Working for Good, Clean, Fair Food for All - Slow Food Urban San Diego Convivium of Slow Food International

Sustainable Seafood and the Fight Against Fish Fraud

In March the San Diego food community took time to raise awareness about a subject near and dear to the hearts of many San Diegans, the sustainability of our oceans. Events like the Sustainable Seafood Gala and Sustainable Seafood Week create awareness and promote sustainable fishing practices to chefs, distributors, seafood lovers and fisherman alike. However the issue extends beyond the task of learning to make smarter choices about what we pull from our oceans. A recent study conducted by Oceana brought to light widespread fraud in the mislabeling of seafood in restaurants, supermarkets and distributors. One local restaurant Harney Sushi is taking a stand against just this issue and has been working closely with NOAA and Scripps Institute of Oceanography to develop new standards in sustainability. Recently Harney Sushi in Oceanside invited students from The Ocean Discovery Institute for a Q&A with Executive Sushi Chef Robert Ruiz.

Chef Ruiz took students on a tour of the restaurant and fielded questions about efforts being made to help ensure sustainable seafood practices at Harney Sushi. Chef Ruiz explained how at Harney all fish are purchased whole and inspected by him personally so he can confirm the type of fish received is indeed what they purchased. He also explained to the students how to test for fish freshness by inspecting the body appearance, clarity of the eyes, smell and feel of the fish received.

He also discussed the restaurants innovative new QR code program. When plating sushi each fish is labeled with a QR code printed on edible rice paper. This code can be scanned by diners and will provide information about the sustainability of the fish being consumed.

At the conclusion of the event students left with samples of fish being served at Harney that day. The samples will be taken back to the Ocean Discovery lab and tested by the students in order to confirm the DNA of the fish is accurate.

Programs such as Ocean Discovery not only provide valuable education for our community’s youth but as demonstrated by this event play an important role in furthering San Diego’s efforts to promote sustainable seafood practices protecting both consumers and our precious oceans.


A Depression-Era Reflection of the San Diego Fishing Industry

In observation of the upcoming Sustainable Seafood Week, how about a little (art) history lesson? This is the story of a recently discovered mural depicting the San Diego fishing industry of the 1930s.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal agency developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the US Congress to give employment to the many Americans who were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. Known as one of the largest job-creation programs in the history of the US, the WPA commissioned millions of Americans–many unskilled laborers, but also musicians, writers, actors, directors, and artists–to carry out projects designed to help pull the country out of economic decline. Bridges, parks, and schools were built, and numerous literary, musical, and arts projects were developed.

As part of the WPA, the Federal Art Project (FAP) employed hundreds of artists who created in total more than 100,000 paintings and murals, as well as more than 18,000 sculptures. You may have heard of some of the artists that were employed by this project: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Stuart Davis, and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. And you may have seen some of the great murals that have resulted from these WPA efforts, as many have been preserved in post offices, courthouses, and schools across the nation. Typically, the murals tell us a great deal about society during the Great Depression, because Social Realism was the popular style at the time. Depicted are everyday scenes of the working class and the poor as critical commentaries about the institutions that perpetuate their plights.

Many FAP projects were commissioned right here in San Diego, and some excellent murals have been preserved throughout the county, such as the “Progress of Man” at the Balboa Park Club, “The Transportation of the Mail” at the downtown post office, and the “Scenic View of the Village” at the La Jolla Post Office.

Several murals were also commissioned for the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus for the iconic Hardy Tower. Surprisingly, these murals, assumed to be destroyed long ago when Hardy Tower was renovated in the 1950s, were only recently rediscovered during ceiling repairs. Seth Mallios, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at SDSU, has worked extensively on efforts to document, recover, restore, and preserve these important aspects of San Diego and SDSU history.

One mural at SDSU has been of particular interest. The 25-foot long “San Diego Industry” was completed in 1936 by SDSU student George Sorenson, and provides an excellent snapshot of the tuna fish industry in San Diego at the time. This restored mural, and others, are now displayed prominently in the SDSU Library Dome, and this video provides an excellent full view of the mural along with an informative discussion by Mallios.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Each step of the industry is depicted in the mural, though not all of it has survived the years of neglect. On the left-hand side of the mural we see men fishing, weighing the fish, and then gutting them. In the middle we see women in assembly lines, and to the far right, Asian men are working in front of bins of cylindrical cans. Mallios assumes that Sorenson used as his model for the mural the Van Camp Seafood Company, which had the first commercial tuna canneries, one of which was located in San Diego.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry" featuring Asian men separated from other workers

One interesting aspect of “San Diego Industry” is that it features the diversity of people who worked in the tuna fish industry at the time: men and women, Asians, and African Americans; though, as Mallios observes, not everyone worked side-by-side. Sorenson’s placement of figures within the scene says a lot about American society in the 1930s.