheese, and salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  4. On a large working surface, lay out a sheet of filo dough, brush with olive oil, and lay another on top.  Repeat several times until you’ve used 5 sheets. Lay 1/3 of the filling on the dough and roll up, brushing with olive oil as you roll.  Repeat to make 3 rolls.
  5. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, place rolls in oven for 20-30 minutes until dough starts to brown slightly on top.

* Ramps, or wild leeks, are fun to gather in the spring.  If you have access to them, why not celebrate this time of year by eating what’s in season now and only now, but if not, these rolls are just as good with cultivated leeks.

Meatless Monday: If you are not yet familiar with this international movement gaining stream at an incredible pace, I suggest you click over to meatlessmonday.com and check it out.  See who’s skipping meat one day a week, the many reasons why, and be inspired by plenty of ideas and recipes (including from Plan It Healthier) to get you on your vegetarian way.

When the Wild Leeks are Rampant

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Here, in the woods of northern Vermont, as in many other wooded areas (including the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia), the ramp, or wild leek, is one of the great springtime forageable favorites. I haven’t heard of anyone cultivating them, so it makes for a great excuse for a hike, complete with mud boots, a shovel, buckets and a little determination in your stride.  This has been the focus of several outings over the past month, and we have been rewarded, handsomely.

I hesitated before posting about one of my favorite springtime treats (if you call an onion a treat), since the Huffington Post recently published concerns about possible overharvesting.  It is recommended that one harvest no more than 10% from any given area per year, and then give that area a full decade to rejuvenate before harvesting there again.  I am not encouraging going on a wild leek rampage, but if I take this article to suggest that the ramp is becoming increasingly appreciated, then I am excited to support its growing popularity. close ramp Curious about how and where to find ramps? Here are some helpful foraging tips. Curious about their nutritional value? They belong to the Allium family (ranked “Superfood #2 by Dr. Perricone), and praised for their health benefits as a springtime tonic, primarily believed to cleanse the blood.  Ramps are remarkably high in vitamins A and C, and also boast a significant about of iron, selenium, chromium, calcium and fiber. Curious about how to eat them? Ideas include: Spinach and Ramp Rolls with Grilled Ramps

Eating Ramps:

1. Enjoy them raw, in the woods.  You should bring a shovel to dig them out of the ground.  They like where they are, and are a bit resistant to letting go, but once you’ve got one, you can enjoy it right there.  Although covered in mud, you can easily strip off the outer layer revealing a perfectly clean little leek.  Holding on to this outer layer, snap off the roots at the bottom and you have a clean ramp, ready to eat.  Be prepared to sacrifice your sweet-smelling breath for the rest of the day, and dig in.

2. Enjoy them raw, at home.  You can do the same at home, with the added benefit of running water to more thoroughly rid them of mud. My daughter recommends having them this way, dipped into Soy Vay teriyaki sauce.

3. Potato-Ramp soup.  Similar to potato-leek soup (using a recipe such as this one), but more fun since you’re using ramps which you dug up in the woods.  The green leaves, cut very thinly, make a beautiful fresh garnish.

4. Stock.  Since I didn’t use very many of the greens in the soup (I didn’t want to affect the final color), I had plenty left to draw a stock.  Fill a large pot of water, toss in all the left-over green ramp leaves (and any other vegetable trimmings you have) and boil.  Use the resultant garlicy-oniony broth for any recipe calling for stock.

5. Grilled.  Brush them with a bit of olive oil and place them directly on the grill.  The bulbs become soft and sweet, while the leaves turn crispy. Simply delicious.

6. Spinach and Ramp Rolls.  This is what I made for dinner. I added some sorrel, since it is another one of those rare spring-time harvestables, and it is bursting with fresh green leaves in my garden right now. You can find the recipe here.

7. Rampy Hummus. Make hummus as you normally would (here’s a simple recipe), substituting sliced ramps for chopped garlic. Garnish with thinly sliced ramp greens for a beautiful dish.

8. Rampy Pesto. Ramps can also be used instead of garlic when making pesto. Use both the bulb and the green leaves in a recipe with the customary basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts and/or walnuts.