I am really not getting on that well worn soapbox here. Really I'm not. But what can you do when media stars align, so to speak? I have mentioned before the concept that cheaper food might not be such a bargain if it harms our health. I wrote before in the context of beef. Our mainstream model of corn-fed, feedlot raised livestock quite likely produces a meat that is inherently different than the grass-fed variety. Sadly, it is not different in a good way. Grass fed livestock produce meat higher in Omega-3s and other healthy nutrients, in part, due to the grass, and which are generally not injected with hormones and antibiotics.
Just recently, the Washington Post ran a column by Ezra Klein which makes a similar argument about shrimp. He quotes a new book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, by Ellen Ruppel Shell. While no one would object to paying less for good food, this column discusses how cheaper shrimp today are simply not the same as the shrimp we ate as children. Much of the shrimp available at a low price today are farmed in Thailand, according to Shell. As Klein put it, "the little critters are covered in antibiotics, pesticides and disinfectants." Yum.
Based on Shell's book, Klein says that "the taste is different, the nutrition is different, the accompanying chemicals are different, the impact on the environment is different, the waters it lived in are different, the food consumed is different."
This doesn't even take into account what Klein says are documented abuses by some of the Thai companies: migrant labor, child labor, worker torture and rape. Who knew?
I do know that I have made an effort for some time to purchase wild shrimp from USA when available. Harris Teeter ($6.98 per pound in today's flyer) often has them as does Whole Foods. Giant and Safeway sometimes carry them as well. Much like with salmon, the wild version is tastier and as we are learning, healthier and better for the environment. With careful shopping, you can find both wild shrimp and salmon for less than platinum rates. I just purchased a huge fillet of wild sockeye salmon at Costco!
I am very intrigued by Marvesta shrimp, though, and would love to get some. Marvesta is a shrimp farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that produces farmed, fresh, environmentally friendly shrimp with no hormones, no chemicals, no antibiotics and no preservatives. Their website describes their facility as "bio-secure." Some of the best chefs in the area are using these shrimp. Unfortunately, the demand by chefs is high and production is still low so there are not many to be had retail, though that option exists on their website. I have been checking from time to time to see if there are any available but not yet. Their prices are reasonable for clean, fresh head on shrimp.
Just a few days after the Ezra Klein's column in the Post, I came across the cover article in Time magazine, "Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food." Time says "A food system -- from seed to 7 - Eleven -- that generates cheap food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America's obesity epidemic. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills."
A funny kind of Kismet.
Here's a non-recipe for shrimp that is so easy and pretty foolproof. Just another way to cook shrimp that will later be tossed into something else from shrimp salad to a veggie pasta, or served as a main dish with vegetable and perhaps couscous on the side. Try to find some wild Gulf shrimp for this. I'm still waiting to try the Marvesta. When I get some, I'll provide some ideas of what to do with the heads.
This recipe works for any amount of shrimp. I usually buy about a pound and a half for my family as the amount is much less once you peel the shrimp. Serve this with anything you like shrimp with - or even roast some broccoli right along with it (put the broccoli in first and add the shrimp after about 10 minutes). You can add whatever seasonings you like or none at all if you're using the shrimp in something else.
I use a half sheet or jelly roll pan lined with aluminum foil for this. Preheat oven to 400. Lightly coat the pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Toss the peeled and deveined shrimp with thinly sliced garlic, a little salt and pepper and spread out on the pan in a single layer. Roast for 5 - 10 minutes. You can check them after five minutes too see if the flesh has turned opaque with the telltale pinkish-orangey striations of a cooked shrimp. Feel free to leave out the garlic.