Our neighbor across the street has done a nice job with his lawn. Rather, he hired a landscaper to replace part of his lawn with some tasteful perennials and the obligatory Japanese maple tree surrounded by some interesting boulders and decorator mulch.
The rest of the small, sloping, inner-city lawn is tended by a landscaping crew. They drew my attention the other day with a rather loud, gas-powered lawn mower, followed by the ever-irritating gas-powered leaf blower, in this case used to tidy up any grass clippings that might have strayed onto the sidewalk.
It's all very neat and natty, this particular landscaping, with the exception of the obnoxious whine of the mower and blower, or what we refer to around here as the "mow and blow" school of lawn care.
Now that I've become so terribly, boorishly, environmentally conscious, I had a mind to send our neighbor an e-mail inquiring whether his landscaper might not offer electric-powered mowing and blowing services. I was truly composing the note in my mind when my wife intervened with an emphatic shaking of the head. No, it just wouldn't due to start a tiff with the neighbors. Check that urge to intervene.
But this got me thinking. Why not? Why shouldn't we say something when we see global warming being committed on our very own block? Or is there some sort of new enviro etiquette that we should be observing? Is it time to start talking about how we interact with each other diplomatically in the carbon footprint era? Where is Miss Manners when the planet really needs her?
As longtime readers know, I have occasionally been ranting about the slaughter taking place in our oceans and occasionally throwing little Molotov cocktails into other blog sites on the matter of seafood choices.
In case you haven't noticed, humans have been emptying the oceans of prime seafood at an increasingly rapid pace. Having wiped out the cod and the humpback whale, having decimated the Patagonian toothfish and the bluefin tuna, having scooped up most of the favorite bottom dwellers such as flounder and sole, we continue to plow down the food chain, eating our way through yellowfin tuna, shark, monkfish, red snapper, disrupting eco-systems as we trawl our way around the globe.
I took the pledge at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, meaning I received a package of wallet-sized cards that I am urged to give to seafood purveyors and restaurateurs who either do or do not pay attention to the sustainability of the seafood they sell.
So imagine my consternation when a review appeared in The Washington Post Sunday Magazine lauding the red snapper seviche at Casa Oxaca, a new Mexican restaurant just a few blocks from our home.
I don't normally read restaurant reviews. We don't eat much at restaurants. But we love Mexican food. We love Oxacan Mexican even more. So how could we say no to a Oxacan restaurant in our own neighborhood?
But the red snapper is problematic. In fact, snapper, widely overfished, illustrates perfectly the quagmire that awaits anyone trying to sort out seafood sustainability from the consumer end.
The Seafood Watch website, for instance, under "snapper" lists nine different varieties in a range of hues. There are "gray/lane/mutton/yellowtale" snappers, "gray" snappers, "pink" snappers and "red/vermillion" snappers. There are also "red" snappers, "ruby" snappers and just plane "snapper." But within those categories there are varieties listed as being from "Hawaii," "Main Hawaiian Islands," "Northwest Hawaiian Islands," from the "U.S." and simply "Imported."
Among the nine categories, four are listed as "avoid," including the "red/vermillion" snapper (U.S.), the "red" snapper (Main Hawaiian Islands), the "ruby" snapper and the "snapper." Meanwhile, listed as "good" alternatives (one step up from "avoid," but not as good as "best") are the "gray/lane/mutton/yellow" snapper (U.S.), the "gray" snapper (Hawaii), the "pink" snapper, the "red" snapper (Northwest Hawaiian Islands), and the "ruby" snapper (Northwest Hawaiian Islands).
(If you are keeping score so far, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands win, the Main Hawaiian Islands are to be avoided. Meanwhile, the Oceans Alive site at Environmental defense lists five varieties of snapper and labels all five over-fished and "eco worst": mutton, silk, red, vermillion and yellowtail. Some even have health issues.)
So which of those do you suppose was the "snapper" in the seviche at our new neighborhood Oxacan restaurant, Casa Oxaca?
I thought readers of The Washington Post Magazine deserved to know. So I wrote to the magazine's restaurant reviewer, Tom Sietsema and told him so. Hold their feet to the fire! I urged Tom. Don't let those restaurants get away with serving "avoid" snapper!
Or was it merely "good" snapper?
Anyway, it wasn't the "best" snapper, because apparently there isn't any snapper that qualifies as "best." And if you recall, when I was cooking in Anguilla and looking for local snapper, the fishermen weren't catching anything big enough to fillet. The big snapper had already been eaten.
So now that I've written the local restaurant reviewer about sustainable fish, I'm sure this qualifies me as a seafood Nazi. I'll be branded forever as the guy who couldn't let go of the snapper thing. In other words, Shut up and eat your seviche!
Miss Manners, a little help over here!
(P.S. We later visited Casa Oxaca and loved it. The huitlacoche ravioli, listed as an appetizer, are huge--an utter bargain at $10--and come bathed in a delicious cream sauce with squash blossoms. The fish tacos are some of the best we've ever tasted. We asked the waiter about the "snapper" in the seviche. He had no clue.
And in case you're wondering, the menu at Casa Oxaca says the fish in the tacos is turbot, a European fish. The British Marine Conservation Society ranks turbot 4 out of 5 for sustainability, but with this caveat:
Avoid eating turbot from the North Sea where it is over-exploited. From other areas increase the sustainability of the fish you eat by choosing line-caught fish (where available) or fish caught in 'dolphin-friendly' nets above the size (30cm) at which it matures. Avoid eating fresh (not previously frozen) turbot caught during the breeding season (April -August). Throughout Cornwall Sea Fisheries District it is prohibited to land turbot below 30 cms.
Does that clarify things for you?)