Greenberg's book is a well-researched and impassioned look at the issue, highlighting four of the world's most threatened species of fish.
Upon finishing Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, I was left with the strong impression that author Paul Greenberg is, at heart, a fisherman. Fish sustainability has become a major topic of conversation among foodies and environmentalists alike. And Greenberg's book is a well-researched and impassioned look at the issue, highlighting four of the world's most threatened species of fish. But his argument is less preachy, less change-the-way-you-eat, and more empathetic. His forays into the history and development of these four species—salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna—are informative, but at times more of a narrative than a call to action.
In each section of the book, Greenberg discusses the particular obstacles facing each species. He chose these four for their particular importance in the American diet. Salmon was the first fish to face endangerment, followed by domestication, and has gained in popularity dramatically in the past several decades. Sea bass is a high-quality but easily-manipulated fish, popular in restaurant cuisine and the recipient of the first technology-driven domestication. Cod, which Greenberg describes as an "everyday fish," is incorporated into innumerable convenience foods, but its increased rarity has affected its functionality as cheap food. And tuna, particularly bluefin tuna, has become such a prized delicacy that prices are skyrocketing in proportion to a dramatically depleted population.
In the tale of each species, Greenberg discusses its discovery, development, and domestication. He also includes many details and facts straight from the mouths of reputable fishermen, scientists, and purchasers. He draws from his own childhood experiences of fishing, as well book research-related fishing adventures. The result of these varying contributions is a multi-faceted look at how fish is consumed, perceived, and produced worldwide.
I certainly drew a lot from Greenberg's approach; he provided much cultural insight and his narrative is enjoyable and easy to read. But I found it hard to latch onto the underlying story of endangerment that drives this debate. It was not until the conclusion that I got a real sense of Greenberg's proposed solutions to seafood scarcity and overfishing.
He is not opposed to the domestication of fish. His ultimate suggested solution involves a two-pronged approach: fish less, and domesticate wisely. In his conclusion, he notes that "humans should purposefully select a handful of fish species that can stand up to industrial-size husbandry." This opinion is drawn from his respect for and enjoyment of fish. It is certainly the most reasonable expectation for the future of seafood, and Greenberg's several steps to sustainability are ostensibly achievable.
One detail that bothered me was that Greenberg is quite frustrated with "the veritable chorus [of the question that] rises up...whenever I mention my damn book: 'What fish should I eat?'" While I appreciate Greenberg's insistence that the issue at hand is much more complex than simply choosing the 'right' or 'wrong' fish for dinner, the answer to this question is what will drive the market to choose sustainable seafood over species extinction. Perhaps it is more worthwhile to draw the consumer in with a compelling narrative and emphasize proposed solutions, rather than recoil when asked directly for a purchasing suggestion. I hope that Greenberg's suggestions take effect, though - or we may all be forced to forego our sushi habits in the near future.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.
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