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Tilapia Not Good for You? The Chicken of the Sea
Submitted by ellen s on Tue, 5/3/2011, 4:22pm
Tilapia is one of the most popular fish on our dishes in the United States. But eating tilapia might not be good for you.
The American Heart Association recommends we eat fish twice a week. But tilapia may not be the one to eat. Is tilapia bad for you? For the world? As a great food/environment piece in the New York Times points out, how we raise the tilapia is affecting just how good they are for us. Fishfarming.com dispassionately and helpfully points out the necessities behind large-scale aquaculture, but the Times piece really brings it home.
I wanted to rename the piece, "Interdependence bites us in the butt again."
Turns out that tilapia is called the "chicken of the sea" because it gets fat fast and it's bland, so production costs are low and demand high. It's a great factory fish.
But as the Times piece points out, demands to fatten fish fast means feeding them corn and soy pellets, lowering the amount of healthful omega-3 fats in farmed tilapia. Wikipedia notes: "However, farm raised tilapia (the least expensive and most popular) has a high fat content (though low in saturated fats). According to research published in July 2008, farm raised tilapia may be worse for the heart than eating bacon or a hamburger."
In addition, the fish are often raised in enormous cages in freshwater lakes, where the density of their waste pollutes the water.
Dr. Jeffrey McCrary, an American fish biologist who works in Nicaragua, is quoted in the Times: “We are exporting the environmental damage caused by our appetites.”
Once again, the desire to do something beneficial - eat less factory-farmed chicken, eat less inhumanely killed cattle, stop depleting the ocean of wild fish - has led to harm. Interdependence means that our actions have numerous consequences, seen and unseen. That doesn't mean we shouldn't act, of course.
What struck me about this story is not that the action of choosing fish over meat caused harm; it was the action of mass production that caused harm. What often magnifies an action these days to hurtful proportions is the sheer size of our systems, not the basic human desires at their heart. I'm not sure what the answer is - certainly not de-industrialization at this point. But it has something to do with scale. A lot.
Food for thought.
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