“Yes, human actions have caused a problem, but doesn’t that give you hope that we can be the solution?” Barton Seaver asked a small group of guests gathered in a glass-walled restaurant at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, host of this year’s Aspen Environment Forum.
“Eat with joy,” Seaver added, as guests took in the picturesque mountain views.
Seaver, a National Geographic fellow based in Washington, D.C., is a chef who is using his love of good food to share a message of sustainability with a broad audience.
“As a child I cast lines for rockfish, waded through eel grass beds, and pulled giant male blue crabs off pilings,” said Seaver. “Now these things are gone.” (Seaver grew up around Washington, D.C.]
Seaver added that he looked around for what he could do, and discovered that a lot of environmental messaging focused on the negative, and on what thou shalt not do (or eat).
“But that’s not what dinner is to me,” said Seaver.
Seaver dove into the local food and sustainable seafood movements (check out National Geographic’s seafood dining guide, which covers health and environmental concerns, and which Seaver helped develop).
“I like to use food as a lens to explore how we can get away from the tragedy of the commons,” added Seaver.
Introducing his culinary creations to the hungry guests, Seaver said, “The purpose of lunch is to sustain ourselves. This meal is mostly vegetables, which are the best way to save yourself and the world, especially when they’re delicious.”
Delicious they were, especially in the first course, a fresh shaved veggie salad, with unique, savory accents in the form of smoked lion fish.
As Seaver explained, the delicious morsels come from invasive species, a transplant from Asian waters that has spread far and wide through much of the Americas, even being seen as far north as Maine in the summer.
Voracious feeders (and potentially dangerous with their poisonous spines), lion fish gobble up snappers, groupers, and other important species that play an important role in the coral reef ecosystem.
“They are like Hoover vacuums,” said Seaver.
The chef explained that he sourced our lion fish through David Johnson, a Minnesota native who recently relocated to the Yucatan in Mexico to work with indigenous fishers there and convince them to harvest invasive lion fish.
For the main course, Seaver served slow-roasted salmon over French lentils and pomegranate beurre rouge.
The moist, flavorful salmon came from sockeye, which Seaver said are plentiful off Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. In fact, the salmon run there is the largest in the U.S., and is thought to number at least 40 million fish.
However, Seaver noted that the epic run may be threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine.
For dessert, Seaver served a light and sweet buttermilk pannacotta, garnished with maple-lime syrup, strawberries, and fresh flower blossoms.
The meal was a wonderful refresher after a long flight from Rio de Janeiro (where I covered Rio+20), and it was a sense-stimulating entre to the insightful discussions of sustainability at the Aspen forum.
After lunch, Seaver signed copies of his new book For Cod and Country, a beautifully produced book full of recipes that can help any cook serve sustainable crowd-pleasers.
Brian Clark Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVAC, Green Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.