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Powell's Q&A

Taras Grescoe

Describe your latest project.
Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood is the story of the education of a seafood lover. I gave up meat in favor of seafood over 10 years ago, and Bottomfeeder is my attempt to figure out how to feed myself both ethically and healthily.

The timing is right. Just when omega-3-rich seafood is being recognized as one of the healthiest dietary choices a person can make, the news seems to be full of stories about mercury-laden tuna, shrimp contaminated with antibiotics, and collapsing fish stocks. In a world of endangered cod, pirate-caught Chilean sea bass, and sea-lice infested salmon, I wanted to figure out whether we could really continue to order the catch-of-the-day in good conscience.

Bottomfeeder is the story of my round-the-world quest for a truly decent meal. From fish and chip shops in London to the rotary-sushi bars of Tokyo, I traveled from the end of the seafood supply chain and back. It was a journey that saw me oyster hunting with a skipjack captain in Chesapeake Bay, grilling three-star Michelin chefs in Manhattan about their menu choices, and visiting a supermarket fish counter with a world-renowned ecologist. I sampled drunken shrimp in Shanghai, wild-caught salmon in British Columbia, and barbecued sardines in Portugal, along the way discovering how out-of-control pollution, unregulated fishing practises, and climate change are affecting the fish that end up on our plates.

More than a screed about the world's fisheries, though, Bottomfeeder is a balanced and practical guide to eating. I try to explain to readers which seafood is best for our environment and our bodies. Bottomfeeder is also an enjoyable look at the world's cuisines and an examination of the fishing and farming practises we need to know about in order to be better consumers of seafood.

  1. Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood "In this whirlwind, worldwide tour of fisheries, Grescoe whiplashes readers from ecological devastation to edible ecstasy and back again....Grescoe provides a helpful list of which fish to eat: 'no, never,' 'depends, sometimes' and 'absolutely, always.'" Publishers Weekly
  2. The Devil
    $7.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "Vivid and entertaining....Grescoe roams the world to tell the stories of various passions, most of them edible." New York Times Book Review

    "Wildly entertaining...when it comes to comestibles, Grescoe is fearless." National Geographic Adventure

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I'd like people to continue reading the work of William Warner. His Beautiful Swimmers won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. It's about the watermen of Chesapeake Bay, and is a lyrical homage to an almost vanished way of life.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish."
—Steven Wright

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I've made a lot. My latest involved taking a tram to the grave of James Joyce in Zurich, near the city zoo. They've set up a nice little statue of Joyce sitting on a bench smoking a cheroot. Elias Canetti's simple grave is right next to it.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
In a word: experience. I'm thinking of a beat-up pair of Ecco walking shoes that I bought last century. They aren't much to look at, but they've been around. They've had dog shit dumped on them in Delhi, trod across northern Spain on the pilgrimage to Santiago, and gotten scuffed up in Bolivian valleys. And they've never given me a blister.

On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
In my hometown of Montreal, I've lately taken up the only somewhat suicidal pursuit of winter cycling. A friend hooked me up with a rusty Peugeot and fitted it out with thin but knobby tires. I enjoy slipping and sliding across the newly fallen snow and weaving past the cars stuck behind snow-clearing equipment.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
None of the above. Instead, sea monkeys.

Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q:Name seven great seafood songs.

"C'mon Let's Spawn" —The Make-Up
"Saltfish" —Mighty Sparrow
"Saturday Night Fish Fry" —Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
"Fish in My Dish" —Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
"Dead Shrimp Blues" —Robert Johnson
"Wave of Mutilation" —The Pixies
"Talking Fishing Blues" —Woody Guthrie

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five Great Fish and Seafood Books:

North Atlantic Seafood by Alan Davidson

The Founding Fish by John McPhee

Consider the Oyster by M. F. K Fisher

Tsukiji: The Market at the Center of the World by Theodore Bestor

The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson

÷ ÷ ÷

Taras Grescoe is the author of The Devil's Picnic and Sacre Blues: An Unsentimental Journey through Quebec, which was shortlisted for the Writers' Trust Award and was a national bestseller in Canada. His work appears in major publications all over the U.S., the UK, and Canada, including the Times, National Geographic, Independent, Condé Nast Traveller (UK), National Geographic Traveler, and the New York Times. He lives in Montreal.


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