Last week, the Harvard Gazette wrote about Harvard University Dining Services’ efforts to serve more sustainable seafood. The Gazette reported, “Students are seeing new species (swai, for example), as well as familiar offerings from more sustainable sources, such as Prince Edward Island mussels and shrimp caught in Maine waters.” While we appreciate efforts by HUDS to make its food more sustainable, the seafood served in our dining halls is far from as sustainable as it could be.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch releases recommendations for seafood sustainability based on fishing and farming practices that do not harm the environment. It rates all seafood under categories “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” or “Avoid.” These ratings are among the foremost extant seafood sourcing guidelines. Unfortunately, HUDS stated in the academic year 2011-2012 that 34 percent of the money it spent purchasing fish was spent on fish in the Monterey Bay category “avoid” zone, fish that “are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.” HUDS does not actively report these numbers or tell students whether the fish served in any particular dish are from the “avoid” category. An important first step for sustainability at HUDS would be more transparency about the food served in our dining halls: HUDS should take Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood guidelines into account and list information about the sourcing of their food on the ingredient labels of food served in dining halls.
However, we are convinced that if students knew that a significant proportion of the fish served by HUDS was unsustainable, they would demand that HUDS follow more sustainable practices. That so much of its seafood is bad for the environment should be a serious concern for HUDS. Although we as students do care about how our dining hall food tastes, it is certainly possible to prepare meals that are both tasty and sustainable. Food that is cheap but unsustainable is not worth long-term environmental damage.
Perhaps HUDS buys seafood from the “avoid” zone because it is less expensive than sustainable alternatives. If so, we would encourage HUDS to devote more of its budget to seafood so that it can purchase truly sustainable seafood, as it did for cage-free eggs. Otherwise, HUDS should simply serve less seafood: Our University dining halls should never be serving seafood whose sourcing damages the health of the environment and people.
Other universities across the country have set an important precedent for sustainable seafood sourcing. For example, the University of California, Berkeley was awarded a certification from the Marine Stewardship Council for its commitment to serving sustainable seafood in its dining halls. Harvard prides itself on sustainability, as evidenced by last week’s Gazette article. If HUDS wants to put this commitment to sustainable seafood into practice, however, it should publicly release information about the Monterey Bay ratings of the seafood it serves and only purchase fish that are sustainably sourced.