Monday, February 9, 2009

Monterey Baydreaming

If you live long enough and have a warped sense of memory, things come around. About five years ago now, our wonderful daughter moved to the Monterey, California area to work as a VISTA volunteer in Americorps helping mentally-handicapped adults get their lives together. She is the kind of young person that gives me hope for the future. We loved to visit once or twice a year to visit her and tour the fabulous sights in the Monterey Bay area. We took a kayak out into the bay looking for seals and sea otters, we rode bikes along 17-mile Drive to Carmel, and visited the Monterey waterfront. I promptly read John Steinbeck's Cannery Row about the lives of a collection of colorful depression-era characters in the days when the sardine fishery thrived in Monterey Bay.

From the 1920's to the 1940's, the sardine was the most valuable fish in California and Cannery Row bustled as boats unloaded their catch, and factories on the waterfront processed and canned the silver bounty. Eventually, commercial fishing caused the sardine population to crash and Monterey fell on hard times. In the 1970's a new boom began as new restaurants and shops attracted tourists. Now, all that remains of the sardine industry is a museum and a few remnants of old iron pipes and tanks rusting along the bike path behind the converted factory buildings.

Do Boomers eat sardines? I never did. Something about those little fish complete with skin and bones packed in those little cans always struck me as totally unappetizing. But visiting California made me think I should try some as a way to experience a link to some interesting history. But I never did, until today.

Sometimes, forces converge. Last week, I was listening to Tom Ashbrook on NPR's On Point chat with New York Times food writer Mark Bittman on conscious eating. One remark that caught my attention was the suggestion that we would be easier on the planet if we would try to eat a little further down the food chain. Instead of eating so much meat, we should eat more of the plants we feed to animals. Instead of eating lots of predatory fish like salmon, we should eat more plant-eating fish like sardines.

Then, on Friday night, I listened with great interest to a presentation by Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, the founder of Mitzvah Meat, a group that is trying to bring locally-raised grass-fed kosher meat to the Northeast. Apparently, grass-fed beef has a much higher concentration of the highly-desirable Omega-3 fatty acids than does typical corn-fed beef. In our discussion about Omega-3's, the good doctor also told us that sardines are a great source of this vital fat.

I may be slow, but when I get two signals within days to get off my butt and do something I've been thinking about for years, I take notice. I went to our local supermarket and picked up a few cans of pacific sardines canned in olive oil. I selected the ones that came from Canada rather than the ones packed in Poland, figuring anyplace in Canada was closer to Monterey than Gdansk.

For lunch, I ate a whole can, sandwiching little chunks of the oily fish between saltine crackers. You know, they were pretty good! Plus, I could almost feel the Omega-3's greasing the neurons in my brain. I think I'll try to eat more sardines and less tuna. Eating lower on the food chain is better ecologically and the contaminants in fish - like mercury and PCB's - that we worry about will be less concentrated in plant-eating fish.

It's funny how a simple thing like a few little fish from a can for lunch can connect me to so many thoughts that have been rolling around in my head. Maybe that's what conscious eating is all about.


robin andrea said...

I've always found sardines completely unappetizing. I know I should be eating them because they are really so good for my osteoporosis, but I haven't worked up the courage to try again. I must say that it makes it a bit easier to consider when I contemplate it through this ecologically sound filter. That really does make a difference. Maybe I can find a very palatable brand that comes from right here on the Monterey Bay.

Does your daughter still live here?

MojoMan said...

Robin Andrea, my sardines were packing in olive oil, plus the salty crackers really help, and I can see myself developing a taste for them, especially when I consider how good they are for me. I read that the sardines are coming back to Monterey Bay, but since it is now a marine sanctuary, I imagine commercial fishing for them is not permitted. Our daughter lives in Berkeley and works in San Francisco's Tenderloin District as a social worker. If you know anything about that area, you have some idea what a big heart she has. We get out that way to visit every chance we get.

robin andrea said...

Yes, I definitely have a sense of her heart if she's a social worker in the Tenderloin. My twin brother is a social worker for the County of Monterey. His entire client base is schizophrenics and manic depressives.

Thanks for the comment about the mountain lions. We know they're here, but they are very, very elusive. I think of them every time I'm hiking around in the hills.

Bull Thorn said...

There's a convergence of sardines happening here. In my last blog entry I was remembering the Canadian sardines we used to subsist on. And just yesterday I revived the habit by having a can of them along with some spicy dijon. I too could feel the Omega's launching new enthusiasms. And each time my tongue encountered a a bit of spine, I just chewed a little quicker. They're good. Can you get the same nutritional benefits from smoked oysters?