Time for Herring and Grits?
You may have noticed that Charleston was named a great city in yet another poll or tourist publication — in this case, it was the 2014 Travel and Leisure awards, which placed the South Carolina coastal city among the world’s 10 best cities, along with the likes of Kyoto, Istanbul and Barcelona. In part, a Travel and Leisure correspondent told CNN, the city won its spot because of its “mouthwatering culinary scene, where shrimp grits are just the beginning.”
So they got the name wrong, but the fact remains that South Carolina’s reputation in the world rests in part on a very specific dish: shrimp and grits.
But what’s the future of that dish?
Last week, NPR reported on some recent research showing that shrimping is among the most resource-intensive fisheries. At the other end of the scale are small, oily fish like herring, sardines and anchovies, which are cheap and efficient to catch.
“[T]o catch a metric ton (about 2,200 pounds) of sardines or anchovies, it takes about 5 gallons of fuel,” NPR reports. “In contrast, to get the same amount of lobster or shrimp, you’d burn an average of 2,100 to 2,600 gallons of fuel.”
In fact, according to NPR, shrimping is nearly as fuel-intensive as raising livestock.
I contacted the authors of one of the papers NPR cited, trying to find out whether South Carolina’s commercial shrimping industry is similar to other shrimp fisheries in how much fuel it uses. They couldn’t answer such a specific question, having pulled together data from all over the world; however, Rob Parker, of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, did point to some data gathered between 2006 and 2009 by a Miami doctoral candidate showing the Gulf shrimp fishery is among the country’s most fuel-intensive fisheries. They suggested I talk to some South Carolina shrimpers about their fuel usage — probably a project for another article.
Shrimp harvests in South Carolina have suffered over the past few years. The Department of Natural Resources delayed the start of shrimping season this year after a slow start to spawning, according to The Post and Courier — and despite the late start, the season hasn’t been very strong. A lack of rain has also contributed to a tough season for in-state shrimpers, according to WCSC. And that follows a very bad 2013 season, during which just over 1.3 million pounds were caught, according to the state Department of Natural Resources — well below average.
Shrimping also generates a lot of bycatch — species unintentionally caught by shrimp trawlers — relative to other fishing.
Shrimp farming can be pretty damaging to the environment, too, with massive Asian shrimp farms polluting mangrove swamps and coastal waters.
Taken together, all this information might be enough to make conscientious eaters choose small, oily fish slightly more of the time. (Oily fish are also insanely healthy, too, which should help their cause.)
Does that mean the end of shrimp and grits?
No — but for me, it does mean I should eat somewhat less shrimp and be more conscientious about the shrimp I do eat, seeking out shrimp that’s supporting the local economy.
Still, making that switch is a more difficult thing. Even though I’m only three generations removed from the Scandinavian immigrants in my family, I don’t exactly gravitate toward pickled herring, and I have to remind myself to periodically open a can of sardines. And I write this the day after eating a dim sum meal in Charlotte at which I consumed many, many shrimp inside of various dumplings and buns.
In any case, Charleston’s culinary legacy probably isn’t in any trouble. But maybe herring wouldn’t be so bad with grits now and then.
Get Some Jerk Chicken
April Blake reported online at free-times.com last week that there’s a new Caribbean restaurant open in Cayce: Skyaa’s Caribbean Restaurant, Bar and Grill held its grand opening Aug. 1. The restaurant is at 901 Holland Ave. Visit facebook.com/skyaascaribbean or call 569-6551 for more information.
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