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Salmon: the OTHER red meat!

Salmon: the OTHER red meat!

Americans love hamburgers - no doubt about that. But another red meat is increasingly appearing on family plates, and it packs a nutritional punch like no other. Sometimes called a superfood, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon are bursting with those nutrients our doctors urge us to consume: heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids; high quality, body-building protein; an alphabet of important vitamins (A, B, C - and yes, rock-star vitamin D, which is absolutely essential to good health and is found in few other foods). And if that doesn’t get your wellness antenna aquiver, salmon is also steeped in minerals which we humans need to heal and regulate our bodies. 

Happily, in spite of being off-the-charts high in nutrients, salmon is low in calories. Conveniently, salmon doesn’t require peeling, shelling, mixing, plucking, slicing or dicing. It’s simple to fix, cooks quickly, and can be deliciously served with just a sprinkling of sea salt, a squeeze of lemon and a dab of butter. Wild-caught sockeye have a satisfyingly rich “salmony” flavor, and are adaptable to many cooking methods. Most salmon-eaters have a favorite recipe: perhaps pan-seared in butter, or baked with a crusty coating, or poached in white wine. Others enjoy experimenting, and love collecting seafood cookbooks and choosing a new variation each time. 

Salmon are deliciously satisfying to eat not only because they are so healthy for our bodies, but also because they are so healthy for the earth. Let’s take a deeper look, so to speak, at the world of salmon.

Nature-raised in pristine ocean and river waters, wild sockeye salmon require no human interventions at all. No land development, no fertilizing, no chemicals or additives; no plowing, no fences or chopping down trees. Unlike cows, chickens or pigs, wild salmon are not herded, caged, penned or confined. They just live the life that nature intended.

wild sockeye salmon Bristol Bay river

Six major river systems in the Bristol Bay, Alaska, watershed support millions of salmon that have been sustainably harvested, with few exceptions, for millennia. Today, Bristol Bay gives life to the largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the world, as well as to the people who create livelihoods from those teeming waters. Yet the area remains majestically pristine and healthily vibrant. An aerial view shows you a great fractal web of lakes and rivers interlacing the watershed, with not a city, factory, mine or dam interrupting the flow and majesty of those coursing waterways. 

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon

Alaska joined the United States late, years after forestry, farming, roads, industry and pollution had all taken their toll on the Lower 48 environment, and specifically on salmon habitat. Hydroelectric dams, in particular, had a disastrous impact on the survival of salmon. Alaskans were determined not to repeat those mistakes, and specifically wrote protections for the sustainability of resources into their Constitution. That is not to say that it is easy protecting this wonderland full of riches - which include, by the way, not only salmon, but also massive deposits of alluring gold, copper and molybdenum. But with history waving the warning signals, Alaska is determined to protect this bounty within its boundaries.

Protection, in many ways, simply means a dedicated absence of meddling. Nature has devised the most magical of recycling systems, and scientists continue to discover just how efficient and effective nature’s plan is. After salmon spawn in mid-summer throughout the rivers and tributaries of Bristol Bay, their millions of eggs hatch within two or three months, if not first eaten by predators. Hiding amid the gravel in branch-covered pools and under the ledges of banks, the tiny hatchlings feed off their attached yolk sac, and soon, on small insects, until they become fry. Then, having the ability to swim about, they migrate to a nearby lake for a year or two where food is more plentiful. They eat zooplankton, insects and tiny crustaceans. Of course, they are food, too, for larger fish, eagles and other predators. If they survive until about two years old, they navigate downriver and acknowledge their birthday by flashing the silvery colors of an adult and osmoregulating their body to adapt to the challenges of the salty sea.

In the ocean, they quickly grow larger and stronger, eating (or being eaten) - always an essential part of the food chain. After spending several years at sea, gaining ninety percent or more of their weight for the long journey back home, they join the migrating millions of salmon in masses. As spectacular a sight as it is, its significance is even more impressive when you consider the transport of nutrients back upstream. Salmon carcasses feed the entire ecosystem; their biomass is essential in sustaining the health of the whole Bristol Bay watershed, and beyond. Animals large and small, as well as humans, depend on salmon, a keystone species that is essential to the health and survival of our land and waters.

You can feel good when eating wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, knowing they are not only nourishing you and your family - they are nourishing one of the most productive, sustainable, marine ecosystems in the world.

And though we’d love to end on that feel-good note, we’d feel remiss if we didn’t share some facts with you about meat. After all, we did begin this article by saying that Americans love their hamburgers. 

  • Fact 1: Farms - those that raise beef, or raise the alfalfa that feeds those animals - “contribute more to global warming and to climate change than all the transportation in the world combined,” according to Sonia Faruqi, author of Project Animal Farm. Cattle farms result in polluted water, greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and degraded land and habitat. 
  • Fact 2: Agriculture in America accounts for a huge percentage of water usage in America (80% in California, for example, which continues to experience extended periods of drought). 
  • Fact 3: Animal agriculture — livestock and animal feed - is a significant driver of deforestation, according to Greenpeace USA, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions we’ve already mentioned.  

Those are sobering facts and statistics. But before they make you feel bad, there’s a solution! A wonderful, healthy, tasty, highly effective solution:  Substitute nature’s product - wild salmon -  for that pasture-raised beef burger for just one day per week! As simple (and delicious) as that sounds, if we all did that, many researchers figure that America’s water shortage problem in the West would be all-but-solved (not to mention many of our health problems)! 

Wild salmon has often been called the healthiest food on the planet. Now we can add, perhaps it’s the healthiest food for the planet. 

But before you buy any wild-caught sockeye salmon, be sure you know your fisher. That’s easy to do these days when you can order the highest-quality, hand-picked, sustainable, blast-frozen fish directly from the small fisher family that caught them like us, The Popsie Fish Company. 

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