Is Boycotting Hawaii’s Fishing Industry for Forced Labor Allegations Sustainable?

If you hadn’t heard, Hawaii was in some hot water last month. Allegations of allowing forced labor and poor working conditions for foreign crew members on longline fishing boats were all over the internet and consumers were in an uproar.

But is shutting them out and writing them off for what they did sustainable?

Show of hands, whose tired of hearing the word sustainable being thrown around like dirty socks when it comes to fish? There is probably nobody else I know who is sicker of it than my long time friend and trusted fishmonger, Mike Weinberg-Lynn, owner of Osprey Seafood.

Sustainability has become a buzzword among foodies, in markets like Whole Foods and in the news for a long time now. It’s what the “responsible” people are talking about.

But what happens when one of the biggest fisheries in the world, known for using the most sustainable fishing practices around, gets busted for allegations of human slavery?

There was nobody I trusted more to get the facts from than Mike.

But before we get down and dirty on what went down in Hawaii I would like to tell you a love story.

Neurologist turns fishmonger

Once upon a time in the Haight-Ashbury there was an intelligent man with a degree in neurology who married the love of his life.

As with many newlyweds the young couple had a baby on the way and was struggling to make ends meet. Work at the time in Mike’s field was scarce. Wedding gifts were reluctantly sold in order to pay rent.

Enter Peter Bird. Picture a man with long bushy red hair and an even bushier red beard knocking on your door on Haight street asking if he can crawl through your window. Mike’s first reaction was um, no and as he went to close the door in the man’s face Peter called out “wait I’m your neighbor and I’ve locked myself out of my apartment!”

As Mike allowed the bearded man to crawl out his though his window, in order to get in through his own, Mike shouted “hey what do you do for a living anyway?” in which Peter replied, “I own the fish market across the street!”

A light bulb in Mike’s head went off. He asked Peter for a job and just like that Mike’s career as a fishmonger was born.

Happily ever after

It was 1984. After a year of slangin’ fish together Peter realized how much of an asset Mike had become to him and his business. He was reliable, dedicated and unlike him and the rest of the staff actually came to work sober. Mike was so dedicated in fact that he turned down a career at Genentech, something he had worked so hard for all those years in college, in order to keep delivering fish for Peter. Looking back on it now he realizes he would have been retired 20 years ago if he’d of taken that job.

But Mike was a new Dad, the hours he worked at the fish market allowed him to spend his afternoons with his family and on top of that he was absolutely loving the fish biz. Peter offered him a partnership and over 30 years later, Mike still owns and operates Osprey Seafood to this day.

How Osprey Seafood made its mark

Osprey got on the map when they started selling scallops to a high profile restaurant in the Napa Valley. Peter was one of the first fishmongers back then to ship freshly caught fish from the east coast overnight to San Francisco. The French chefs loved him. They were blown away by the quality of their monkfish and scallops, just to name a couple and told all of their fellow chefs about it. After making a name for themselves in Napa it didn’t take long for Chefs in San Francisco to take notice. More and more accounts got added and Osprey Seafood became one of the most trusted names in the seafood business.

What’s really been going down in Hawaii these last few years?

Mike’s first knee-jerk reaction when I asked him about Hawaii’s recent fishing boat slavery scandal was “Those assholes! We aren’t buying any fish from Hawaii until they work this out.”

He hopped on the phone right away with his contact over at the Honolulu fish auction to find out what was going on over there. Unaware of the situation and not realizing the magnitude of it Mike’s buddy laughed it off in which Mike replied sternly, “you better look into this because this is not going to play out well”.

By the next day Mike had answers.

It turned out, due to legislation that had been passed in Hawaii, through a loop hole Hawaiian longline fishing boats technically had the right to employ undocumented foreign workers on their boats and because they did not have work visas they were not protected under U.S. labor laws. These workers had signed contracts and were being paid more than what they could make in their own countries.

What Hawaii had on their hands were a few longline fishing boats that would not allow their crew off the boat for 2-3 years because they could not legally be on Hawaiian land. The pay sucked, the working hours were ridiculously long and living conditions were rough. The reality is they were being abused.

Why you probably shouldn’t boycott in times like these.

As Mike had more time to sit back and digest this new information he started to look at the bigger picture.

Hawaii was and is one of the leaders known for their fishing techniques and sustainable practices, he thought. They did not need a mark on their record like this.

As he recalled there had been times in the past when campaigns such as “say no to swordfish” and “dolphin free tuna” brought more bad than good to the fishing industry.

He said that back in the 80’s when people stopped buying tuna to try and save the dolphins it had a tremendous impact on the gulf of Mexico’s fishing industry which has led to it’s downward spiral ever since.

Because of the campaign the fisherman went bankrupt and had to sell their boats.

As time passed and people “forgot” about the boycott they started buying tuna again only now there weren’t enough boats in the gulf to keep up with the demand.

Immigrants from Vietnam showed up to take advantage of the opportunity fishing tuna would have to offer. But unlike the original fisherman who had passed down important information from generation to generation they did not know the fishing cycles, about patterns, about what size the tuna should be when caught and where the spawning grounds were. They fished without knowledge and in doing so they depleted the gulf.

Mike said, “if people boycott buying fish from Hawaii all of these people are going to go out of business and these are the people who are doing it the right way.”

Is there even such thing as sustainable anymore?

When asked to touch on what sustainability in the fishing industry meant to him Mike answered, “I hate the word sustainable. It has no meaning anymore. Dump the term sustainable and start talking about responsible fishing practices. Stop buying crap from countries that we know are not playing the game and following the rules like China and Japan. Buy domestic or from New Zealand and Australia if you want to support sustainability. Places like Hawaii have the boats that are fishing responsibly.”

Hawaii handles business

Since the articles on forced labor went flying around the internet and the Hawaii Seafood Council started their investigation there has been some major changes.

The first thing they did was form a task force who evaluated all labor practices on all Hawaiian longline fishing boats.

They immediately implemented a system of checks and balances that would protect the foreign crews from further forced labor and abuse and improve working conditions.

A new standardized contract has been written and distributed to crew members in their own native languages.

Large retail and wholesale seafood companies were informed of the new criteria for responsible labor practices so that they could feel good about selling their products again.

The Honolulu fish auction, where these boats deliver and sell their catch, warned that any boats “that are unable to prove that forced labor is not being used” would be denied auction services. A zero tolerance policy has now been put into place.

Additionally the Hawaii Seafood Council promises to offer continued outreach and education for the Hawaii longline fishing boats on this subject of forced labor.

As stated in the Hawaii Seafood Council’s press release: “This fishery has proven itself over the years to be responsive and an industry leader in meeting the challenges arising from new information about fishery impacts on fish populations and protected species. The allegations of labor abuses present a serious and new challenge, and the industry is rallying to respond quickly. I am confident that through this process we will ferret out any vessel from the fleet that is involved in forced labor, labor abuse or substandard working conditions and treatment of the crew.” says John Kaneko, Task Force member and Program Director of the Hawaii Seafood Council.

The decision is up to you.

Was what the owners of these boats did morally wrong? Yes. Did the industry take it seriously. Yes. Did they take every action possible to right their wrongs. Yes.

In the end it comes down to this for me, Hawaii is dedicated to producing a high quality product in a way that is safe and sustainable for the environment.

Nobody’s perfect but I think if you learn from your mistakes you deserve a second chance, especially with a track record like Hawaii’s.

What will you do? Will you stop buying fish from Hawaii to stand up for what these crew members went through or will you support a fishery that at the end of the day produces some of the most sustainable seafood in the world?

I would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

I also would love to invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore, for my weekly newsletter. I am so grateful for this community, thank you for being part of it!

Mike and Susan
Mike and his lovely wife Susan

 

Osprey seafood has a retail shop, open to the public, located at 1014 Wine Country ave. Napa, CA 94558. It is also one of the major seafood wholesalers in the bay area supplying restaurants such as Perbacco, Coqueta and Swan Oyster Depot.

 

Local Spotlight – Eric Miller on a Cheese Mission

Local cheese

When you look at lists of America’s favorite foods cheese is always ranked way up there. In fact pizza lands in the number one spot on most polls.

Local cheese
Top left to right: Local cheese plate, Eric at Weirauch Farm in Petaluma, Cheese class at The Cheese School of SF, Eric competing at the Cheesemonger Invitational. Bottom left to right: House-made duck rillettes and quince paste, Eric at Preston Family Vineyards, Wheels of Pleasant Ridge Reserve at Uplands Dairy, Wisconsin. Photo by: Page Berteisen

That’s pretty interesting seeing as there are millions of Americans with a lactose intolerance.

So is it our obsession with cheese that’s making us intolerant and sick or is it the type of dairy we are consuming?

This week I sat down with Eric Miller, a local cheesemonger who promotes high quality cheeses made by local small farms.

We chatted about his top 3 favorite local cheese makers, Mission Cheese where Eric currently works and Makers Common, which is the highly anticipated sequel to Mission Cheese expected to open next year.

I couldn’t help but to think, if Americans ate cheese like the ones Eric promotes would we be healthier with less lactose intolerance? Not to mention the impact we could make by spending our dollars supporting small dairy farmers and cheesemakers versus the factory farmed dairy industry. And finally, what if we all ate artisan cheese made from pastured animals off of a plate with a fork and knife like civilized human beings instead of cramming commodity dairy processed cheese into our face with no thought at all?. Things that make you go hmmmmm…..

Makers Common
Recipe testing for Makers Common, left to right: Dutch baby with caramelized pears, Truffled egg toast, Focaccia with leeks and mushrooms, Fresno chili hot sauce, House-made coppa cotta and Llano Seco beans with poached egg. Photo by: Page Berteisen

How did you get interested in cheese?

EM: I’d have to say it was an experience eating Saint-Marcellin (which I loved) and Petit Livarot (which I hated – at the time.) I just started eating a lot of cheese, bringing cheese to parties, cooking with it at home. I won’t say I was obsessed but a lot of money was spent on cheese at home.

Do you have any formal cheesemongering education?

EM: I’m not sure there’s much in the way of formal education. I’d say most of the people I know started at a cheese counter or a restaurant that had a good cheese program. There are some great books like Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman, or Cheese Primer by Steve Jenkins. They’re good companions to the on-the-job training, which is going to be your best resource.

How long have you been working as a cheesemonger and how did you get into the industry?

EM: Eventually, work got to a point where I thought that it was time to get out of my industry and get into gourmet food. I started volunteering in the Murray’s Cheese classroom in New York as an assistant and spent over 100 hours there learning whatever I could. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the change at that time – nothing was available and I wasn’t ready to take the huge pay cut. A couple of years later it was time to make the jump and leave the cubicle behind – money be damned! San Francisco was the place and Mission Cheese is where I got my start. It really counts as my first job in food. I’ve been working with Mission Cheese for over five years at this point. I’m definitely a cheesemonger.

Do you make any cheeses yourself?

EM: I’ve only made a few fresh cheeses myself. Making super small batches of cheese is more complex than you’d think when you only have a five-gallon pot at home.

In your opinion, who are the top 3 cheese makers in the bay area right now?

EM: Such a difficult question! The Bay Area really crushes it on the cheese front these days. If I had to pick a few that are shining really bright at the moment I’d roll with Bleating Heart – they just took 2nd place at the American Cheese Society’s annual conference for Buff Blue. Barinaga Ranch who took 1st place in their category for Baserri. It’s bittersweet for the industry because Marcia Barinaga is retiring. And I was just snacking on some cheese from Garden Variety – it’s been a while since I’ve had any of their cheese and it’s still amazing!

What are they doing that makes them stand out from the others?

EM: Bleating Heart is really creative and making some truly inspired blue cheese that’s different from everyone else. I love the different blues they make. They really stand out. Barinaga and Garden Variety are some amazing farmstead cheesemakers that not only love their animals, but they love their land just as much. They know that if the land isn’t cared for you’re not going to have the best cheese.

What are your favorite cheeses of theirs?

EM: Right now, Buff Blue from Bleating Heart, Baserri from Barinaga, and Black Eyed Susan from Garden Variety.

Tell me about Mission Cheese.

EM: Mission Cheese is here to celebrate they amazing work of American artisan cheesemakers. The American cheese movement is relatively young in comparison to the industry in Europe and for years has been grossly underrepresented at cheese counters in America. The owners of Mission Cheese, Sarah & Oliver, have really made it clear that we’re here to support this industry in every way we possibly can. So we serve up beautiful cheese flights, grilled cheese sandwiches, and killer Mac n Cheese, and more. I started our pickling and in-house charcuterie programs several years ago and it’s been doing really well.

Do you carry any local seasonal cheeses there? What would be an example of a seasonal cheese?

EM: All the cheeses that I mentioned before would be examples of seasonal cheeses. Pretty much all of the sheep’s milk cheese we get is seasonal – sheep aren’t as cooperative at breeding outside of their natural cycle like goats and cows. There are a lot of cow and goat cheeses that are seasonal but probably almost as many that are made year ‘round.

Tell me about Makers Common.

EM: I’ve partnered up with Sarah and Oliver to open Maker’s Common and couldn’t be more excited! We’re going to take everything we’ve done at Mission Cheese and expand upon it. We’ll still focus on American artisan cheese, charcuterie, wine, and beer but will also have a full kitchen, and a dedicated retail area with a cheese and charcuterie counter and more.

We’ve already signed a ten-year lease in downtown Berkeley and construction will start in the beginning of November. The space is about three times bigger than Mission Cheese and will have a nice big outdoor patio. This will allow us to do family-style dinners, produce more in-house charcuterie, and increase our pickle production.

We’re still raising money through a Direct Public Offering so anyone in the state of California can actually invest. To date we’ve raised over $400,000 that has come mostly from the Bay Area. I encourage everyone to check out the Maker’s Common website and get involved. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

What is your role going to be there?

EM: Well, it’s a small business so it’ll definitely be some of everything, ha! But I’ll be taking the role of GM, Culinary Director, and Charcuterie Guy. Of course, the plan is to get someone on board that can take on more menu development and such but I’m working on the opening menu. I’ll also have to become a state certified Meat Processing Facility Inspector for our charcuterie production. Jealous?

That’s cool! Which local vendors will you be using at Makers common?

EM: We work with a lot of cheesemakers directly in the Bay Area but we’ll also use Tomales Bay Foods, Cream & The Crop, Food Matters Again, Chef’s Warehouse, and a few others for cheese and charcuterie. For produce we’ll do as much farm-direct as we can. For meat we have some great relationships with some of our cheesemakers that keep hogs but also look forward to working with Llano Seco as much as possible. We haven’t even gotten into the wine and beer side!

Tell me more about the charcuterie program you are developing for Makers Common. 

EM: We’ll have cooked items like pates, terrines, and such but for fermented items like salami or whole muscle cuts like a coppa I want to make everything we do transparent. It drives me crazy that there are still so many restaurants that make delicious meats but keep it all hidden from the inspectors – and the public! Having staged at Olympia Provisions as well as Trou Normand in production makes me want to make the best product I can make.

I hope to work with Llano Seco as well as some local farmers that will be able to hook me up with some of their hogs, lambs, and goats.

What is your favorite thing about working in the restaurant industry in San Francisco?

EM: I really love that every one I’ve worked with shares their techniques, recipes, and processes. This is how we all learn to be better cooks and producers. We’re all trying to up our game and you just can’t do that if you’re not willing to explore ideas with others. When you work in a vacuum you’re working with one hand tied behind your back. You need people around to provide inspiration.

After talking with Eric besides, being hungry for cheese, I was inspired. People like him and restaurants like these are the driving force behind supporting your community and farm to table foods. I am in love with Mission Cheese and can’t wait for Makers Common to open.

I know when I am in the mood for some cheesy goodness I would much rather eat a product that was made by hard-working people who take pride in their work and care about the impact they are making on our environment than something that resembles rubber and is made from sick animals. But hey, that’s just me.

 

Eric Miller
Photo by: Page Berteisen

Eric is the director of the in-house charcuterie program and cheesemonger at Mission Cheese. After escaping his former cubicle life, he is now creating traditional charcuterie with an American flair, along with pickles, and desserts, and other delicious items as part of his new project, Maker’s Common. A native New Yorker, Eric has spent numerous hours helping educate the masses about the art of meats and cheeses at the legendary Murray’s Cheese. As an enthusiastic transplant to the west coast, he’s always excited about bringing his New York know-how to San Francisco’s fresh food scene.

To learn more about Makers Common click here or shoot Eric an email at eric@makerscommon.net

Grass-fed Beef vs. Conventional. What’s the dif?

IMG_0642

I’m going to start off by saying this. We should all eat less meat. Yep, there it is. Not only do our bodies function better on a primarily plant based diet but what we are doing to our environment with these massive animal prisons, oops I mean feedlots, is destroying our planet. That being said, I love meat (as you can tell from the photo of me above) but in order to be able to enjoy it fully I have some stipulations.

Let me first start by describing the way a pastured, grass-fed cow lives. They roam as they wish on sunny, grassy pastures eating the food their stomachs were meant to digest, which is grass not corn and soy. They are given no antibiotics, and no growth-promoting hormones.

Conventional cows live in CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). They  stand in their own manure wedged in pens with all of the other sick cows.  They are fed a gruel of corn, soy,  grain, cotton byproducts and whatever other garbage is lying around (I’ve heard peanut shells, old candy and citrus pulp). Their stomachs cannot digest grain properly which is one of the reasons they are all sick and on antibiotics. They are given growth-promoting hormones so that they can hurry up and grow to slaughter size so we can ship them out by the masses to kill them for hamburger meat. I won’t even go into what happens at the slaughterhouses, that’s a whole other story in itself.

This is why this is F-ed up. Conventional cows that eat nutrient deficient food and  are given antibiotics and hormones leave us nutrient deficient, cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our guts and screw with our hormones by eating it. Because, simply put, you are what you eat. In conventional cows omega-3 fatty acids basically do not exist, which is a problem because the omega-6 fatty acids still do. This makes an already inflammatory food much more inflammatory because the omega-6s aren’t being balanced out with the omega-3s. Their milk is tarnished so we have to pasteurize it, which kills all the bad bacteria but also kills all of the good bacteria along with it, and again there’s no omega-3s and a lot less calcium. Not to mention you are giving your money to greedy, deceitful corporations which only feeds the health and environmental problems we have. Their flashy brand names have nothing to do with the breed of cow you are eating and their practices put small farmers out of business and bankrupt their families. Their USDA organic stickers speak of nothing to do with how the cows were raised, where they were raised or how humanely they were treated and slaughtered only that they ate organic feed and did not receive medications. Better than nothing you say? Sure, but I’m not hot on lining the pockets of hypocrite corporations that primarily produce conventional meat or processed junk food.

Why I eat pastured, grass-fed beef. It is more nutritious, the cows live better lives and they don’t receive antibiotics or hormones. Their fat is high in omega-3s which balance out the inflammation caused from the omega-6s, they are high in stearic acid (a saturated fat that does not create bad cholesterol), vitamins and minerals. They also have more collagen and lower amounts of saturated fat. They graze from pasture to pasture sinking more carbon into the soil, on natural feeding patterns which gives time for grass to re-grow. Small farms usually do not travel far to sell their meats using a lot less fossil fuels.

Where to find it. I’ll stop soapboxing now to talk about where you can get this sustainably raised, more nutritious beef. If you are local to the bay area I have some suggestions below. If you are not my suggestion to you is that you hop on the internet and start searching for local farms near you that raise pastured, grass-fed beef (and all other pastured animals for that matter). Ask around, go to your farmers market, meet the farmers. They are out there trust me it just takes a little digging, traveling and a little extra money sometimes. But again, if you are eating less meat, as we all should, you will be saving your time and money to treat yourself to the good stuff. After all you only need about 6 oz. of protein a day and there are plenty of other places to get that other than meat.

Butcher shops that rock in the bay area:

Marina Meats

Olivier’s Butchery

Avedano’s

Fatted Calf

Golden Gate Meat Co.

Farms that do it right in bay area:

Magruder Ranch

Mountain Ranch

Stemple Creek Ranch

Marin Sun Farms

Prather Ranch

Belcampo

Devil’s Gulch (does not raise cattle but is definitely still worth mentioning for all of it’s other animals raised – pigs, rabbits, lamb)

Heirloom beans

heirloom beans

heirloom beans

If you’re from San Francisco chances are you’ve heard of (and are probably in love with) Rancho Gordo, a company from Napa, CA that specializes in preserving indigenous New World seeds. Their products range from heirloom beans and grains to spices, tortillas and beyond. They have growers all over North America and co-ops in South America, an online store, their showroom in Napa and a brick and mortar inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Rancho Gordo is a staple in bay area high end restaurants and in my home.

So what’s the big deal with these heirloom seeds? These seeds have been handed down from generation to generation unadulterated, resistant to diseases, still have all of their nutrients and our far superior in flavor than a lot of the ravaged seeds that are planted today. The more we let these heirloom seeds disappear the less and less plant varieties we have to grow. There used to be 3,000 types of apples native to North America. Now there are only about a couple dozen. (I could keep going on an on about the effect that has on our soil, etc. but I’m going to stay on track here.)

Beans, although they take some time are very easy to cook. Just soak them overnight, rinse, place in a pot, cover with water and simmer until tender. If you have a pressure cooker you can cut the cooking time way down (which can sometimes be up to an hour). One of my favorite ways to serve beans are cold tossed with crunchy vegetables, fresh herbs and a citrusy vinaigrette.

 

Heirloom bean salad

**Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Rancho Gordo Sangre de Toro beans dried or any other type of bean you like
  • 3 cloves Garlic 2 smashed, 1 minced
  • 2 large sprigs of Basil 1 left whole, 1 chopped
  • Black pepper ground
  • 1 Celery heart the inner ribs and leaves of the celery stalk, sliced thin
  • 1 Jalapeno seeds removed, minced
  • 1/2 each Red bell pepper small diced
  • 1 Scallion sliced thin
  • 4 sprigs of Parsley chopped
  • 4 sprigs of Cilantro chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
  • TT Salt & pepper
  • 1 pinch Cumin ground

Instructions

  1. - Place beans in a large container and cover with 4 cups of water. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. - The next day, drain the beans and rinse under cold water. Place in a medium size pot with 2 cloves smashed garlic, 1 large sprig of basil and a couple pinches of ground black pepper. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Depending on the bean this could take up to an hour sometimes longer. Always make sure the beans are fully submerged in water.
  3. - When the beans are tender remove them from the heat and let cool in its liquid.
  4. - Strain the beans and discard the garlic and basil.
  5. - Place beans in a medium sized bowl and toss with minced garlic, chopped basil, celery, jalapeño, red bell pepper, scallion, parsley, cilantro, lime juice, EVOO, S&P and cumin.

Recipe Notes

Need Rancho Gordo Sangre de Toro beans? Try this!