Top Chef Barton Seaver Uses Fish to Communicate Sustainability
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
The Washington Post profiles Barton Seaver today, the chef who put 14th street's Saint X on the map foodwise and then helped launch the ultra-successful Hook in Georgetown. Seaver is now opening a fish market and restaurant around the corner from this blogger in Logan Circle, strategically proximate to the busiest Whole Foods in the country.
More importantly, the article discusses how Seaver views food as a way to engage Americans on issues of sustainability. It's one more example of a novel medium for environmental communication. Here's the quick summary on his approach with affirmations from Carl Safina:
So here's Seaver's idea: Change the lexicon of sustainability. Instead of talking about fish and science and dire statistics about oceans in peril, talk about people and what and how they eat. "If you begin to talk about fish not as a resource, but as a reality in our daily lives, it has a different effect," Seaver says. "So let's talk about oysters. Eating a farm-raised Chesapeake oyster supports generations of watermen and supports the most productive marine ecosystem in the world. When I eat a delicious oyster, it's one of the most ecologically friendly acts a person can take. That's the kind of environmentalism I can get behind."
That's not a huge leap from the tack that other advocates have taken; the attempt to connect people to where their food comes from is a common, almost conventional, approach. But built into Seaver's thinking is a subtle argument for compromise and common sense. The way he sees it, conservationists need to accept that everyone, from the commercial fisherman in Alaska to the family fisherman in Senegal, acts in his own economic interest. Acknowledging that sustainability is about people, not fish, is the first step toward finding solutions.
Seaver's approach is being embraced by environmentalists. "A lot of people, myself included, thought we could fix environmental problems by working on what people are hurting," said Carl Safina, president of the Blue Ocean Institute. "We could fix bluefin tuna if we got them to eat half as much. We could fix turtles if we protect the beaches. But a lot of this has to do with the various things that drive people. We have to involve people and solve the problems people have to save the sea turtles."
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