Tom and I returned home from Kauai yesterday. We had a wonderful vacation without children this time. They had plenty of fun at home with grandma though! This post is more than a recipe. In fact, after I learned more about mercury levels in Hawaiian fish, I debated posting this at all. But we all make mistakes, and I want to share what I have learned.
When we were packing for our trip I decided to bring a bag of each brown rice, quinoa, pink beans, and raw almonds. I also packed some almond butter, Herbamare, cumin, and our Vitamix. Food is much more expensive over there because everything needs to be shipped in. Relying on all of the local foods and the few things we packed, we were able to prepare amazing, nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while lessening our impact on the environment. There is a farmer's market everyday on the island. You just need to be sure that the farmers you buy from are using organic farming methods, as GMO's are prevalent in non-organic papaya crops, in particular. Most of the meals we ate were vegan, and many were mostly raw or totally raw. One evening we went to the local fish market to purchase fish for tacos. We bought opah, commonly known as moonfish. It is a deepwater fish native to Hawaii. We made a lovely meal that we shared with a friend of fish tacos, quinoa salad, and for dessert a raw macadamia nut-papaya custard. Everything was local except for the corn tortillas, quinoa, cumin, and the coconut oil used for sautéing the fish.
After eating this meal two days in a row, I had the thought to check one of the safe seafood guides for any data on consuming opah while pregnant. Sure enough, it is on the avoid list if pregnant and "consume no more than one serving a month" for adults. Luckily I never consume fish with elevated levels of mercury so I don't feel this will pose a significant problem. Mercury in fish damages brain tissue, especially in developing fetuses, infants, and young children. It also damages heart tissue in adults and male reproductive organs and sperm. Two-thirds of mercury in our environment comes from coal-burning power plants, and a significant amount comes from medical and municipal waste. Microorganisms convert elemental mercury to methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury that our bodies cannot get rid of. It first accumulates in microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain and then moves up the food chain ultimately reaching the highest levels in predatory fish (tuna, shark, king mackerel, swordfish, opah, ono). Interestingly, through my research I also learned that opah, like tuna and other deep water fish, are caught by longline fish practices, a type of fishing that places thousands of hooks on a long line. This practice kills many sea birds and other marine creatures, such as sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles in the process.
Mercury in our food supply is a significant issue. When new scientific findings were released that canned tuna contained very high levels of mercury, the EPA downplayed the findings (the tuna industry is big, think lobbying, and the effect on the economy with a large drop of tuna consumption). You'll still see canned tuna on some of the "safe to eat lists" though in reality, it is not safe at all for pregnant women, children, or women of child-bearing age to consume. In fact, children can receive doses of mercury four times the acceptable level by eating six ounces of tuna per week! More information on mercury in fish can be found on websites such as EWG.org. Mercury has also been found in high-fructose corn syrup and therefore also in commercial foods that contain this ingredient, such as snack bars, barbecue sauce, jelly, yogurt, and chocolate syrup. What are we doing to our environment that we can't rely anymore on local food supplies? We are the cause of many of the problems ailing us today, and we are also the solution. Hopefully this post brings to light some of the issues that can be changed when we focus on human health and the health of our planet.