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Enrique Gili's Posts

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Invasive species? This sushi chef rolls with it

Bun Lai making wabisabi.
Alan Aldo
Bun Lai making wabisabi.

According to recent reports, bluefin tuna schools are this century's version of the bison herd: Their luscious red flesh remains extremely popular with sushi diners worldwide -- so much so that overfishing has pushed Pacific bluefin stocks to a 96 percent decline since the 1950s. Their extinction as a food source is edging towards reality.

But when the various forms of tuna -- toro, otoro, maguro -- are so synonymous with Japanese cuisine, is it even possible for sushi to move beyond its cornerstone fish? The science indicates that consuming sushi in a way that’s sustainable has shifted from a nice idea to an absolute necessity in 2013. Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya’s Sushi restaurant in New Haven, Conn., has carried that ethos from well-meaning notion to practice. He redefines what it means to be a sushi chef by insisting the most popular item should stay off the menu. In tuna’s place, he’s simultaneously turning invasive species into table fare and nudging sushi back to its freshwater origins.

Here, Bun Lai shares his secrets and talks about the cuisine’s future.

Tyger Tyger, Miya Sushi's fish-of-the-day roll, often made with tilapia.
Da Ping Luo
Tyger Tyger, Miya Sushi's fish-of-the-day roll, often made with tilapia.

Q. How long have you been foraging in Connecticut?

A. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been foraging all my life. Both of my parents were nature lovers and we were always outdoors. When my Japanese mother first came to this country from China, she discovered many of the plants she used to collect and eat when she was little also grew in New Haven. I would go out and dig up wild burdock and pick lamb’s quarters. I loved doing it and it sort of grew from there.

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The ultimate guilt-free diet: Hunting invasive species

Jackson Landers removes the feathers from a Canada goose.

The notion of eating invasive species has gained traction among hunters, eaters, and chefs embedded in the food movement in recent years. Whether it’s iguanas in Florida, lionfish off the Atlantic coast, or plants that have long been considered weeds, ethical eaters, the thinking goes, can chow down in good conscience, secure in the knowledge that with every bite, they’re helping to remove an unwanted animal from the ecosystem. Jackson Landers, a hunting instructor and author based in Virginia, has been championing this idea for years. His latest book Eating Aliens: One Man's Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species offers a gourmand’s guide to hunting and eating these unwanted plants and animals, taking aim at feral boars, Asian carp, and other creatures incurring an outsized impact on the landscape with hefty appetites for destruction.

We spoke with Landers recently about his book, federal regulations on wild foods, and the stench of the nine-banded armadillo.

Q. What inspired you to write Eating Aliens

A. After completing the draft of my first book [The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food], I started looking around for another project that would utilize my skills as a hunter, writer, and educator in a positive way. A lot of people are doing great work on climate change and habitat loss, but with invasive species not only was there a lack of awareness, but there are few people doing anything about it. Eating Aliens is Douglas Adams' travelogue Last Chance to See in reverse. Instead of setting out to find the most rare and endangered species existing in the world in need of protection, I set out to look for the most dangerously overpopulated species that don’t belong in the United States and need to be removed.

Q. You grew up in a vegetarian household. Given the premise of the book, how did you get over the hump?

A. Gradually, between the ages of 10 and 12, I went to other people’s houses and had chances to eat meat and discovered that I liked it. At some point, my parents stopped being vegetarians -- eating turkey for Thanksgiving and burgers for Fourth of July. I think it was a shock for them when I first started hunting. But the reasons as to why people like my parents became vegetarians are entirely consistent with my values. In the '70s, people wanted to know where their food came from, and raised questions about the relationship between our diet, our bodies, and society. More recently, the intellectual center of the food movement has shifted to be more about ethically sourcing meat. My parents understand that.

Q. Why does the idea of hunting invasive species resonate with you?

A. There are so many people right now who have meat-eater’s remorse -- people who eat meat and feel kind of bad about it, but they’re not actually going to stop. Or they’re vegetarians and their bodies actually crave meat. But there’s so much awareness about what’s wrong with the mainstream food system -- and they haven’t known what to do about that. The beautiful thing about hunting, especially invasive species, is it’s a way of dropping out of the mainstream meat paradigm, where so many of the ethical and health problems associated with eating meat arise.

Also, I’m a firm believer that humans evolved as omnivores that seasonally ate quite a lot of meat. Our bodies and minds have evolved to respond positively to hunting. There’s an instinct to hunt that’s a part of us. We haven’t been leading an urban lifestyle long enough to have physically evolved way from that yet. People want to feel active about getting food from the land without relying on someone else.

Read more: Food

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Pushing for local food in the farm bill: An interview with Chellie Pingree

Rep. Chellie Pingree speaks with a young farmer.

Does local and organic food matter more to people in Maine than it does to other Americans? It's possible, but Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) insists that's not why she introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, a small but encouraging set of legislative reforms meant to accompany this year's farm bill.

And while the "marker bill" has yet to be embraced entirely, some parts of it have clearly influenced the Senate's draft of the larger farm bill, which is said to be about to hit the Senate floor this week. Most sustainable food advocates have seen it as a welcome push for small-scale agriculture, after decades of federal support for industrial farming.

We spoke with Pingree recently about bill, the work behind it, and her motivation to get a farm bill passed before the last one runs out in September.

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Born to bee wild: How feral pollinators may help prevent colony collapse disorder

A rare cross-sectional glimpse of natural honeycomb construction. (Photo by Max Westby.)

In 2009, lifelong beekeeper Dan Harvey faced an existential crisis when he lost 
much of his honeybee stock to colony collapse disorder (CCD). So the former Vietnam-era Special Forces veteran did what came naturally: He took to the deep dark woods of the Pacific Northwest, searching for answers to his predicament.

Harvey began by hunting for wild and feral bees living near his home in Port Angeles, Wash. (These bees have escaped from commercial colonies and find refuge in the tall timber and glens enveloping the Olympic Peninsula). For years, he crossbred the feral bees he captured with honeybees in order to produce hybridized hives that would be well-suited to the dank climes of the temperate rainforest region.

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Poop dreams: A farmer on why we should care about manure

This shit matters. (Photo by David Jones.)

From time to time a book merits its title. Published in 2010, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind may just be the No. 1 book on the No. 2 business. In it, Gene Logsdon manages to be both funny and educational as he advocates for overcoming our aversion to excrement for the sake of healthy soil.

According to Logsdon, we need manure and lots of it. He contends we should follow our nose for practical and elegant solutions to improving soil fertility, and turn waste into compost fit for crops and gardens.

We spoke to Logsdon recently to get the straight poop.

Q. You've had a long career in journalism. What inspired you to write a book on manure?

Gene Logsdon. (Photo by Ben Barnes.)

A. I was hearing from lots of readers who were getting into backyard farm animals, especially chickens. They did not seem to have any appreciation for the rude fact that animals defecate and urinate and no realization that they would have to deal with that manure. Since I really hoped that small-scale animal husbandry would become a fact of American life, and having memories of when it was, even in towns, I knew that without proper manure handling, the new movement was going to get into trouble with neighbors. And lead to all the silly rules that previous generations used to keep farm animals far from their noses.

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Up a creek: A run-down urban neighborhood finds life in a dead stream

Volunteers plant vegetation to slow erosion along the banks of Chollas Creek. (Photo by Groundwork San Diego.)

Driving down side streets in southeast San Diego past paddling ducks, native sage, and ugly, graffiti-covered utility boxes offers a whiff of the promise and the menace befalling Chollas Creek.

This is no Blue Danube: Bounded and bisected by freeways, a cypher of an old creek traverses low-income neighborhoods via a series of ravines and concrete channels. Nonetheless, a local nonprofit organization has set out to salvage the creek from urban ruin. In the process, the group hopes to create a place for healing and restoration in a neighborhood sorely in need of both.

Read more: Cities

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New Agtivist: Colin Archipley is teaching soldiers to farm

Colin Archipley (right) in the greenhouse.

Tucked into San Diego’s rolling hills, Archi’s Acres is a stark departure from the war Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley left behind. Rather than hunt down insurgents, he now grows oversized basil and specialty crops on six acres for local markets. The work is hard, but for Sgt. Archipley, it feels like a respite from the six years he spent training and fighting in Iraq.

In need of a second act, Archipley and his wife Karen pooled their resources to open the farm in 2007. Their mission is twofold; they hope to operate a successful small-scale organic farm and help soldiers make the transition from fighters to champions of sustainable agriculture and financial independence. Together the couple runs a program called Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), a six-week course run in partnership with two local community colleges that focuses on organics and hydroponics (and the combination of the two, which is rare), as well as greenhouse production and the basics of putting together a business plan.

Read more: Sustainable Food