Being a member of the chattering classes is fucking hard work, don't let anyone tell you differently. Petitions to sign, causes to espouse, regimes to boycott, t-shirts to wear: the action never ends.
Possibly because there is always something else that needs reform.
Channel 4 has recently run a short season of programmes looking into the state of the fisheries and the possibility of sustainable fishing for the future. Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall all worked to draw attention to the need for reform of the current Common Fisheries Policy to conserve fish stocks. So far so worthy.
Fearnley-Whittingstall particularly targeted the diabolically wasteful practice of discards, where any species that the fisherman doesn't have a quota for has to be thrown back. But because of the way they are caught, these fish are already dead. His claim is that half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back, dead. His petition to the Common Fisheries Reform Group to stop discards has 600,000 signatories, of which I am proudly one.
But I have some misgivings. The fact that there is a Common Fisheries Reform Group, and that Defra baldly states that the CFP is broken indicate that this is the perfect time for such a campaign.
That is also the thing that makes me worry.
Clearly, there have been a great many lobby groups pushing varying agendas for a very long time. The prospect that the 600,000 (almost 650,000) signatories riled up by HFW's considerable charm and passion might be co-opted by another group who want discards dropped but for less conservation-minded reasons is a concern. James Murray articulated some of my issues with the campaign very clearly - what exactly does constitute victory for the Fish Fight? I appreciate the response that he doesn't want to be yet another hat in the ring, with an agenda in competition with his allies, so to speak, but at the same time I think "Stop discards" is a placard looking for a real policy. A policy that really has to approach marine conservation on a number of levels, to preserve and husband fish stocks for the future, protect other wildlife and the marine environment. I would be hoping to see total catch bag limits, more selective gear that avoids catching less marketable species, the ban on discards and seriously rigorous policing of the policy. I don't trust self-regulation.
So what (patient people who didn't come to my blog looking for a diatribe) is the fish eater to do?
Well, I think it really all boils down (or fries up) to buying, cooking and eating thoughtfully.
In Britain, 40% of the fish eaten is just from 3 varieties: cod, salmon and tuna. Consider mixing it up and for every salmon or cod meal you have, cook a couple of meals of something else. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of lightly smoked, wild salmon, accompanied by a white bean and spinach mash (spotted on Deb's blog as a dip), but I have also been trying to eat some more unusual things.
The problem is considering what those things should be. It's a bit of a tricky business to identify something that is in plentiful supply, that isn't farmed in environmentally compromising ways and, if wild, is caught in a way that minimises the impact on other marine life.
Mussels are considered highly sustainable and an example of environmentally-friendly aquaculture. They are also quite cheap and very delicious. This mussel, spinach and bacon gratin, (from the little fish-fighter himself) was very rich, and a tiny bit too salty for me, but utterly comforting and lovely. It doesn't have the wow factor of a big pot of mussels in the shell, but is a heck of a lot easier to eat! And there is still luscious juice to sop up with good bread.
Squid are fast to reproduce, so they are quite a good option (although apparently we don't know if they are really that sustainable). I'd been very keen to try Nigella Lawson's "squink" risotto anyway, and knowing it wasn't a disasterous choice was reassuring. I'd been planning to do the recipe as written, with little squiddy bits tossed with chilli on top, but then I saw Su-Lin's meal at the Duke of Sussex and realised that aioli was the way to go. Rather than using cod, I used Cornish, day-boat caught monkfish. The risotto was good, and certainly looked dramatic, but I don't really know that it is worth repeating. I think the ink gives a certain savouryness, but it is really more of a texture than a flavour.
As well as ending discards, the Fish Fight is trying to encourage the fish and chip shops of Britain to look at mackerel as a more sustainable option than the usual cod and haddock.
The dish they are trying to get on the menu is a deep-fried mackerel fillet on a soft white bun with tartare sauce. They are calling it the MackBap.
As an alternative, I offer you the MackoTaco (serves 2).
4 mackerel fillets
Flour for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
oil for deep frying
1 can chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 heaped tbs chopped chipotle in adobo
1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/4 cup tahini
juice of 1 lime
juice of half a lime
2 spring onions
4 soft white tortillas
Blend the chickpeas, garlic, lime juice, cumin, chipotle and a splash of olive oil with a pinch of salt to a paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some water and the juice of half a lime if it is too thick. Maybe a bit of tabasco if you like it really spicy.
Cut the avocado into cubes and mix with the sliced spring onions and diced tomato, adding the juice of half a lime and a little salt to taste.
Dust the mackerel fillets with flour, then dip in the beaten egg. Deep fry the fillets at about 170C until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels.
Spread some of the chipotle hummus on the tortillas, add the crisp, hot mackerel fillets and top with the tangy avocado salsa. Roll up and eat immediately, with lots of paper towels to catch the drips.
Activism isn't all sacrifice and self-righteousness. It's much easier to get behind a cause that tastes delicious.