Thursday, May 27, 2010

Moonen's BIG FIVE Theory

The way I see things (from my heart)…The state of the oceans according to Rick Moonen
The word sustainable is threatened and destined to be diluted towards meaningless rhetoric if big business has their way. Very much the same way organic has become a sound rather than a mentality. I have a tendency to poke my finger in the eye of mass industry mentality for several reasons and have a strong desire to shift the mentality of the mass market to battle the controlling influences of that big business propaganda. Seafood, or the acceptable biomass species we consume daily, is very narrow in my opinion. We know and target a minority of edible species and therefore place an unfair pressure upon those species causing dangerous futures of these exploited few. There are millions of seafood sources in the world and I believe that in the USA the population as a whole is only comfortable with choosing from the BIG FIVE”.

     Here is my argument…

Whenever we discuss the state of affairs in the ocean we only talk about the edible wild biomass or targeted species…that we deem acceptable for human consumption…very narrow-minded, I say, when there are millions available. Most consumers feel very confused and intimidated by seafood yet realize the need to consume larger quantities of seafood for their health. They grasp on to what they know which is…and these are broad categories…I know…Ladies and Gentlemen…Presenting the “BIG FIVE” finfish fanfare…soon to be extinct by 2048…yum yum yum, eat ‘em while you can…

Salmon…the number one selling finfish in the world
Tuna…canned or fresh… the meat of the aquatic world…no question
Cod…the reason that the Americas were established (see the book called Cod)
Snapper…a broad category and completely confused
Bass…the blanket name that all else is swept under around and through…

If these names do not appear on the menu then it is time to go to another section for that particular meal. I want to research and start to expose some more balance to the ocean world in regards to our eating habits. There has to be under-utilized species that have broad market appeal and it is my opinion that we need to let our minds expand and our plates with them. The first problem is the identification of some tasty species that suffer from bad names…Wreckfish from Florida, for example, is not attractive when considering what’s for dinner yet provides a delicious protein profile and in the right hands kicks butt on the plate. So what do you do???

Sea Cats or wolf fish, drumfish, wrass up the ass, cobia the species of its own, wahoo sounding more like fun than dinner, tautog or black fish, red fish, blue fish, green fish, yellow fish, orange fish, snapper this bass that…on and on and on and on.

Stop the madness!!!!

Time to go after the “Non Targeted Edible Wild Biomass” NTEWB (oh boy another acronym to add to the trillion already out there!!!) to create a better balance on the entire population down under the sea…I was having a discussion with the “big five” the other day and they feel collectively that it has been unfair of the humans to ignore the other guys and they want a break for a while to get back to reproducing and increasing their populations; back to where they used to be…thank you very much! And if you don’t mind, while you’re at it, stop destroying the most favorable living conditions as well so they can finally settle down in a nice neighborhood for a change. All the moving about has been a little exhausting…nuff said!

Patagonian toothfish morphs into Chilean seabass…Slimehead becomes Orange Roughy…bla bla bla. The root of this argument starts with vernacular and the origin of the name game seems to be from the salty dogs that were removing them from their hooks in the first place…more like suggested nicknames to converse with each other. Wreckfish is a far better name than “that grey long slimy fishy thing I caught today”…right? The fishermen weren’t thinking of marketing strategy when the names were being created. So the confusion thickens like a fish stew.

Let’s talk business for a minute. Discuss amongst yourselves how to make a living selling the most perishable inventory available…other than human body parts. If you were to be a seafood distributor and you only wanted to deal with fresh seafood you would lead a very high anxiety lifestyle; a constant game of hot potato or musical chairs. What would you stock your ice filled refrigerators with??? Well… I would only stock them with what I know would sell within the next 8 hours so I wouldn’t get caught holding the stinky fish sale items of tomorrow…right? That brings me back to the…you guessed it…the “BIG FIVE”…why chance anything else…unless…Chefs were asking for something completely different…the creative gatekeepers of the food world…that’s right folks. Right back at ya into the hands of the next generation of cuisiniers, cooks, fish flippin culinary students.
  • But how do they get the NTEWB’s in the first place to play around with?
  •  Howcan we prime the pump of supply and demand to shift things into a more fair balance of all that is happening under the sea???
  • How do we get a balanced inventory of super perishable stocks in the refrigerators of the world…?


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  1. As head chef/kitchen manager for one of Cirque du Soleil's touring shows, I have often times been in a situation where I wanted to purchase what the cast and crew wanted without having to buy poached or endangered fish. It's a difficult prospect trying to explain to someone why Chilean sea bass wouldn't be the best choice when that's what they want.

    Educating ourselves and others is the first step in trying to curb this very dangerous habit of taking what we want when we want it. Thank you for the informative post and I will certainly pass on whatever I can to others.

    I've been with the Circus for 5 years now and I'm thinking of a change.. If you're looking for an experienced traveler with solid skills and a good attitude to work anywhere in the world, don't hesitate :) ..


  2. oops.. I forgot that my e-mail address doesn't show up at sign in.


  3. Wait... you talk to the fish? No wonder they taste so good for you! ;-)
    Great blog. Why don't we rename Wreckfish "Codfathers?"

  4. Thank you for raising awareness of this Rick.

    Of course I am a guilty eater of all of the above because these are the "healthy" choices. I have heard of this issue and I have become very alarmed as a supplier of tuna we used to import from Sicily went under. I found out some things about tuna fish but did not know what to do.

    I would like to raise more awareness on this issue by doing a short film or video to put up on our new internet site. This would be a great first project. We will be attending the Javits Food Show in a few weeks--would you be able to
    do a video clip that could be shown then to the large crowds of people who attend in order to raise awareness? Maybe there could be an effort to get people to sign up their emails for the next step in gathering a food industry effort.

  5. Hey Rick
    Dom here. Thanks for keeping up the fight for sustainable seafood. Been watching you on the show so thought I would see what you have been up to.
    I would be keen to hear what you are thinking the oil spill will do to east coast fisheries and if you think you will see a major impact. Just another big business mess...

    Thanks again and keep winning!

  6. I've given some thought to your approach. I guess where you are it would make sense that your best approach would be to target the audience that you already have. That in mind, your restaurant sounds great but, when I do make it, it will be an occasion. Friends in town, birthday, anniversary, something like that. Not a "hey honey, I don't feel like cooking tonight. Let's go out" decission. However, in a round about sort of way, the publicity around it did introduce me to your writings so it did have some positive net affect.

    The other thing is the educational dinners/tastings things that I see every now and then. There was one recently here in Vegas, and I don't remember if you were involved or not, on sustainable seafood that included what sounded like a great dinner. It was $120/person to go. So who went? People who were already enlightened on the topic? People who were curious? People who just wanted to be seen? People that really had no clue and needed a good dose of reality? I've wondered. Maybe it was the perfect audience but it was out of my price range so I couldn't see for myself.

    I harp on the dollar amount because when we shop for fish I take a somewhat different approach that leads to the trying of new fish. Price. Moonfish for instance. I have no idea where they fall in the sustainable equation but the first time we tried it we did because it was like $2 a pound for the palm size ones. They poached rather nicely and now we get them regularly. This hasn't always worked. There have been a few kitchen disasters. However, they've reduced as we've worked our way through all of the various choices available here.

    The renaiming of fish is a mixed bag. I grew up on the Gulf Coast eating Gulf Coast Snapper. When I left Houston for Vegas I had quit ordering anything labled "snapper" on the menu unless it specified what kind. You never new what you would get. So I'm fine with a name as long as I know what I'm getting and it isn't a ploy to make me think it is something it isn't.

    On the topic of Gulf Coast, I like drum fish. We used to catch them all the time. Last time I was down we bought one from a mom & pop fish shop, wrapped it in banana leaf, and grilled it whole.

    Also, if you want to be thoroughly depressed this Memorial Day weekend, try to catch the National Geographic special on the oil rig that recently collapsed in the Gulf and is still pumping oil. They showed it last night but I'm sure it will come on again.

    All right, I'm getting pulled into a meeting so forgive the rambling and lack of pollish on this post. Have a great day.

  7. Rick,
    Here are substitutes I like for the Big 5:

    Salmon…....->...Farmed arctic char, farmed trout
    Tuna…......->...Swordfish (check source)
    Snapper…...->...Black rockfish

    I've been using the Seafood Watch Guide since they were first available, and, since I am a Volunteer Guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I always have several copies with me whenever I visit a new (to me) restaurant to give to the server, host and kitchen; and I often ask to talk to the chef about seafood sustainability.

    Keep up the good work chef!

  8. Rick, I live in Gainesville, Florida, so you think I would have heard of wreckfish--but I haven't! I am all for branching out from the five---keep up the good work and I will see wreckfish in my local store yet!

  9. As consumers we need to demand our fish mongers and seafood counters at the grocery store carry sustainable choices. We can't just sit around and wait for change, we need to make it happen. It's all about supply and demand, if we demand it, they will supply it.

  10. Just like I couldn't give veal cheeks away, when I changed the name to fork tender crusted veal I blew them out the door. With some of these species that are underutilized I think good marketing names plus a willingness of the chef to jump off the "Big 5" bandwagon and use them would really move in the right direction.

  11. renaming is important. all ppl respond to these days in a world of overadvertizing is appealing names and images. also, education. ppl deep in the food industry know all this stuff, but i cant say 1 person around me does. i will teach those around me, but it wont spread fast enough. this is why mentioning things on national television helps!

  12. Why is the eye missing I thought the time the fish had been out of the water and how it had been handled could be determined by the clearness of the eye's