Sustainable fishing – what’s the catch?

Whilst not everyone who follows me may be plant-based, I think the vast majority of people who choose to follow my life are at least aware of the fact that we should all be cutting down red meat in our lives in a bid to save the planet. I was pescatarian for 18 years before I chose to move to a plant based diet, which I did for a number of reasons, not least because I studied marine Biology at university and it put me right off.

Before we get started, let me emphasise that I think whatever you are doing to help the environment is a good thing. Whether that means starting with meat-free Mondays or going cold turkey on meat (pun intended), you’re doing what you can and that’s great. My view is that education is always good though, so if I can teach you something new in this post that might encourage you to look at your food in a different way, that’s also worthwhile.

If everyone in the UK switched just one more red meat meal to a plant-based meal per week, it would cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million tonnes – the equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road. Every step you make is worthwhile.

Why eat fish?

Fish is generally assumed to be good for you – it’s even recommended in the dietary guidelines that we eat 1-2 portions of oily fish a week to lower risk of various diseases, such as heart disease and dementia, thanks in part to the high levels of omega 3s. Fish consumption could also replace meat consumption, which could have positive environmental impacts, especially if it is red meat that is being replaced. White fish is high in protein and low in fat, so what’s the catch?

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Is fish as healthy for the world as it is for us?

The state of our oceans

It’s no secret that our oceans are struggling. From ocean acidification to over-fishing, we are all to quickly becoming aware that our actions on land do affect even the vast expanses of the ocean. Our oceans are struggling, and the delicate ecosystem is struggling with it.

Fishers remove 77 billion kilos of fish from the seas each year – continuing at this rate will lead to a point of no return for many species, and perhaps our entire ocean ecosystem. Whilst fishing quotas have been implemented in in many areas of the world, these have issues of their own, due to many fish already being dead at the time of being thrown back into the sea. So are there ways to enjoy fish sustainably, or is it an industry that has already taken things too far?

What about Sustainable Fishing?

Fisheries rely on a set turnover of fish per year. Each species of fish has a particular time it takes to breed, number of estimated young and total (estimated) population size. With these figures it should be possible to estimate the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – the maximum number of fish that can be removed from the ocean without negatively impacting stocks and causing a collapse in any one species. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with this method, which was calculated in the mid-20th century.

  1. MSY ignores food webs. If we have X number of fish we can remove rom the sea each year, this is removing X amount of prey for a number of predators. Unfortunately (for us and for the fish), a lot of fish we catch also rely on other fish we catch (e.g. tuna eats herring, both of which we eat). Removing too much herring means tuna can’t feed as much, which in turn means less tuna.
  2. MSY is under pressure from governments. If there is a 20% margin of error, fisheries will be inclined to take the maximum amount they can (because this is their livelihood, and profit is important). However, this could mean taking 20% more than the ecosystem can sustain. A continual 20% loss doesn’t leave much room for stock replenishment. Governments want to give their people more jobs, so there is little inclination to ‘play cautious’ when it comes to MSY.
  3. MSY doesn’t take into account the age of a fish. Older fish are more productive breeders, and yet as the largest fish, they are also the ones fished out first. This means that whilst healthy fish stocks may be able to produce X number of young per year, a heavily fished population may only produce half that, meaning stocks can never be replenished.
  4. Unknown and lesser known fish have not enough known about their biology. The orange roughy, a popular and hugely abundant deep-sea fish in the late 70s and 80s, was thought to breed at a rate equal to fish of a similar size. Unfortunately, only after stocks collapsed thanks to trawling almost entirely did scientists realise that the orange roughy can live up to 150 years, and don’t produce any young until around 20 years old.

Pressures from governments for more fishing jobs, high prices for rare meats and inaccurate methods of measuring fish populations, MSY is no longer a reliable indicator of how many fish we can remove from the oceans. The fate of the Orange roughy and, more recently salmon, tuna and cod are all examples of this.

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Cod stocks (along with many other popular fish stocks) are taking a nose-dive

Farmed fish are marketed as a more environmentally friendly way to eat fish, because they do not plunder wild stocks – the fish are bred specifically for eating, in a similar way to farm animals. However, due to the high density of fish (leading to disease and thus open water antibiotic use), high levels of waste escaping into the surrounding water and lack of regulation, fish farming using our current methods has a high number of issues too. See below for a summary, and watch this BBC Panorama documentary for more information on the UK salmon farming industry.

Atlantic, sockeye and pink wild salmon populations crashed in the late 2000s (and for multiple subsequent years), thanks primarily to local fish farms. These farms had over 80% prevalence of parasitic sea-lice, a common infection in farmed fish, which infect local wild populations, leading to a 99% reduction in susceptible fish. In addition, due to the release, or escape, of some farmed fish, native populations are interbreeding or being outcompeted, reducing genetic diversity (and thus resilience to threats such as climate change and disease) of native wild salmon populations. The exact same things has happened this year on our own coastline, in Scotland, in part due to sea lice from fish farms.

Essentially, the growth of fish farms to protect wild salmon populations may end up leading to their extinction. 

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So what seafood can I eat?

It took me 18 years to become vegan after turning pescatarian – I realise that changing to veganism or even vegetarianism immediately is not feasible for everyone, for a number of reasons, but it is possible to always be conscious about what we eat. Here are my top tips for eating seafood as sustainably as possible, but it is important to bear in mind that eating less fish is always better for the ecosystem, especially where it is currently so vulnerable.

  • The Good Fish Guide tracks stocks of fish globally, and gives advice for fish to avoid, down to the location it is caught and the catching method. Use this to check whether certain fish are abundant or struggling.
  • Avoid any fish without the ‘sustainably sourced’ blue tick on their packaging (see image below). Currently Anchovies, Seabass (farmed and wild), Bream, Cod, Eel, Lobster, Marlin, Mullet, Plaice, Pollock, any rays and skates, Salmon (esp wild caught), Swordfish and Sardines (baby pilchards) should all be avoided.

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  • Avoid anything that has been caught by trawling, drift nets or purse-seine and instead go for hook-lining (not long-lining) or spear caught. Trawling (especially bottom trawling) is incredibly damaging to the ecosystem and catches large amounts of ‘bycatch’ – animals that are not intended to be caught, but often end up dying before being thrown back in the sea. This includes turtles, sharks, dolphins, seals and other fish species.
  • If you are able, avoid unnamed ‘white fish‘, any smoked fish and fish fingers. On average, 30% of fish is mis-labelled, increasing to 82.4% for smoked fish, meaning making sustainable choices becomes considerably more difficult. Terms such as ‘rock salmon’ hide the fact that you are, in fact, eating shark (this is another name for the endangered dogfish, a type of shark), and ‘white fish’ could be any number of endangered species. Buy whole fishes where possible to avoid this.

“People should know where their fish was caught, how and when, and what species it is. If you don’t know those things, you can’t make informed choices on whether you can eat a fish with a clear conscience”.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2196872-a-third-of-fish-sold-is-mislabelled-heres-how-to-avoid-being-duped/#ixzz5x9grD14g

  • Save fish consumption to times when you are by the sea and can see the fish you are eating whole at a restaurant, or consume fish you’ve caught yourself. The chances are it’ll be local, potentially sustainably caught (although this is not a definite) and you are supporting local fishers, who struggle to compete with the huge commercial trawlers.

 

Summary

Fishing is not intrinsically bad for the environment, especially where fish consumption can replace/reduce red meat consumption, which ultimately has the most negative impact on the environment. Ethics notwithstanding, fishing is an industry that supplies over 3 billion people with a major source of protein, and over 90% of fisheries are small scale, with around 50% of workers being women.

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However, the methods in which we fish on an industrial scale are undoubtedly failing in their job to preserve the world’s largest ecosystem. There are ways in which we can help, primarily by avoiding all fish that are unsustainably sourced, and cutting down on our overall fish consumption. Avoid smoked fish, processed fish and unspecified ‘white fish’. Buy whole fish where possible and know where it has come from.

To be clear, the majority of people in the West are eating too many animal products and I believe that the best way to counteract that is to go vegetarian or vegan. It is possible, I believe, to fish and farm sustainably, but as it stands we are so far from this becoming a reality. It doesn’t seem fair that some people should have to go vegan to make up for the people who won’t make small changes, but this is the world we live in, and I think that’s the way it has to be.

“So long as we largely consume protein from animal sources, our obsession with protein is also likely to be bad for the planet.”

To find out other ways in which you can reduce your environmental impact, watch this vlog – ‘Top Tips to Save the World‘.

 

Further reading:

If you’re looking to learn more about the issues of the illegal shark fin trade and by-catch, the documentary Sharkwater Extinction is both excellently filmed and eye opening.

If you’re interested in learning more about fish farming, and why it perhaps isn’t the ‘eco friendly’ version of fishing it purports to be, watch this BBC Panorama documentary (UK only I believe).

 

Come and find me on Instagram and YouTube, where I talk more about these things. Thanks so much for reading! 

Best (vegan) cafes – Paris

After a gorgeous weekend in Paris, I thought I’d write up all the wonderful suggestions you all sent us for vegan cafes in Paris. Whilst we couldn’t (by any means) visit all of them, so many of you have asked me to pass on the suggestions, I’m just going to write them all up with a little blurb about their general vibe. They’re not all 100% vegan, but in Paris ‘vegan options’ is still pretty good going!

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Versailles is not very vegan – bring your own picnic!

Cafés

 

Cloud Cakes

This cafe was recommended by 3 lovely people so it has to be good! This is a café that also serves light meals and vegan pastries until 7pm Monday – Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

Wild and the Moon

After receiving more recommendations for wild and the moon than any other place, I knew I had to visit! Fiann and I headed there for brunch on Sunday in the 11tharrondissement. They have multiple cafes, but this is the newest one, so we wanted to check it out. It had beautiful clean décor, plenty of plants and a good number of food options. It was a little pricey compared to what I’d usually spend on breakfast, but the food was indeed delicious, and good vegan food seems to be a bit of a novelty in Paris. I had a smoothie bowl (€10) and Fiann had a focaccia with beetroot hummus (€8.50), before sharing one of the nicest banana breads I’ve ever eaten (aside from mine of course!). Their smoothies are also to die for (they make their own nut milks). Would thoroughly recommend for food, but don’t expect to spend less than €15pp if you want food and a drink! See below for our delicious food.

Ob-la-di

Open 8am – 5pm Monday – Sunday serving coffees, teas and brunch/lunch food. Looks quaint but not cheap (yay Paris). Standard avo-toast affaire, but looks like it has pretty good reviews and apparently is one of the ‘most instagrammed cafes in Paris’.

Café Berry

Situated in the Marais, Café Berry serves healthy vegetarian food and drink and has received many great reviews since its opening in the last year. Looks cute, and I kind of wish I’d been when I was there!

Umami matcha café

Open 9am – 7pm Tuesday to Sunday, Umami matcha café is perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea. It has 4/5 stars on Tripadvisor and looks like it is great for snacks and matcha, but the reviews about their savoury meals are mixed. Based in the Marais. Not vegan but vegan options.

Oni coffee shop

Based next to Strasborg Saint-Denis/Gare du Nord, this is a new café on a busy street. Out of 40 reviews it has 4.5 stars on Tripadvisor – all pretty positive! It offers lots of homemade cakes, as well as vegan and gluten free options. Expect €4 for a latte and 9€ for a sandwich/tartine.

Holybelly

From my research, Holybelly looks like a very interesting coffee shop. It has great quality coffee (reflected in the price) and 4.5 stars on tripadvisor (out of 802 reviews). The reviews suggest that there might be a bit of a wait, and it’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for here, and the service and quality of food is really good. If you are vegan, double check that your food is cooked without butter, as it’s not a specialty vegan restaurant.

Peonies

On google this simply says ‘coffee and flowers’, which I both love so not sure why I didn’t go here! It looks like a really cute café with good décor, situated near to Gare du Nord. Vegan options are offered but it’s not a speciality of theirs. Gluten free options offered too. Open 9am – 7:30pm Tuesday – Saturdays and reduced hours on Sundays. s

The hardware société

This café is based in Monmartre and has received great reviews for its food! The tripadvisor does not say that vegan options are available, but the vegetarian food looks amazing. Open 9/9:30am – 4/4:30pm everyday except Tuesday and Wednesday (when it is shut).

VG patisserie

VG patisserie is ‘vegan cake heaven’ and has received amazing reviews all round. It’s strictly desserts, but perfect if you want to pop in for a snack if you’re in the 11th arrondissement. Honestly I have no idea why we didn’t go here, it looks incredible!

Café Ginger

We went to café ginger after arriving at Gentle Gourmet only to find it inexplicably shut! I’m happy we did though, because this is an adorable small café/lunch restaurant that locally sources organic vegan produce to create 3 ‘plats du jour’. I have an aubergine ‘parmigiana’ and Fiann had a spring roll. Mine was insanely delicious (it is a favourite dish of mine), with plenty of vegetables on the side. I think our lunches were around €13 each I think. Despite being more than I’d usually spend for a lunch, I was super impressed with both the service and food!

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These delicious plates where from Cafe Ginger – 100% recommend if you’re in the area

 

Restaurants

Hanoi

This is not a vegan restaurant but apparently has a ‘large selection of vegan options’ so made it onto the list. It is an Asian cuisine restaurant open for lunch and dinner everyday. The reviews all comment on the really excellent food for a decent price. This is situated in the Marais.

Wynwood Paris

Wynwood is a restaurant and coffee shop open for lunch everyday and dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It is another restaurant with ‘vegan options’ (as well as catering to other dietary requirements) and has excellent reviews on Tripadvisor.

Jah Jah by le Tricycle

This is one of the few restaurants on this list that specialised in vegan (vegetarian and gluten free) foods. It is open everyday except Tuesdays for lunch and dinner is available Wednesday – Saturday. The cuisine is based on African foods, but crosses borders with Indian, Japanese and West Indies hybrid dishes.

Gentle Gourmet

This is another of the few vegan restaurants in Paris (though with the occasional addition of non-vegan products, which are marked clearly on the menu). The food is of top quality (with a price to reflect that). It appears to be open for dinner everyday (except Mondays) and lunch too on Sundays, but Fiann and I tried to visit within these hours only to find it inexplicably shut. Maybe best to call up in advance!

Brasserie Lola

Fiann and I went to Brasserie Lola as it was close to where we were staying (near La Motte Piquet). The place was friendly and had lots of locals, which was great. It used to be a solel;y vegan restaurant, so we were slightly disappointed to see only three vegan mains options on the menu. The vegan burger was incredible, but my tofu pad thai left a lot to be desired (it was over-sweet with pasta used, rather than noodles). Would probably not go back because of the price, but would consider getting the burger again!

Las du fallafel

This restaurant serves middle-eastern/Mediterranean cuisine that has received excellent reviews. It is situated in the Marais, but despite all the competition from other falafel stands, this (apparently) is the one to go to. This is more of a take-away lunch place than a sit down restaurant but is open late.

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Paris is an amazing place and whilst they’re not known for their vegan cuisine, there’s far more than when I lived there 5 years ago!

Gooey chocolate cake

This recipe is totally vegan but for anyone who’s not vegan, don’t be put off – the gooey interior will please any dessert lover, and it’s rich enough to only need one slice (although who would stop at that). The recipe is also super easy and requires minimum ingredients, dishes and time. The best!

Ingredients:

  • 180g dark chocolate
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 70g flour
  • 3 heaped tbsp cocoa
  • 150g dark sugar (Demerara, golden caster or muscavado)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Vanilla essence
  • 230ml almond milk
  • 5tbsp sunflower oil
  • 100g pecan or walnuts (optional but recommended)

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  • Melt 150g of the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of water
  • While it’s melting, add all the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix
  • Warm the almond milk slightly and add it, the oil and the melted chocolate to the bowl with the dry ingredients in
  • Chop the remaining 30g of chocolate and pecans and mix in (the mixture will start off quite liquidy but start to solidify as it cools)
  • Pour into a lined cake tin and cook for 20 minutes.*

*This leaves a slightly gooey centre – if you prefer it more gooey or solid, adjust the cooking time by 2-3 minutes more or less (depending what you like). Remember it solidifies more as it cools.

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This cake is the perfect dessert when you’re short of time but want something to please everyone

Why I am Pescetarian

Aka a non meat eater (but I eat fish).

I have been pescetarian since I was four years old. Initially it was because I hated the taste and texture of meat but as I grew up, I also realised where meat came from and decided to label my non meat-eating habits as vegetarianism. The initial few years were a huge battle with my family – I was coerced, tricked and forced into eating meat that I didn’t want to eat, with mixed results. Some of it made me physically sick (lots of funny stories about this) and all of it made me upset and put me off meat for life. But most of all, the fight to be able to choose my own foods made me incredibly aware of what I was putting in my body.

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“Insert cute picture of cows here” – but srsly.

For many a meal is not complete without meat. I learned to cook for myself when I was around 12 because I didn’t want to be stuck with salad, vegetables and bread for every family meal. What I found was an incredible variety of cuisines out there – so many societies have amazing foods without any animal products at all, let alone without meat. A very happy side effect of giving up meat was an interest in different cuisines, experimenting with cooking and an inability to accept that vegetables are boring.

In this article I’ll try to outline the reasons I’ve stayed pescetarian for 17 years, and why you too might like to cut down on your meat consumption. I’ve never tried to turn anyone vegetarian, and I think that the idea that people have to have labels, such as ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegan’ or ‘pescetarian’ is the reason a lot of people don’t do anything to reduce their consumption. Every little helps, and here’s why:

Health:

I’m not saying good quality meat is bad for you in any way, but if you reduce your meat consumption to purely fresh, free range meats, you’ll be cutting out all sorts of crap from your diet. Processed meats have been linked to cancer (let’s be honest, what hasn’t) and are in the same WHO (world health organisation) class as asbestos, tobacco and alcohol. They’ve also been linked to heart disease. It’s often really difficult to find out what’s in processed meats. If you’re eating meat to up your protein intake, chicken nuggets and burgers likely aren’t the best way as they’re often filled with water, low quality off-cuts of various meats and bread/corn. For your health and extra protein you should try to buy the most expensive meat you can afford and then eat less of it (and enjoy it more). Go for meat on the bone if you must buy it – bacon, sausages, burgers, smoked meats, salami and hams are all no-goes for health reasons. In the same way that low-fat chocolate wouldn’t satisfy chocolate cravings, low quality meats encourage you to eat more of the dissatisfying stuff than the high-quality, tasty ‘real deal’. In addition, if you give up meat you’re more likely to eat more vegetables to fill the space, which can only be a good thing!

Ethical reasons:

This is a no-brainer but I know it’s often not enough for some people to go veggie. If you don’t think about it, it’s not happening, right? Sadly, I think a lot of people have the attitude that ‘everyone else is eating meat, so it’s probably ok’. What annoys me most is that people don’t think for themselves – when we’re younger, seeing an animal killed would upset us. Our desensitisation to what we’re actually eating is a key reason I think a lot of people eat meat. Watching programmes about the reality of it opens your eyes to some of the blatant cruelty that goes on. Pigs, especially, are incredibly intelligent (on par with dogs) – if you wouldn’t eat dog (and I don’t know many people who would), you probably shouldn’t be eating pigs. For this reason, I think it’s important for people to not eat meat they couldn’t kill themselves and to know exactly where the animal they’re putting into their body comes from. I believe there is no excuse for people not to eat free-range meat. If you have to eat meat, know where it comes for and go for something local and free-range. Nothing else will do.

As Sir Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”.

Environmental:

Raising animals for consumption requires massive amounts of land and water. This land could otherwise be kept as forests or used for crop growth: when compared to staples like potatoes, wheat and rice, beef requires 160x more land per calorie, and produces 11x more greenhouse gases. Agriculture produces around 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the upkeep of beef cattle. Meat rich diets produce 7.2kg CO2 a day, compared to veggie and pesce diets emissions of 3.8kg and vegan diets’ 2.9kg per day. Of course, these are not set figures – if you decrease your meat (especially red meat) consumption then you will decrease your CO2 It’s a sliding scale that everyone should aim to be at the lower end of. In addition, grain fed cattle have a far greater environmental footprint than grass fed, so always go for grass fed if you MUST buy it. It’s the same thing about buying the best you can afford and eating less of it!

Moneys!:

Meat is expensive! You can reduce your yearly food bill by around 15% by cutting out meat, not to mention that in restaurants, the vegetarian foods are (almost) always cheaper. As a student this has been a godsend for me, and I always find that restaurants always put more effort into their vegetarian foods, using interesting spices and mixes of ingredients, whereas often in meat dishes they’re a lot plainer. Not an entirely biased opinion, as it’s been shared by a lot of my friends!

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An american feed-lot system. These are incredibly harmful to both the local and global environment.

As you can see, there are so many reasons why I cut out meat from my diet and have kept it out, and why you probably should cut down too. The main reasons people don’t are:

  1. A) Laziness – finding new recipes, brands, products etc DOES take time and thought, but it should be fun and interesting.
  2. B) ‘I need meat for protein’. As a sports-person, of course I know how important protein is for muscle maintenance and growth, but meat is not required by the body. Protein comes from countless other sources, both vegetarian and vegan. In addition, a lot of the meat people eat really isn’t high in protein at all, because of artificial fillers companies use to increase the weight of the meat (often water and salt).
  3. C) ‘A meal isn’t a meal without meat’ – I think this excuse is the worst, as it reflects the way we’ve been raised in today’s society. There are so many amazing cuisines around the world that have high protein, healthy diets without meat. Believing that a meal is only complete if it contains meat is a sign of people’s ignorance of the world and the amazing foods out there. Just look at Asia – some of the best food in the world contains no meat whatsoever. One of my favourite veggie recipes is this veggie lasagne.

 

I really hope this article has given you some inspiration and maybe the push you need to think about what you’re eating. If everyone reduced consumption of red meat to once a month or less and cut down on all other meats, the world would be a better place, filled with more conscious consumers. Have you made a change to your diet recently? Did it involve cutting out some meats, or animal products entirely? I’d be really interested to know what you think!

Further reading/watching:

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Being pescetarian really isn’t boring. In fact I think it opened me up to SO many more cuisines and ideas that I never would have thought of otherwise