But I ordered the Dissostichus eleginoides!

One of the interesting side effects of cheap DNA sequencing technology has to do with your dinner plate. All your food comes to you with detailed identification in the form of DNA, but you didn’t have any way to read it. As that changes you’re going to have a much much better idea of what you’re eating and where it came from. That may be a little disconcerting.

Mammal and bird meat comes from carefully managed farms, but fish is the last remnant of Man the Hunter-Gatherer, Homo grab’n’eatum. This is slowly changing with the increase of aquafarming, but it still amazes me that so much of the world’s protein is sourced with such an ancient pre-agricultural technique, sticking it to the Tragic Commons on the unregulated high seas. The technology has improved over the years, but even so, we don’t come off looking very clever.

Recently Oceana, an ocean conservation group, issued a report called, wait for it, Bait and Switch. This report shows that much of the time the fish you are being served, even in fine restaurants, bears no relation to the fish you ordered. That red snapper? It might be any of a rogue’s gallery of bottom-of-the-boat rabble.

This report got a lot of press, and the outlook was generally gloomy: you’re being duped by the corrupt seafood industry. But I think this is great news. When you turn on the lights in your kitchen and see cockroaches, it’s disturbing. But those roaches have been dancing on your dishes every night. At least now you know about it! Now you can do something about it. Cheap DNA machines are turning on the light, and now we can start to do something about it. Soon you’ll carry a DNA Barcoder on your belt. Begone bogus Bass! Sayonara crappy Crappie!

And, oh by the way, what’s this D. melanogaster doing in my soup? I hope it was locally sourced.

3 thoughts on “But I ordered the Dissostichus eleginoides!”

  1. I like the heirarchy of Oceana’s misslabeled fish: the snapper may actually be Atlantic cod, which is, further down the menu, substituted by escolar. I’m guessing they can charge more for the snapper. I was at a restaurant in Hawaii that had Walu on the menu. When I asked, the waiter informed the table that Walu was the Hawaiian name for escolar and described the preparation of the dish. Having run into the issue of misslabeling before, I was struck by their candidness and ordered the Walu, even after explaining the possible health effects to my horrified wife and in-laws. We all know how to use Wikipedia, so I won’t include the link, but the possible health effects of escolar consumption are worth a read. ;-)

  2. It’s the Fugu that makes the dish: while the other ingredients induce a state similar to cholera, the neurotoxins make it all feel like a foggy dream.

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