Five things we learned about sustainable seafood and natural wine from Terroir speakers Barton Seaver and Alice Feiring

Five things we learned about sustainable seafood and natural wine from Terroir speakers Barton Seaver and Alice Feiring

Each year, some of the food industry’s most influential minds descend upon Toronto to speak at the Terroir symposium, which takes place today. We had the chance to speak with three of the event’s speakers. On Friday, we brought you a Q&A with chef Ben Shewry. Today, we present five things each that we learned from talking to sustainable seafood champion Barton Seaver and natural wine advocate Alice Feiring.

Barton Seaver

National Geographic Society Fellow, chef and For Cod & Country cookbook author Barton Seaver is a champion of sustainable seafood practices. Aiming to restore our relationship with the natural world, Seaver tells us part of the solution is to approach the issue with a new attitude.

1. It’s not what we eat, but how much
“I know a trick,” Seaver tells us, “that would make any seafood you eat 50 per cent more sustainable. It’s guaranteed to work [for] any species, it doesn’t matter: cut your portion in half. Eat a lot more vegetables.”

2. Focus on fisheries as an economic system
This redirects the focus to how people are impacted by the oceans, turning sustainability into both an ecological and a humanitarian issue, driven by economics. In other words, instead of campaigning to “save the oceans,” consumers should invest their dollars in companies that are “doing things the right way,” creating a market by purchasing foods from educated, trustworthy retailers. “In the act of sustaining ourselves, we can sustain that which sustains us,” he says. “I’m not a big environmentalist—it’s a more human approach, especially when it applies to seafood.”

3. Go beyond mere “sustainability”
The concept of sustainability hints at preserving the status quo; Seaver challenges eaters to push for restorative, regenerative and progressive change for affected species as a way to bring fishers back to their proper place in the system. “We’re in a very good position to move forward, but not with the current lexicon that frames this dialogue.”

4. Traditional cultural practices have to be respected
“A legitimate cultural dish shouldn’t be banned. It’s the indiscriminate desire to have, for example, shark fin soup that’s the problem. The difficulty here is that there isn’t an obvious better solution other than a ban—it’s a desperate need to do something until we can figure out how to manage what’s going on.”

5. Sustainability can be part of everyday life
“Sustainable products are around us every day, wherever we shop. They are affordable, delicious and easy to cook. You don’t have to adopt any new ideologies in order to participate. It’s an acknowledgement of the better behaviours that you already practice.”

Alice Feiring

American journalist and author Alice Feiring is a well-known advocate for natural wines, i.e., wines produced with minimal chemical and technological interventions, from grape-growing to winemaking. The James Beard and Louis Roederer award winner is known for her controversial and critical approach to wine; when we spoke to Feiring, however, we were pleasantly surprised by her way of demystifying the subject.

1. Natural wines are easy to make
Unlike conventional wines, which require consistency in large lot productions and can contain over 200 approved additives, these wines are often produced by smaller winemakers who might at most add sulphur. “With a natural wine,” Feiring tells us, “you should be able to put your nose in it, sip it and tell the wine’s story: how the winemaker works in the vineyard and not in the cellar.”

2. Natural is the free range of the wine world
“Natural wines can sometimes be eccentric. They’re livelier. There are more immediate flavours—and I love drinking wines made by the person growing the grapes. It’s difficult for a commercial producer to make a wine that may not be to everyone’s taste. So in that way they might be ‘better’ than natural wine, but I’m not interested in the consistency.”

3. The number of natural producers is on the rise
Every year, the U.S. adds about 10 natural producers, while in Europe the growth has been exponential—and this will only continue as more people question the winemaking process. “Once there was a market for natural wines, it attracted more makers. It was like a renaissance of old-fashioned winemaking.”

4. Pretty much anyone can call their product “natural”
The term has no legal status, and consumers often confuse natural wine with purely organic products. “The problem is more that small boutique winemakers are passing themselves off as being [makers of] artisanal products. A lot of people who make small-batch products are creating an unnatural wine.”

5. Natural wines aren’t that hard to find
Consumers just need to look at a bottle’s back label to check that there are no additives and that the wine is coming from an area that specializes in natural wines (many of the wines from the Loire region might qualify). Go-to sources that list natural wine producers include, Return to Terroir and of course Feiring’s own blog, The Feiring Line.