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To say I’ve been feeling a little blue lately might the understatement of my year. So before leaving for Buffalo via LA last week, I decided to indulge in the meditative therapy that comes from cooking a feast for a non-threatening man-friend with a penis, and so I called up Dylan. Dylan’s an old friend; we met bartending during college, and since then, he’s always been “that” guy. The “I’m an asshole” guy. Everyone’s got a friend like him. He scoffs at the idea of political correctness, tells misogynistic jokes in front of his date, and mocks any and everyone engaged in any sort of earnest charitable enterprise, from canvassers for Greenpeace to volunteer tutors. He developed this shield of hostility during our Soho days slinging drinks to the overindulged – willing to say whatever is needed to get a rise out whoever he’s with, Dylan can be a real dick, but I like big personalities.
Nowadays, Dylan also happens to be a chef, and a pretty damn good one at that. The two of us still cook together every couple of months, and so of course, by now, he knows tons of different ways to push my buttons. Food being his favorite fodder, and he especially loves to mock my interest in eating green.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no bleeding-heart vegan. With the exception of an ill-advised six weeks as a vegetarian in high school, I’ve always been the sort of girl who eats everything; and I’ve rarely met a tender grilled pork-chop or lamb shank that I didn’t like. But, that’s not to say that I don’t have guidelines. Like any conscientious eater trying to fashion a respectable diet these days, my menu is guided by a handful of hard and fast rules: nothing raised in a cage, no industrial or ‘factory-farmed’ meat, seasonal always, organic when I can afford it, and local if I can find it.
For Dylan, of course, this means that whenever we go out, he orders whatever it is that he’s sure will get me going, and then follows it up with bold, irreverent pronouncements. Like last year, over hormone-free beef at Craft Steak: “I’ve had it with all this ‘grass-fed’ nonsense. I want well-fed cows that are fat and haven’t walked around too much, and so do my customers.” Usually, this leads to heated, though good-natured debates about ethics and food, that last well past the actual eating of the steak in question. Despite our differences of opinion, I always enjoy our little spars, since defending my views helps keep them sharp, and we always walk out of dinner friends.
Last week, I felt like a big dinner and a lively conversation with a class A dick was just the distraction I needed. After agreeing to join me, Dylan asked what I planned on making. I told him I wanted to do a whole fish, maybe a sea bass, since they’re at their peak of season this time of year. You can imagine my surprise at his reply: “What kind of bass,” he asked, “because Chilean sea bass are really unsustainable.” This from Dylan – the man who once boasted at a party that he’d eaten more endangered species than anyone in the room?
Now, anyone who makes the slightest effort at eco-friendly eating knows that eating fish, especially certain types of fish, can be unsustainable. However, that’s where the consensus ends. Beyond that point, debate rages. What species are okay to eat? How often? Is farmed better than wild or vice versa (my vote’s for wild, but who the fuck knows)? Are all the apocalyptic predictions about the collapse of fish stocks, the disappearance of wild salmon, true? Opinions differ so vastly that a simple trip to the fish monger sometimes seems overwhelming. It’s a debate in which I can’t claim any particular expertise. More than once have I found myself at dinner, puzzling over what to order as I try to remember whether it’s swordfish or red snapper that’s going the way of dinosaurs…P.S. it’s snapper.
When it comes down to it, as with everything else, I figure two rules still apply: the closer to home it comes from, and the smaller the scale on which it’s raised, the better it probably is. Which is why I can feel pretty good about the Hampton Bay Fishery I buy my seafood from at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. All of it is local, as the name suggests, and all of is caught off a single boat. I don’t need a comprehensive understanding of global fish stocks to feel that if everyone only ate fish from small-scale, local fisheries, we wouldn’t be casting our rods in the muddy waters we find ourselves in today.
On Indian summer afternoons, the warm ocean waters mean that lots of fish we think of as tropical, like mahi-mahi and porgy, can actually be found in the waves off Long Island, and purchased right here in Union Square, along with the normal cast of characters like hake, mako, and black (not Chilean!) sea bass. Black sea bass, even at their peak, are pretty small, so I scooped up two for Dylan and I and headed home to start cooking.
That night, like a good hostess, I waited until after they were served to tease Dylan about his newfound eco-conscience. Of course, he protested, claiming that it was only greed that motivated him; if delicious fish like Chilean sea bass go extinct, they’ll no longer be around for us to eat. “See?” he said, holding up a licked-clean fishbone, “I’m not willing to give that up. It’s pure greed.” And although this time I had the upper hand, my case of the blues had disappeared along with the fish and my righteous indignation. So I decided, just this once, to let him off the hook. Pun intended.