I haven’t seen a recipe for Maui’s dolphin in a while. Nor one for toheroa, for that matter, but there are plenty for tuna. Which raises a very important challenge, one posed in the British newspaper The Guardian last week by George Monbiot, that is as pertinent here as it is on the other side of the world – it is time food writers took the threat to our marine environment seriously and stopped producing instructions on how to prepare endangered species.
To be fair, New Zealand’s food writers are still struggling with the concept of species specific recipes, so the degree of abuse of threatened species in our food magazines, newspapers and cook books is rather limited when compared with the British offerings. There is, however, an influence from Europe in writing here, to the point where copycat food writers ferret through their limited knowledge of local species in an effort to reproduce the fashionable and fabulous from Europe’s stars of the media kitchen.
This is why a search through New Zealand’s largest recipe repertoires, at the new Food Hub and Cuisine Magazine, reveals no less than 14 recipes specifying stargazer, or monkfish as the reurophiles prefer to call it. Ugly little bugger, the stargazer, but it could easily be the emblem of our food writing fraternity in its fixed upward gaze to the ethereal realm of exotic culinary fame.
Trouble is this yearning for sophistication takes little note of the fact that monkfish, here and in Europe, is on the endangered list, along with most species of tuna and swordfish, for which there is also a fair number of recipes. In the case of the two I explored for this commentary, there were at least 60 recipes specifying species on the official endangered list.
Can you imagine the outcry if Cuisine, or the New Zealand Herald‘s Bite section ran a recipe for keruru, blue duck, or kiwi? Yet tuna seems to be fair ground for eating while stocks last, as does stargazer, striped marlin and sole.
And these are only the officially endangered species. There are also the numerous fish listed in Forest and Bird’s Fish Guide in the red sector of those best avoided. Just taking the bottom two on the list, those we are most strongly advised to avoid, snapper and orange roughy, there are no fewer than 113 recipes promoting precisely the activities that those best informed encourage us to reject as consumers.
There may be good reasons why food writers, in the flush of the most successful period in their short history, seem keen to avoid the huge issues confronting our natural environment and the very resources on which our survival depends. If so they should give those reasons the benefit of their public words – tell us why we should continue to harvest snapper as if there is no threat to our oceans from persistent abuse. Tell us why it is more important to eat prime tuna loin, as if the population of this magnificent creature were in rude health, than it is to treat its future with care and respect.
In spite of the publishing phenomenon that is the cook book, and the burgeoning of food culture, this great food producing nation still makes little effort to take food seriously. That is not a surprise when those benefitting most from the current fashion for cuisine seem to treat food so lightly themselves.
Talk about stargazers, peeping out from under their massive boulders of mediocrity in the hope of a glimpse of a (foreign) culinary tzar passing by.
The opinions of the writer are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.