Historical Curiosity Update: (Monday, May 2, 3:30 p.m.) This article was slated to be on the front page of today's New York Times until the death of Osama Bin Laden caused someone to -- literally! -- shout, "Stop the presses!"
And here I thought the problem with tilapia is that it tastes like nothing.
Well, make that two problems: It tastes like nothing, and restaurants mark it up like a bottle of supermarket wine. Though, really, if you order overpriced tilapia in a restaurant, that's your fault, not the fish's.
First, if you think tilapia is a cheaper way to get the fatty acids that make fish heart-healthy and, thus, doctor-recommended, think again:
Compared with other fish, farmed tilapia contains relatively small amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the fish oils that are the main reasons doctors recommend eating fish frequently.... Also, farmed tilapia contains a less healthful mix of fatty acids because the fish are fed corn and soy instead of lake plants and algae, the diet of wild tilapia.
OK, so it's not as nutritious as you think. But at least it's sustainable, right?
Let's take a little trip to Nicaragua.
...Dr. Salvador Montenegro, director of Nicaragua's Center for Aquatic Resource Investigation, has spent a decade fighting to close the much larger Nicanor tilapia farm in a remote corner of Lake Nicaragua. "This kind of intensive fish farming jeopardizes a lake that is a national treasure, already under stress from pollution," he said, once comparing its effect to allowing 3.7 million chickens to defecate in the water.
You really should read the entire article, which details the nascent effort to introduce better environmental protections to the tilapia-farming industry in Latin America and also goes into much greater depth about the health benefits (or relative lack thereof) of eating tilapia.
It should also be noted, as the article does, that while "fresh" tilapia comes to the United States mainly from aquatic farms in Latin America, the vast majority of tilapia that we eat is frozen fish from China. Indeed, in one of the article's most telling details, much of the tilapia available in stores near the fish farms in Nicaragua is frozen tilapia from China.
The article also contains the single most pointed quote about factory farming that I've ever read:
"Nature is for maintaining species; what we do is make fillets,"
Also, there is the nugget that scholars believe the fish in the story of Jesus feeding the multitude loaves and fishes was tilapia. I hope, for their sake, one of the multitude had some lemon-garlic butter handy.