Working at the intersection of marine conservation and social and economic justice.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why We Throw Down!

This post comes to us from Niaz Dorry, NAMA's coordinating director.

No…. my long standing crush on Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdain has nothing to do with why we started holding Seafood Throwdowns, now in their sixth season! Sure, I’ll turn into a pile of goo if Bourdain showed up at one of these events. But really, this is all about the marine conservation.

Truth be told: I hate tabling!

For nearly 30 years working on social, economic and environmental justice issues I’ve done my share of tabling, knocking on doors and any other activity that gave people the choice of listening to what we had to say. 

A Throwback Throwdown! (2008)

So when in 2008 my friend Jessica Hayes and I began to brainstorm ways to inject fisheries issues into the market and in food systems conversations in general, the idea of tabling about it actually churned my stomach. I felt strongly that we needed to create something that compelled people to pay attention, not give them a choice.

The 2013 Cape Ann Farmers Market Throwdown

Lucky for our work, Jessica’s role as the manager of Cape Ann Farmers Market here in Gloucester, MA gave us a venue to test our theories. Jessica’s pedigree as an activist is pretty impressive. She's worked with the Genetic Engineering Action NetworkFarm Aid and a number of other organizations concerned about the social, economic and ecological implications of industrial food production and genetically modified foods. 

Needless to say, she was just as excited about creating a dynamic, interactive activity that would pull people into our work.

Getting ready to Throwdown at a Boston Winter Market, 2013

Thus began a series of weekly, casual, informal conversations around my kitchen table about exactly what we could or should do. The conversation benefited from the experiences and expertise of variety of friends including Hallie Baker of Turtle Alley Chocolates (best chocolates in the world, by the way); local foodie and graphic designer Margot Lord; long time fisheries activist and one-time seafood purveyor and owner of Pigeon Cove Seafood (now owned by Whole Foods) Steve Parkes; local restaurateur, local economy advocate and time banker Mark McDonough; musician and artist Shep Abbot; Jessica of course, and others.

Part of the original "kitchen table" crew! From left Jessica Hayes, Margot Lord, Steve Parkes.

From these kitchen table conversations was born the idea of Seafood Throwdowns. What better way to figure out strategies for integrating seafood into the food system than to sit around, eat great food and talk about food with creative people who care about our food? We figured if it worked for us, it’d work for the general public we wanted to reach.

Yes, we stole concepts from Bobby Flay’s Throwdowns and the Food Network’s Iron Chef series. And we give them credit every step of the way. The hybrid event has proven to be one that draws thousands of people each year. The aromas, action, energy and conversations that come with a Seafood Throwdown draw people in. They come to watch a cooking show and end up learning about the threats to our ocean and fisheries, and find real tangible ways to do something about them.

A hotter-than-heck Throwdown in Roxbury, July 2013
Another benefit of organizing Seafood Throwdowns has been the lasting relationships between our community partners and us. Together, we've not only put on a great, educational event, we've created change along the way. 

There have been other benefits: The City of Boston’s antiquated ordinance that prohibited the sale of seafood on farmers markets was rewritten once the city’s health inspectors worked with us on a Seafood Throwdown at the first ever Boston Local Food Festival

Throwing down at the 2013 Boston Local Food Festival

The county commissioner who adamantly opposed sale of seafood in public settings such as farmers market in the Outer Banks of North Carolina came to me after our first Seafood Throwdown in Hatteras, NC to say how he’s come around. These are just two examples of how behavior has changed and how as a result, more people have access to fresh local seafood because of these events. 

Today what started out around my kitchen table has become a popular and effective event we hold throughout the region and beyond. 

Seafood Throwdowns have been held at food festivals, farmers markets and even hospitals in Burlington, Vermont; Boston, Gloucester, Rockport, Marshfield, Leominster, Chatham, Hyannis, Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford, Massachusetts; Unity, Maine; Rye and Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island; Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Halifax, NS, St. Paul, MN, Anchorage, AK, Hatteras, NC. There was even a pseudo-Throwdown in Cornwall, UK! 

Busting out the megaphones, Armory Park, Rhode Island

Our 2014 Seafood Throwdown season is about to start. Our first one is May 17th in Chatham with the Women of Fishing FamiliesVisit our website soon for the full schedule.

In the meanwhile, I gotta ask… are you ready for a Throwdown!?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In the Hospital? Thank Healthcare Without Harm for Your Local Seafood

This post comes to us from Brittany Peats, Health Care Without Harm intern. 

First, what is Health Care Without Harm? 
"Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment. 
The mission of Health Care Without Harm is to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment."

Summer 2013 Health Alliance Seafood Throwdown

What's fish got to do with it?

Fish connects us to ecosystems and communities: 

  • At HCWH, the idea of environmental nutrition focuses on the collective responsibility of supporting community and ecosystem health by paying attention to how food is raised, harvested, processed, transported and purchased. This perspective fosters a healthy, sustainable food system by focusing on strengthening communities, supporting social justice and conserving natural resources through sustainable practices.
  • Buying locally caught fish is an important way to support environmental nutrition. Many New England towns are built around the fishing industry; maintaining the strength of this industry is crucial to preserve fishing communities and enable local fishermen to continue a generations-long tradition.
Why are hospitals buying local seafood?
Locally caught fish promotes patient health and community health: 

  • Serving local fish will improve the health of the community from which the fish is harvested. Like fishing communities, hospitals are important parts of the social and environmental health of their communities. By buying fish from local fisherman, hospitals can showcase underutilized species and balance the demand on the ecosystem.  This may inspire others to buy and eat different species, which will enable local fishermen to fish a variety of species and reduce overfishing of certain popular fish. 
  • Patients will also benefit from added freshness and the higher levels of many micronutrients in wild seafood.

How is Health Care Without Harm helping hospitals source local food?
Education, outreach and technical assistance to help and engage healthcare and the public:

  • Our Balanced Menus Program will assist health care institutions in sourcing sustainable sources of protein, including underappreciated species of seafood from the local fishing communities.
  • To support a pathway to internal hospital purchasing, HCWH worked with the seafood aggregator Red’s Best to source through Sysco and Sodexo accounts. Red’s Best operates out of Boston to aggregate the seafood catch of small and medium-sized day boat fishermen and sell their catch to local wholesalers. As a result of this new partnership, in 2013, Red’s Best sold 5,410 pounds of fish to 16 healthcare facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 
  • We collaborated with NAMA on Seafood Throwdowns to engage with the healthcare community. These friendly competitions between pairs of hospital chefs charged with preparing the best hospital dish using a whole local seafood species and seasonal farmers market ingredients introduce hospital staff, visitors, and patients to underutilized seafood and increase demand for these varieties through hospital purchasing. 
  • The Celebrate the Fruits of our Ocean campaign with NAMA and the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness raised awareness about the challenges of the fishing community and new species of seafood to Boston’s farmers markets.  These communities now have a direct source of fresh, culturally appropriate and environmentally friendly seafood.  

Health Care Without Harm is proud to be part of the shift towards local seafood sourcing. It benefits local fishermen and their communities by establishing larger markets for previously underutilized species; while hospital patients can now enjoy delicious, ecological-responsible seafood.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What we're reading now

Last week's Oceana #wastedcatch report on bycatch in U.S. fisheries makes us love the underdog even more. 

On the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, oil spills A) don't go anywhere and B) aren't going anywhere

Why fish tales matter, and the people, businesses, and organizations with good stories to tell. 

Is private investment the way to save the ocean? At least in terms of quotas, this Alaskan fisherman thinks not. The president of Palau is betting on marine sanctuaries to do that. 

Finally, a bit of sea life beauty to remind us of one reason why we do what we do.