I eat seafood only when I’m on a seacoast. Never in Vermont. Or at least not by choice.
I know that this rather severe, absolute rule flows from having grown up six miles from the ocean, and from spending childhood summers in a cottage overlooking the salty water–water that was once filled with lobsters and cod, haddock and salmon, its mudflats and rocks with shellfish. We ate fish often and never really thought about where it came from (as long as it wasn’t from the then-polluted river)–if we didn’t catch it ourselves, we knew it had lived quite close to home. My family still eats this way. One of my brothers lives in a historic fishing town on the Atlantic, the other in the same sort of place on the Pacific, my mother still that six miles from the ocean, summers in the cottage. They eat from their local seas. That makes sense to me as long as the fishing practices are sustainable and humane.
Vermont is land-locked. No sea within 200 miles. And so no seafood on my table. People (i.e. my husband, who grew up in the Mid-west) think I take things too far.
But I just can’t get my head around people eating seafood away from the sea. Sushi in the Chicago airport? No way. Or the weekly lobster bakes at lakeside restaurants in Vermont–? You’ve got to be kidding. Or restaurants in Portland, Oregon serving lobster when the Dungeness crab season is in full swing along their own coast? I experienced this strangeness just a few days ago when I was out there for work. Or Maine restaurants serving Alaskan King salmon? Or, yes, any kind of fish in Vermont unless someone I know has caught it.
I know I know, most seafood is flash frozen right after it is caught, and so the “freshness” of the food is not the question. There’s just something strange about being in a place, as I was last week for work in Oregon, that has fantastic fish and yet being offered fish from Alaska and Maine, and probably the Gulf of Mexico, too. It’s like seeing elk in a Vermont restaurant, wild boar in New Jersey.
Easy for me to say when as part of my work I travel so much. I can taste Pacific salmon in Oregon, Atlantic in Maine. I can go to the local.
There’s more. A confession.
Do I allow myself a double standard in criticizing the eating of wild foods from afar and yet finding no problem stocking my own shelves with olive oil from across the ocean, citrus from across the continent, spices and tea and coffee from across the planet? Perhaps. Probably. And absolutely yes when I overlook local wines and even sometimes cheese for those made thousands of miles away. Where do I draw the line when choosing local? An absolute 250 mile line as ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan explored while writing Coming Home to Eat? The 100 mile line plus the knapsack-worth of goods from other places, the Marco Polo exception, as Michael Pollan describes? Or as it suits me?
I don’t have an answer for myself. Yet. I’m still working on it.
Maybe I can do the local wine thing. Maybe. It’s on my list of possible resolutions for 2012. But give up olive oil? Not a chance.