Food is a tricky. For some people, food choice is an essential component of cultural heritage and national identity. For others, food choice is a statement of philosophical or moral principles. For many, being able to reject food is an unobtainable luxury. One thing is certain: food is so central to the human experience that when we question our food choices, when we are forced (or force others) to change them, when we discover that the choices we make are not what we think they are, it is impossible to separate our food ethics from our social structure. Which is why seemingly trivial revelations–bugs in your coffee, meat made slime, or a fish by any other name–often result in major outrage and structural changes. Eating is simultaneously a deeply personal experience and one in which, for much of the developed world, we are completely detached from the source.
How much of the world’s food supply is locked up in a few crops – corn, wheat, rice (for example) – and even fewer livestock – cows, pigs, chickens? Of the major commercial food production industries, only fish, and even then, only some fish, are still hunted. In a very real sense, fish are the last wild food. That may be changing. In Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, published last year, Paul Greenberg highlights the ways in which commercial fishing is becoming less like hunting and more like agriculture, with a few, often farm raised species, dominating the market.
Greenberg, a native of Long Island Sound who fished there since the 1970’s, documents the changes in four major fisheries – salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna – and the changing attitudes of the (mostly) men who catch them. He travels to Alaska to meet with First Nation salmon fishermen, to Greece to visit groundbreaking aquaculture facilities, he charters a tuna boat to experience the fight first hand, and across the world he talks to those of whom fishing matters most, including himself. At times, the book becomes autobiographical, focusing on Greenberg’s personal journey – but this is a book about fish and fishermen, and he is, if only recreationally, a fisher.