What does sustainable seafood have to do with a landlubbing city like Chattanooga? Quite a bit actually. Crippling populations of large predatory fish such as tuna allow their prey population to flourish, thereby diminishing phytoplankton populations, which provide most of the Earth's oxygen.
If this house-of-cards ecology doesn't take your breath away, consider this: the ocean supplies most of the rainfall over the U.S., so unhealthy oceans equal unhealthy terrestrial ecosystems.
"It's really amazing how the choices we make every day can impact something as far away as the ocean - something as simple as which fish you're cooking for dinner tonight has a dramatic impact on ocean health," says Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
That's why the Tennessee Aquarium is hoping to turn the tides on this issue with its Serve and Protect program. Now entering its second year, the Aquarium is encouraging people to think before they eat, partnering with grocery stores such as Greenlife as well as downtown restaurants in order to introduce people to different species.
"The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive," says George, noting that last year's kick-off event attracted nearly 400 guests. "It was wonderful to see people having such a great evening and really getting exposed to a new question we haven't thought about in Chattanooga before."
Year-round efforts include high school outreach programs and working with partner restaurants to make sure they feel comfortable ordering the best sustainable options. Each month the Aquarium also hosts monthly dinners featuring a different partner restaurant each time. The events are held at the restaurant and include a three-course meal, an Aquarium expert to talk about the seafood being served and cooking demonstrations by the chefs.
For the past year, the Tennessee Aquarium has worked with celebrity chef Alton Brown and downtown restaurant partners to tackle the issue of sustainable seafood. The challenges are great - globally, one-third of fished species have collapsed, and if we don't change our seafood eating habits soon, we're headed for serious trouble.
Our challenge to the chefs was a lot simpler: create a sustainable meal from the sea that will make our mouths water. We gave them their choice of four ingredients from local farmers' markets (Brussels sprouts, goat cheese, tomatoes and patty pan squash), four sustainable seafood items and a few weeks to complete the dish. Below are their recipes for sustainable success.