One fish, two fish, good fish, bad fish

17 May 2013

When I first moved to New York almost six years ago, I could count the number of friends I had on one hand. I joined a kickball league, volunteered, socialized my ass off, but the city wasn’t very kind to the new kid.  People had routines with steady crews already navigating the water far before I arrived.  It took a solid year for me to really have a group of friends that could remember my  birthday, meet up for happy hour on a whim and the most importantly: sit in silence when watching an episode of Law & Order.

One thing I learned very quickly when living in New York, was that the “birthday party”  was the pinnacle of the event scene.  It is always someone’s birthday and by God, we New Yorker’s go all out for the day of our birth.  You can imagine my excitement when I received the precious invite to one of my newly minted girlfriend’s “birthday dinner.”  This wasn’t any ordinary invite, this was the pre-dinner with her inner circle of closest girlfriends, that was taking place before the actual party – this was huge.  The birthday girl’s dinner soirée was happening at the celebrity frequented, dim sum slinging, fancy pants Upper East Side restaurant, Philippe Chow. I was elated, giddy, up to my eyeballs in excitement…until I reviewed the Philippe Chow menu.  I speed read through the appetizers, making my way to the entrées and there it was: Shark Fin Soup.

Shark Fin Soup?


Was this a test of my moral and ethical character?

If I haven’t mentioned before, shark conservation is a very passionate subject for me.  In fact, I wrote an entire post about it last year, here.  I was faced with a mighty dilemma. I’ve just been invited to my first real birthday dinner with a group of girls that had serious BFF potential.  So I do I respect my RSVP and attend?  Or do I bow out knowing I cannot and will not support an establishment serving a dish that is basically depleting our oceans of sharks in the most heinous, gruesome, cruelest way possible?

My decision didn’t take very long to make, clearly I wasn’t going to attend.  The birthday girl didn’t seem to mind one-way or the other. I decided mid conversation not to try to convince her to move dinner venues, we weren’t there yet.  So, instead of celebrating what would be one of many birthday parties I’d attend in my future; I sat down and wrote an email to Philippe Chow. A plea about the devastation this “delicacy” has caused and the brutal and ecologically damaging practice where the shark’s fins are removed and the shark is discarded and left to die.  I know many others wrote and protested as well and in August 2009, Philippe Chow removed Shark Fin Soup from their menu.  Success!

Which leads me to my current dilemma:  Shark + shark fin soup is easy enough to spot and avoid. It’s been ripped from menus and banned by law across multiple states and around the world.  But the girl who once boycotted the birthday dinner in protest has lost her way, out of part confusion + part inconvenience.  Sure, I’m totally aware of the health issues associated with eating “bad” fish, but it’s a confusing world of information and I am publicly admitting my guilt.  In fact, I sheepishly returned to a restaurant that I fully knew served marlin when I actually worked, campaigned and protested to keep Marlin off the menu. I try as hard as I can to choose the most sustainable options of fish, let’s admit it – it’s murky water (pun intended.)  Should it be farm raised, wild-caught, sustainable, pole-caught? Even Dan Barber got hoodwinked and clearly, I am not the only one with these concerns, as was made clear by the recent Too Few Fish in the Sea Room For Debate feature in the NYTimes.

Lucky for us, there are a few resources available to help us make the best decisions. Here are just a few:

#1) The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App:  Gives you up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.  Picture this: You’re sitting at Nobu and type in “Bluefin Tuna” into your trusty app and you’ll get a big red AVOID message.  From there it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to ingest the mercury laden totally overfished almost extinct species.  You can or print out a trusty little wallet version as well.


#2) Add a few new recipes to your repertoire courtesy of the NYTimes:

#3) Who doesn’t love a good infographic:



Here’s what we learned from this post:

  • Be nice to the new girl. She may flake on your birthday dinner, but it could be more good reason.
  • You’ve heard the vegetarian at a dinner party joke, right?  “Q: How do you find the vegetarian at a dinner party? A: Don’t worry, they’l let you know.”  Look – I don’t need to stand on a soapbox and plead my case for all things under the sea, nor should you feel like you have to prophesize your vegan, vegetarian, gluten issues, but please – stand up for what you believe in, it might not be the easiest route, but there are other choices. Besides, there’s an app to help.
  • + if all else fails:

michael pollan in defense of food quote



Featured image:  “Beneath the Surface” 48×54 Oil on Canvas Price by my current artist obsession: Katherine Fraser, available for purchase here.

We're over here now:

Jessica Arb Danial Art Advisory