Countless times I have been told that cooking healthy and sustainably is only for the wealthy,
that is too expensive to follow the sustainable life,
that people have family so how can they afford to eat well ?
Today’s recipe is not only yummy and full of goodness, it’s also zero waste and sustainable as well as being very very cheap (about €2.50 everything included for one very large portion or two smaller ones).
Ok, I am telling you in advance is not really suitable for the faint of heart and it’s not super quick
( it does require a little preparation).
Firstly, you will have to go find yourself a local fishmonger – ‘fishmonger?’ I hear you scream ‘but everyone knows that fish is expensive, how can this be a fish-based recipe?’.
Simple! We are using "scraps"
So, here goes the second task: ask them for some scrap parts. I got myself a nice fish head (full of meaty parts as well!) for a whole €0.50!!!
I added to it a couple of crab claws as they are very tasty, but see what takes your fancy. Some molluscs would make a nice addition.
Now, onto the preparation. To divide the meat from the bones I firstly gave the head a quick boil. It stayed intact, and took it out (keep the water though!!) and divided the good meat from the bones.
I kept the bones (more on this in a minute).
Then added the meat and other good parts from the head to the water, together with the crab claws, a can of peeled plum tomatoes, a shallot and a hint of chilli. Back on to cooking and it’s done!
With the bones that I previously kept – they are still full of goodness, so why not make some fish stock for later-on in the week? Just add water and boil for as long as you can (the longer the better but be wary of losing too much water) – then sieve the bones out and done! Freeze or refrigerate and you have some nutrient dense stock to add to your next meal!
As part of my series on the environmental impacts of sports, this month I chose to have a look at a ‘sport’ very close to my hearth. As a marine biologist this is not simply just a sport, but an essential component of my work.
Diving, in my opinion, can have both environmentally-friendly aspects but carry some risks for the environment that needs to be analysed in depth and discussed. As always I will try to provide some solutions and advice as well, to aid you make some informed choices!
Let's look at the positives first:
Firstly, when someone goes diving and immerse him/herself in the wonders of the blue water, he/she becomes aware of the magical hidden world that lives beneath the surface. This, perhaps, makes him/her more prone to taking protective actions towards it, and thus has great conservation potential...
Secondly, recreational diving can be used as a useful tool for 'citizen science' projects, such as temperature data collection or seagrass monitoring! So not only fun but useful...
But now... let's be a bit critical and look at the negative impacts of this sport on the environment:
For example, scuba diving 'mass tourism' brings excessive number of people to dive in delicate ecosystems. More often than not, these divers are not careful and do not follow sensible code of conduct (do not take, do not touch..), perhaps are not even made aware of the actions that they should and shouldn't take whilst in the water.
Another problem with this kind of tourism is that divers are often beginners, just taking their first open water experiences in the tropical destinations - nothing wrong with it per se, but with often limited 'buoyancy control' they risk damaging delicate ecosystems.
Also, boating to the destination can have an impact per se - boat presence, noise, fuel consumption.. can amount to a high carbon footprint if you ask me! Not to talk about equipment, often made out of not so environmentally friendly material...
So here a few simple rules and ideas to follow if you'd like to be a sustainable diver
We have all heard that plastic is damaging our environments, and that for a sustainable way of living we should reduce or even better stop using plastic produces, especially the disposable kind.. During the plastic challenge back in June, however, I have learned some hard truths, one of them being that it is actually very very very hard, if not impossible, to go completely plastic free! Even by having a reusable water bottle, reusable coffee cup, taking lunch into work and mostly shopping at markets or from local vendors instead of supermarket - some plastic items always ends up in my house.
I always do my best to recycle, however: how do you know your recycling actually gets recycled? (trusting the council? maybe we should but we all hear stories that instil some doubts).
The best way to ensure recycling is... DO IT YOURSELF! And doesn't have to be boring or ugly - somethings can be recycled into beautiful ideas..
So I will present you some of my latest Pinterest finds that I'd love to get started on, and invite you to do the same
Plastic bags baskets
You can find how-to here
Plastic bottles baskets
Instructions on the Frugal Crafter
Self-watering seeding pots
If the drawing isn't self-explanatory enough you can find this simple yet pretty useful idea on here
Now, these are just some of my plans for some diy recycling, especially since shortly I should be moving into a new apartment which will be in need of some decorations...
If you want to find more, pinterest is a great source of inspirations, for example if you have a garden/open space you can find ideas for bird feeders such as this one, or if you are feeling artsy and are good with these kind of DIY projects you can try out these pretty lotus flower candles. As I said, there is plenty out there for everyone, so go on and challenge yourself! And let me know how you get on!!! :D
Fighting seafood stocks collapse, helping mussel fisheries and getting rid of an invasive species : can we make good use of a nuisance?
Seafood, many of us love it, and we eat so much of it that the sustainability of including it in our diets is debatable. This is often because we are limited in what we currently eat, or know how to eat, which means many stocks of our favourite fishy foods are being depleted, and many are borderline to collapse with management strategies struggling to cope.
As I have already mentioned, eating seafood such as mussels can be sustainable and healthy. As I also mentioned, my current research investigates how to improve mussels cultivation on the seabed. One of the biggest problems and causes of mussel loss is predation on the mussels. Because of the natural way in which they are cultivated, they are subject of many natural pressures - and predation is one of them. Crabs are opportunistic species, and when small mussels are relayed on the seabed they aggregate and feed as much as they can - a little bit like going to an 'all you can eat' restaurant.
Now, the crabs I am talking about are not the crabs that we are used to see in the fishmarket or the crabs that are currently commonly eaten. These crabs are called green crabs, shore crabs or, in latin, Carcinus maenas and they happen to also be an invasive and nuisance species in the coasts of the US where they are greatly damaging habitats and decreasing biodiversity.
So - could we learn how to cook them and make good use of a nuisance species?
In Italy, for example, we eat a closely related species, Carcinus aestuarii, along the Adriatic. Fishermen harvest the crabs just before they molt, and these softshelled crabs, called Moeche, are placed in an egg mixture, then fried and eaten mostly as aperitivo - YUM!
On a really interesting website, called eattheinvaders,org (also amazing for recipes of other nuisance species, including herbs) there is
a recipe for soft shelled crabs:
2 soft-shell crabs per person
about 2 teaspoons of butter per crab, or enough to cover the bottom of the pan
Cleaning a softshell is easy, for in this condition it is far from being its usual belligerent self and can be handled with impunity. With a sharp knife remove the eyes and the stomach, which is the soft substance just below and behind the eyes. Make a slit along each side, fold back the top skin a bit, and remove the “devil’s fingers”—or gills—those spongy strips just under the back. Rinse the crab in cold water and the job is done.
Melt butter over medium heat in a pan equipped with a tight cover. Put in the crabs, cover, and sauté for about 10 minutes, shaking or turning them occasionally so they brown to an even golden color all over.
Soft-Shells should be served with French bread. Garnish the crab with lemon slices, parsley, and watercress.
And for the Moeche
As many soft-shell crabs as you can find
3 egg yolks
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
Wash the moleche, or softshell crabs, in salt water. Beat the egg yolks and place in a bowl with a pinch of salt and Parmesan cheese. Mix the crabs with egg, allowing them to rest in the bowl for a few minutes to absorb the yolk.
Dip the crabs in flour and fry in hot oil (375 degrees for approximately five minutes or until golden brown). Dry them on paper towels to absorb the grease. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.
From the same website, a comment from Mark Zanger says "I’ve hit only some big ones on the bay shore of lower Cape Cod, but find them so delicious they are worth picking from the shell. [...], I will stir-fry them black-bean sauce in the Cantonese manner.", and apparently chefs have been challenging themselves to try new recipes. Rich Vellante, executive chef of Legal Sea Foods in Boston, told the Boston Globe that green crab stock had a “pleasing ocean flavor.” He thought he could do something with it–and has started testing risotto and minestrone dishes.
So I am calling all "wanna-be-chefs" to try out new recipes with these nuisance, I for one will challenge myself to try out some new recipes and why not, maybe host a crab party (NIOZ people you are warned in advance now, put your cooking hats on!)
Moreover, eating these crabs cannot only be useful in terms of getting rid of an invader (where it is one) and reducing mussel losses, but could also create a new fishery - contributing to mussel farmers and other fishermen salary. I believe that if fished mindfully in the areas where it isn't an invader it could provide benefits to local fishing communities. So let's get cooking and spreading our recipes :)
And keep your eyes open for some of my own trials on the recipe page (when I actually find some time to do so) and if you want more info on my work feel free to contact me :)
Some interesting articles of crabs effect on mussel plots in the meantime (will add one of my own once it gets finally accepted....):
Capelle, J. J., Scheiberlich, G., Wijsman, J. W., & Smaal, A. C. (2016). The role of shore crabs and mussel density in mussel losses at a commercial intertidal mussel plot after seeding. Aquaculture International, 24(5), 1459-1472.
Calderwood, J., O'connor, N. E., & Roberts, D. (2015). Effects of baited crab pots on cultivated mussel (Mytilus edulis) survival rates. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 72(6), 1802-1810.
This is the first of a series of posts investigating environmental impacts of some of my favourite sports.
Why? Because I care about the environment and I want to make sure I minimise my footprint, but I also love being active and particularly being active outdoors so I want to ensure I don't impact my surroundings while I enjoy myself...
Let's start with a water sport - SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)
Where is it practiced?
Seas, Oceans, Lakes, Rivers - basically anywhere there is water!
What does it involve?
The name is pretty self explanatory - a board and a paddle. No engines or motorised parts, just human power or nature power when practiced on waves or rapids.
Potential sources of environmental impacts
- Disturbing nature
As always when we are out in nature, we need to remember that we are the intruders. Often when you are paddleboarding you will enter some very peaceful habitats and may encounter wildlife. Remember to keep your distance and observe from far away, try not to disturb birds or mammals by getting too close. A
Now, this is where some of these 'seemingly environmentally friendly' sports have some less-friendly impacts... SUP boards are often made from plastic materials which are very toxic in the making but can also leach out toxins (that act as endocrine disruptors with negative consequences for the aquatic life!), and include epoxy resins which are also full of toxic components..
Also where are these boards made? Often they are made with cheap labour from third world countries, with not only high environmental impacts but also negative effects for human welfare... really makes you think!
But.. what makes you think also makes you find some solutions:
Sustainable boards do exist
Sustainable materials include wooden boards, however make sure to choose sustainable woods such as bamboo! Technology is also advancing and new materials, such as cloth made from flax and bioresins are starting to become available, although maybe still too expensive (and it will reflect on the price of the board). If you are thinking of investing in your own board, think of going as environmentally friendly as possible, and why not go even community friendly and find a local shaper?
Inflatable boards are now also a thing, and while they are also very convenient for transport they are more environmentally friendly than their hardboard counterpart... so perhaps it could be an interim solution. And many surf school are now employing them, so you can always be eco friendly even if you are a beginner..
And talking of surf schools: if you live in South West England (or planning a holiday there), I recommend you to check out the 'Paddle Shack', Alana will coach you right from the beginning to get you up and going in no time! They offer a range of trips as well after you learnt the basics, which include a discovery trip (and Alana is a great marine biologist, which will introduce you to the marine life while guaranteeing it will be fully respected!) and also a SUP and SIP - tempted yet?? Go check them out on their Facebook page.
Some pics from the 'shack...'
Global warming has been defined as a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth's atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.
Climate change has been defined as a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.
It is easy to see that global warming and climate change, while referring to a similar cause (increased emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide production), are indeed two very different things. The former refers to an obvious increase, while the latter refers to a change.
Why is this duplicity a problem?
Global warming and climate change have been often used interchangeably, while we have seen that one refers to an actual increase in temperature while the other to changes. Global warming is often easier for people to understand, it is a simpler term, referring to an actual phenomena (a trend, the increase) compared to 'change' an unknown, and and this is in my opinion what has lead to the rise of 'climate change deniers' who follow the global warming definition while referring to changes in general.
Is the climate changing or warming?
In my opinion, there is no denying that atmospheric emissions are changing our planet, yet those living in certain regions which are seeing increases in the frequency of storms, snow, number of days with temperature below freezing, may find difficult to believe that the climate is warming...
What is happening? In very brief, the climate is warming, and the warmer atmosphere is leading to the melting of the ice in the polar caps. Still with me? After melting, the resulting water ends up in the ocean. 'But the ocean is full of water, what can some extra liquid change?' I hear you ask ?? The problem lies in the fact that melted ice is freshwater, which has a different density compared to seawater. Thus, this freshwater input is leading to changes in ocean waters movements alas currents.
Currents play an important climatic role, most of you in Europe may be aware of the role played by the Gulf Stream, bringing warm water from Mexico up to the shore of Western Europe, warming our regions. Studies are beginning to show that this current is slowing down, being weakened, meaning that in the North Atlantic regions this climate warming is actually bringing colder temperatures.
I am a firm believer in climate change, which as we have seen originates with global warming, so neither terms are bad or wrong. However, i am also a firm believer that sticking to the term climate change may be more useful for everyone to agree that it is something that is,indeed, happening and that we should definitely act upon to slow down or mitigate...
As I am writing this I am sitting in the ferry terminal in Bastia, on the other side of Corsica from Calvi, where I spent a fantastic week of ‘Summer school’ (yes, even when you pass the 25-years-old mark you still go to school…).
Firstly, what a fantastic place to learn. Placed in this idyllic settings we slept, ate and studied here, both in the classroom and in the laboratory. Did I mention the beautiful views we encountered in the walk to our sampling beach? And the fact that study breaks were swim breaks? And my morning trail runs… but that makes for another story...
Back to the point: What was the school about? We spent one week at STARESO learning about benthic ecosystems (= the seafloor), which are intrinsically very connected to the pelagic system (= the water column). For example primary production by plankton in the water column is both dependent upon the nutrients released by the seafloor and will also bring some of these nutrients back to the seafloor realm once it dies off.
So, as we can already see, ecosystem functioning is all in the fine balance. We need to further study these system to understand the balance, where are its tipping points? For example – some animals play a greater role compared to others in this exchange of nutrients, but we still know very little. And some of these same animals are disappearing quicker than others due to disturbances ( = human pressures!). And here the summer school comes in. The school was part of FaCE-it, a big project looking at the introduction of wind turbines over the scale of the whole of the North Sea.
Day 1 lesson 1: Scale is very important!
So how do you measure these impacts? Classic/older approaches tended to focus on changes in species richness, diversity… However it is hard to place impact potentials to these metrics – species are changing worldwide.. so what?
Lesson 2: Focusing on functioning is more important.
But what is functioning? How do you measure it? As I mentioned at the beginning, nutrient exchanges between water and seafloor are extremely important. Nitrogen, Carbon.. the balance between these essential nutrients is what keeps waters clean, fish healthy, seafloors stable etc.. Goes without saying that maintaining the right balance will maintain essential services such as the provision of food and the maintenance of tourism.
And here is where the summer school really did came in: we learnt many techniques to measure fluxes of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, metals and other nutrients from the water into the sediments. Learnt to see how species can contribute to these fluxes, from collection methods to laboratory to statistical analysis of such complicated data. We learnt how to use less-invasive methods such as cameras that can penetrate the sediment allowing us to gather quantitative data on the health of such sediments. Hey, we even learnt how to model fluxes of nutrients (O, C, N) in seagrass beds using complicated mathematics that were taught in an easy-to-understand way (perhaps the swim breaks to oxygenate the brain helped!).
I am now ready to take it all on board and use these new techniques in my future scientific explorations. So watch this space. And in the meantime, remember, everything is connected. So respect the ocean and the surrounding land (all of it, it will connect somehow). The planet is providing for us, but it all hangs in a delicate balance. Until we understand more, let’s try to do our best to keep it in balance and keep it as clean as possible, as nature made it…
Coffee.. chances are you are drinking a cup while reading this blog, while on a work break in attempt to wake up (it's mid week, it's hard I know!). The smell of coffee can be in itself a great incentive to get out of bed in the morning, and many of us (me included!) are 'coffee addicts'. Hey, I can't even put two words together in the right language before my first cup..
This addiction has helped the proliferation of many coffee chains and the culture of the takeaway coffee, and many of us are in the habit of grabbing a coffee on the way to work, or popping out of the office for one on our morning coffee breaks. Service station have coffee machines, making it easy to grab a coffee while we fuel up the car (we need fuel too, right?!).
But something unifies the coffee chains, the service stations, the little shops allowing us this 'coffee convenience': Disposable coffee cups! They seem innocent, 'it's just cardboard right?' - i hear you ask. Mistake. Coffee cups are NOT recyclable: to ensure they are waterproof the card is fused with polyethylene, that cannot be separated for recycling, moreover the cups are often not even made from recycled material - as the way they are designed means one thin seam of card inside the cup comes into contact with the hot drink, meaning that they have to be made from virgin paper pulp. Hum, think about that. New paper and not about to be recycled. Statistics say 10000 coffee cups gets used in 2 minutes just in the UK! JUST IN THE UK! IN 2 MINUTES! Try scale this to include other coffee addict countries (USA? Other Europe countries drinking take aways?!).
Saying this, I did came across a type of more sustainable cups at the Sea Shed Coffee & Surf: made entirely from plant materials and completely compostable. If you don't use a lid (plastic) you can be sustainable... So - it's possible! Perhaps a little more expensive, but who will pay for the environmental damages that we are doing?
Another, very simple solution, is to use a reusable cup. I am the proud owner of two reusable cups - one that fits in my car cup holder (for those fuel stops! and post surf/adventure warm up needs), and one bigger ones for my everyday needs. Added bonus - i can make my own 'take away' coffee at home saving some money as well!
The benefit of a reusable cup don't just stop at environmental benefit - some companies have incentives for you to bring your own cup so I am gonna give you two example of chains that have incentive scheme and what rewards you will get (valid in UK):
Starbucks: a discount of £0.25 on your drink when you bring your own mug. Which is advantageous. Plus my local starbucks also charges me for a tall (their smaller size, and discounts it) for use in my humongous mug. So a considerable saving overall...
Clements (in NI): double stamps on your loyalty card. You get a free coffee when you reach 10 stamps, if you get 2 stamps at a time... that's half price free coffee!
Other chains such as Costa, Pret-a-manger, Cafe Nero and Paul bakery may have similar schemes, although I am not aware of them as I have not tried to use them personally so I don't want to give wrongful information. But go in and ask, Question your chain of choice on their ethics and what are they doing to ensure they are being as sustainable as possible. If demands for unrecyclable coffee cups decreases, maybe their production will stop.
You have the power to make a difference, no matter how small you act.
So now go buy yourself a pretty reusable mug that will be your daily companion for years to come!
(I have one of the EcoCoffee cup and are amazing!)
I recently came across an article about 'seaganism' - a vegan diet with seafood allowed. Doesn't seem much different to the 'pescatarian' diet to me, which is a vegetarian diet which also allows seafood on top of dairy and eggs, so basically only restricting meat consumption. I don't get it.
I admit, or better confess, to have been a vegetarian for many years myself, with some flexibility whenever I returned home for short holidays, as my family found it too hard to comprehend, understand and even allow me, so had to close an eye. For various reasons, I have not been a vegetarian for a couple of years, and so I want to reassure all that this is not going to be a 'judgemental' post like many we see on the web nowadays. You eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs? So do I! However I am constantly trying to understand how to make this more sustainable. For example by eating less of all of the above, i.e. only one of them once a day, or have one or multiple vegan day a week.
But back to the seafood - why is this old-school concept that eating from the sea is so sustainable still alive? We know well by now (or should) that the sea does not provide us with unlimited resources. Yes, is vast and extremely deep, and there is still so much that we don't know about it - yet we are depleting many fish stocks and we are fishing down the food web.
And what about aquaculture? This is often considered a sustainable choices, farming fish so we don't deplete stocks.... but funny enough most don't realise that some fish feeds from aquaculture actually come from the meat industry, or we fish small fish (such as anchovies and sardines, which make for pretty great human food!) in quantities that are not as sustainable as many think! Not to talk about antibiotics, and the risk of farmed fish escaping and changing local gene pools, or even becoming invasive species.. There are all sort of ecological and environmental hazards associated with aquaculture.
But - as you know, the aim of this blog is to provide some solutions, not just reiterate the problems.
So here is how I try to be as sustainable as possible while eating seafood:
- shop local. Find a local fishmonger, or a fishmarket. If you are lucky enough to live by the sea, go directly to the fishing boat when they come in, you will buy what is local and in season and support the local economy.
- Go small scale. The smaller the boats the lower the damage in my opinion and the greater the chance to help some fishermen and their family instead of funding some big company.
- Variation is key. Try different fish, maybe some crustaceans, molluscs. Don't always eat the same things. Try something new, it's exciting to try out new recipes and new flavours, and you spread the
- eat less of it
- Get a whole fish, understand where your food comes from. Teach your kids. Take them to the market or to a fishing town/fishing harbour. I am a strong believer that the fish fingers culture and ready frozen fish fillets have taken us away from remembering where our food comes from, what our food is and was.
- use the scraps. If you buy whole fish, head and bones can make great fish stock that you can freeze and use for other recipes later!
- And moreover, buy only what you need, and realise that often less is more (this goes for everything...)
With the heatwave hitting Northern Europe and the UK this week, a post about boating couldn't go amiss. Who wouldn't love to be on a yacht in a nice bay in the sunshine as they are reading this?
But... do you know that you can have an environmental impact even if you have the most ecofriendly of sailing boats? Hope my sailing friends are reading this!
So you left the harbour, the winds were in your favour and you have sailed all day, no engine and you finally arrive at your chosen bay to spend the evening - you prepare to drop the anchor... and here lies the problem
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