To make a real difference, we’re going to have to change patterns of consumption at levels higher than just households. This vertical agitation can take lots of different forms, but I want to highlight some of the great work being done academically and on the ground. Last year, an article in the International Zoo Yearbook by Heather Koldewey and two colleagues pointed out that zoos and aquariums should be leading the way in the push for sustainable seafood. Indeed, as the authors, point out, some already are.
Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, for instance, has teamed up with a culinary school to provide them with course content, training, and information on sourcing and marketing sustainable seafood. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Vancouver Aquarium both have programs to team up with restaurants and get them to remove fish that are on their ‘avoid’ lists. But there is still lots of room for improvement and most zoos and aquariums are still selling and supporting the seafood status quo. In just a quick search, I found the San Diego Zoo, for instance, serves tuna, lobster quesadillas, fish tacos, fish and chips without specifying if any of their meals are bought with consideration for the wildlife.
Zoos and Aquariums can also take a stand to protect the habitat of the wildlife they are promoting. This happened last year when the Auckland Zoo stopped selling Cadbury’s chocolates because the candy maker’s decided to start adding palm oil to its chocolates and was adding to the destruction of important wildlife habitat. This sends a strong signal to the Cadbury’s and more zoos and aquariums should get on board with such tactics, which reach a broad and fairly concerned audience — and universities and eco-conscious supermarkets, also ripe for social change, should join them.
As an example in this realm, professor Amanda Vincent at the University of British Columbia teamed up with Andrew Parr, Director of UBC Food Services and “a shining example of collaboration”. As of May 2007, the partners involved agreed that UBC food service would avoid: shrimp products that were not from local trap fisheries, wild bivalve shellfishes and non-native farmed species, snapper or rockfish, tuna caught via long-line fishing, rainbow trout and steelhead reared in net pens or floating cages, swordfish, monkfish, and sevruga caviar. They are currently working on a nuanced recommendation for salmon purchasing (let’s hope they take a firm position on Fraser River sockeye). I hope to hear (and report) on the measurable reductions soon. However, most universities still have shrimp,sea bass, and swordfish on many menus. It would be great to see a broad conservation initiative that targeted university catering and food services to get them to change their ways. Local students at each university could volunteer and it could be organized primarily via Internet, similar to My Barack Obama. Vertical agitation could get very active, indeed.