Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Shrimp Less Tasty Than It Used To Be?

Here's my weekly column for the exciting media start-up NetGreen News. You can see all my columns here.

There are more important environmental issues to write about today, like three major new reports on climate change from the authoritative National Academies, but something else is on my mind.

I was getting my haircut the other day when my stylist Patrick mentioned that he loves shrimp but refuses to eat the tails. That reminded me how much I loved chomping mass amounts of peel-and-eat shrimp when I was a kid on vacations in Louisiana and North Carolina. But I don't really enjoy shrimp anymore. Why is that?

Do shrimp taste worse now than they did 20 or 30 years ago?

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not going to help the taste of the famously delicious Gulf shrimp. It will most certainly drive prices up as supplies become more scarce this summer.

That means disgusting eateries like Red Lobster will have even more incentive to get their shrimp from faraway fish farms, which produce cheap and endless supplies. Nearly all of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. originates from farming in Latin America and Asia. These farms are rarely inspected or certified and produce up to 18,000 pounds of shrimp per acre in three to six months -- extraordinary yields when you further consider that most shrimp farming is done in water pools that are typically no deeper than four feet. Yuck.

So farming practices are certainly one reason to at least be aware that we may be eating some suspicious crops. Add the ecological damages reaped from shrimp-boat trawling and removal of forests for shrimp aquaculture, and our collective conscious about eating these bottom-feeders can grow heavy.

I never did figure out why my hairstylist doesn't like shrimp tails. And although I haven't found overwhelming scientific evidence that shrimp is less tasty, it's pretty safe to assume that the domestic, wild-caught shrimp of my youth are becoming more of an expensive delicacy and are the only kind we can consume in good health.

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