This blog was materially edited on 8/14/2014 in response to a request by Bill Marden, a buyer involved with purchasing Seafood with Costco. His initial email to me stated that Costco does not engage in shipping wild or farm caught salmon to China for processing, despite information I found elsewhere on the internet. Tomorrow I look forward to speaking with him and a chance to find out more.
Today’s lunch special: Grilled salmon salad with mint dressing. Frank grilled salmon on Saturday night and I’m just finishing up the last pieces. This is a great summer salad with mint dressing drizzled over the fish. Unfortunately, the last few times I bought salmon at Costco, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. The salmon was not at its best despite being well within the sell by date. The flavor seemed off, with even more suspect texture. I started to poke around the internet and didn’t like what I read.
Last month the Los Angeles Times ran a story highlighting the bizarre travels of squid caught in California waters. “[Ninety percent] of the 230 million pounds of California squid (by far the state’s largest seafood harvest) are sent on a 12,000-mile round-trip journey to processing plants in Asia and then sent back across the Pacific.” Then I found a website for AquaStar, claiming that they sell to Costco. In virtually the same breath they state, “After the salmon are caught, they are shipped to our plant in China where they are graded for quality, de-boned, trimmed and packaged.”
I don’t like anything about this practice for many reasons, but the truth is that I made the mistake of believing the information found when I wrote about my less than excellent Costco salmon. It made sense to me that the lower cost of Costco wild caught salmon could be due to the same practices highlighted in the LA Times article, but I’ve been told by Bill Marden, a seafood buyer for Costco, that I am wrong. So now I will talk to the man tomorrow and will take advantage of an opportunity to find out more.
In the original blog I stated I would happily pay extra for domestically packaged and processed salmon. I know too much to buy food without considering issues ranging from its carbon imprint to food safety concerns. Despite what AquaStar claims, I don’t trust that they have all of that covered. I’ve heard more than a few mind numbing stories of questionable business practices from friends who conduct non-food related business in China. One friend described the business environment in China as the Wild West….err East.
A BANKRUPT MORAL COMPASS
When it comes to the food that I feed my family, I don’t have the stomach for this. I’m am increasingly determined not to eat anything that lands on Chinese soil if I can help it. China’s dismal record of lax food safety and rampant corruption poses too great a risk. What kind of bankrupt moral compass justifies contaminating pet food or adulterating infant formula for financial gain and profit? Even the exacting standards and systems in place at McDonald’s have failed to contain a “profit at any price” mentality this past month. (Currently reports claim that five employees of Shanghai Husi Food executed a scheme to relabel old meat distributed to hundreds of fast food restaurants and have been detained by authorities. Really, only five employees managed to pull this off? I can’t help but wonder what we are not being told.)
The scope and continuing trail of deception in the Chinese market place has exhausted my good will. I’m done, and I hope other consumers join me. Growers, ranchers, and fishermen, along with brokers and retailers, are learning that consumers are more and more willing to consider more than cost at the cash register. I was prepared to step away from buying wild caught salmon from Costco if there was any chance it could travel to my kitchen via China. Happily, it sounds like that is not the case. So now before I trust, I get to verify.
IT’S NOT ELITIST TO DESIRE GOOD AND SAFE FOOD
In the future we may all need to be prepared to pay more to eat better. In this brave new global marketplace, every consumer is faced with an uneasy decision: How much are we able or willing to spend on the quality of our food? It’s time for every one of us to do what we can to stand up to corporate interests that mostly know how to measure worth with the bottom line, and support those who know that we are all in this together.
If it is necessary I can eat less salmon, or maybe I’ll eat it less often. I’ll happily pay more to a trusted commercial salmon fisherman who sells his frozen fare at Santa Monica’s farmer’s market, and any other source who earns my respect. I want to buy from vendors who get that we are charged to be good stewards of the land and our oceans. I’m hoping Costco hits the mark.
Every one of us can make some effort to eat better, but each of us will need to determine what makes sense for our budget and our family. I’m likely to get crucified for what is often characterized as an elitist posture, but I’m digging into my public health roots as well. Those who can afford to make a bolder stance should. Then let the reverberations be felt through the entire food supply chain.
In this brave new world the consumer wins. We get to vote with our dollars. I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to find out how Costco navigates this global food supply, and what motivates them to do so. I look forward to asking Bill a few questions. If you have any you would like me to ask for you, let me know–and then stay tuned for part 2 of this story.