With climate change or sustainability, whether it’s our carbon footprint, rising temperatures or plastic consumption, it all seems out of our hands. But what if we could benefit the environment simply by changing our diets? Not only what we eat, but where we get our food from.
Chef Barton Seaver is a passionate sustainability seafood advocate. By educating others on “the role of food in resource management and public health,” Seaver advocates for an increase in seafood consumption for the good of the planet and our own bodies. He has worked at Harvard’s School of Public Health, National Geographic and has written many books about the importance of sustainable seafood.
According to Oceana, seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins as fishing doesn’t require farmland or care of livestock. However, seafoods, fish and shellfish can have varying impacts. Chef Seaver explained this concept to Stony Brook students during one of many events hosted by the Faculty Student Association during Earthstock 2022.
A self-proclaimed “impatient optimist,” Seaver described sustainability as a conversation about needs, not wants. He explains that desires are a matter of culture, while needs are biological. Having our needs met by the environment is completely possible, but our wants are another story.
Seaver stated that while learning about sustainability he “didn’t get sucked into the narrative of guilt … If one side of the coin is that my decisions [as a chef/consumer] can harm and deplete, the other side of that coin is that I can heal and restore.”
Seaver has been continuously pushing in the industry to widen the seafood menus and expand the knowledge of getting sustainable fresh seafood from global communities.
“I hold the industry accountable with incredible optimism,” Seaver said.
He demands restaurants and fisheries sell and cook all the fish they catch in their net because only using in-demand fish such as sea bass or cod creates an imbalance in the marine ecosystem. Balancing the types of seafood the fishers catch and sell can help with the overfishing and overpricing of certain kinds of seafood. It also leads to more diversity on menus at restaurants and better quality seafood.
Seafood can not only help the planet but also help our bodies. According to the Aquaculture Center, eating more seafood can decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity and hypertension. It is also full of important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Eating sustainably can mean that the food caught is local, fresh and healthy. For example, seafood can be sourced from aquaculture farms, which have lower greenhouse gas emissions than agriculture. Creating a sustainable aquaculture system, where there is less food and carbon waste, will also lead to less food-borne diseases.
“I am continuously surprised by how aligned sustainable food systems, from an environmental perspective, are directly in line with healthy diets,” Seaver said. “What’s good for us is good for the Earth. What’s bad for us is bad for the Earth.”
On campus, there are nutritionists students can make an appointment with to better understand nutritional needs and goals. Sustainable eating can also mean controlling portion size, adding diverse seafood to your plate and buying from sustainable fisheries or markets.
However, Seaver’s most significant advice to college students was to learn how to cook.
“Dedicate a bit of yourself to what you yourself are actually made of,” he said. “It will improve nearly every aspect of your life.”
Stony Brook usually holds culinary events every semester, where a teaching kitchen is offered to students to better understand their food and how to cook it.
Changing one’s diet can be hard, but the benefits of adding more nutrient-dense and viable options are the best ways individuals can help the planet.