From the Low Food Chain Chronicles

Weeks ago, months really, I pledged to try sardines in an effort to eat lower on the food chain. I went out and bought a tin of skinless, boneless sardines. I asked for your serving suggestions. I browsed recipes. I learned that you can fry them (“the bones get crispy!” said food blogger friend Melissa, which gave me pause), or put them in a potato salad, or mix them into pasta. Or just eat them on a cracker.

I got inspired.

Then I put the tin in the pantry. And there it sat. And whenever I reached in for baking powder or pasta or whatnot, I would think, Oh yeah, sardines, I promised I would eat those. For the blog. And then I would close the door again posthaste.

I am proud to tell you that yesterday I actually pried that sucker open. And I didn’t stop there. I actually ate sardines.

Yesterday's lunch.

Yesterday’s lunch.

I’m here to report that these little fishies, which feed the farm-raised fish so many of us prefer…really aren’t that bad! The smell is a bit oceanic, but taste is mainly salty, at least when mashed in small (microscopic) amounts on a lovely sesame rye cracker.

I was worried the mouthfeel would be slimy, because just look at the sheen on those puppies. But they were actually quite palatable.

I had lactofermented veggies on the side, figuring two strong flavors would cancel each other out. You can never have too many cultured veggies, and these collards and cabbages were homegrown and -cultured.

Unfortunately I had to move indoors to eat because my cat was so interested in the meal.

"I'd be happy to finish those sardines off for you." --Kitley

“I’d be happy to finish those sardines off for you.” –Kitley

I told myself that if lunch turned out to be a train wreck, I’d put a good taste back in my mouth with dessert: zucchini cornbread baked in the solar cooker. Not just any cornbread but blue cornbread. Over homemade yogurt with organic Indiana blueberries.

Sorry I don’t have a photo for you. I was too excited about eating it to pause and snap.

Meanwhile the salad balanced the sardine experiment nicely. I’ve said it before: I know this isn’t a food blog, but still I must share the ingredients of this super-duper salad:

  • Grated zucchini, because it’s summer and everything we eat must include zucchini from the garden in some form.
  • Oxalis, purslane, sorrel leaves, chives, catnip, young dandelion leaves, and possibly other things I can’t remember, gathered from the yard (and the neighbor’s yard, but who’s looking?)
  • Sungold cherry tomatoes, first of the season and sweet as can be. I’ve waited all year!
  • Pumpkin seeds toasted in the solar cooker.
  • Nettle seeds. Herbalist Greg Monzel says these are “one of the only herbs that can restore compromised kidney function,” not that I really need that. And they’re too small to give much more than the teeniest little crunch. But I like using every part of the nettle patch, so I can tell Judy, “I’m still harvesting from it!” when she threatens to whack it down.

What culinary adventures are you having this summer?

I’ve Got a Tin of Sardines…

…and I’m not afraid to use it!

By jules (Flickr: sardines in a can) via Wikimedia Commons

By jules (Flickr: sardines in a can) via Wikimedia Commons

Actually, I am, a little. I bought the tin weeks ago at the Co-op in hopes of eating lower on the food chain. I have not yet worked up the nerve to peel back that shiny lid and peek inside. I may need a clothespin for my nose when I do. Little fishies can be so…fishy.

But I’m determined to conquer my fear of the little fishies and make them part of my diet. Or at least ingest them once and see if it’s possible to consider…one day…loving them as much as I love salmon. Why? Efficiency of dining, mainly. If I eat a sardine instead of the big fish that eats the sardine–no matter how much more appealing said big fish might be–I reduce my impact.

It seems I know too much. And I can’t un-know what I know. What we eat has consequences. In the case of seafood, overfishing is rampant, and then there’s pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and ocean acidification. Leaving us with a “system in crisis,” according to the National Geographic.

All that knowledge makes my fallback choice on any restaurant menu, salmon, seem a bit fraught.

Though according to the National Geographic Seafood Decision Guide, salmon–at least wild-caught Alaskan salmon–is actually one of the better choices in the ocean-going protein buffet. It is “abundant, well-managed, and caught or farmed in ocean-friendly ways.” Three cheers for that.

But sardines are equally well rated, equally low in mercury, and equally high in omega-threes. Then there’s the fact that it takes five pounds of forage fish to produce a pound of farm-raised fish. So I still feel bound to try these little fishy-fishes.

By TANAKA Juuyoh Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) via Wikimedia Commons

By TANAKA Juuyoh (Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) via Wikimedia Commons

It strikes me, unpleasantly, that they’re kind of like the worms and grubs of the ocean world. Grubs are food for birds; sardines are food for bigger fish, and for chickens and pigs too.

No matter: I’m sure they’re deelish. (Just like grubs, which, after all, are food for people all over the world. I wrote a piece about that once, and fully expect to one day venture bugward in my dining.)

Helpfully, in the meantime Slow Food International has begun a push for upping human consumption of anchovies, complete with recipe contest. (Nate at the Co-op shook his head at my sardine purchase and advised anchovies next time.)

Oh faithful readers, do you eat sardines or anchovies, those humble fishies known as forage fish? If so, pray, how do you fix them? Give me some ideas to go with Slow Food’s and Rachael Ray’s suggestions. I promise to report back after my first foray into this brave new culinary world.