Monday, March 15, 2010

The Cove and the Rising Mercury

At the recently concluded 2010 Academy Awards, The Cove won the Oscar for Best Documentary and at the same time, struck a glancing blow to the Japanese whaling industry and the despicable and heinous practice of culling dolphins for food in the deceptively tranquil Japanese coastal city of Taiji. A few weeks before the awards show aired, NPR (National Public Radio) ran an interesting interview piece with the director of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos. The interview piqued my interest not just for the intrigue of the documentary's main subject matter but most importantly, its clear message for ocean and cetacean preservation and also the imminent dangers of a poisonous element called mercury that has inevitably found its way into our food system. It has opened my eyes to the dangers of mercury in our seafood and also quite frankly, changed my perception of eating delicacies like tuna sashimi. For a chef, this is like a giant blow to the head since I now can't and won't prepare, cook or serve one of my favorite foods. The Cove is certainly a must-see documentary for just about everybody, not just environmentalists or animal lovers but also for people in the food industry, especially environmentally- and socially-conscious chefs.

In this post, I would like to talk about the clear and present dangers of mercury levels found in many fish that has found its way onto our dining tables. As all of you may know, mercury is a toxic heavy metal that at high levels, will cause a debilitating disease known as mercury poisoning that can cause horrific damage to the brain, kidney and lungs. It is especially dangerous to pregnant women and young children. The main source of mercury ingestion is unfortunately through the seafood that we consume everyday, especially the larger and long-lived predator fish like tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin and bass. Through a process known as biomagnification, these predator fish slowly accumulates the amount of mercury in its system over a long period of time as it preys on other smaller fish, which ingest the mercury found in our polluted seas and lakes. And since mercury is non-soluble and does not degrade over time, the mercury in these predator fish will reach alarming levels the longer it lives and eats.

There is a "Special Features" segment on the DVD of The Cove that tells the story of a group of Japanese scientists who experimented with just eating tuna for a whole month, kind of like what filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did in his documentary Super Size Me when he ate nothing but food from McDonald's for a whole month and demonstrated the ill-effects of it. As you may have guessed, the levels of mercury found in these scientists was nothing short of alarming. And the worse part is, their mercury levels shot up even more when they consumed the expensive sashimi-grade blue-fin tuna when compared to the cheaper tuna meat. This revelation made me heave a sigh of relief because I've not had tuna in months since it was way too expensive to purchase. I guess I should thank the crappy economy for my good fortune!

So pass the message along and stop or reduce your consumption of these predator fish. It is only through the mass conscious efforts of consumers, chefs and other people in the food industry that can inevitably change the way business is run. Let's do our parts and save the environment for our children and their children and at the same time, save ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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