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Only food writers get salmon bellies in Alaska

Alaska Dispatch

We’re coming at this a little late, but if Alaska Dispatch had known about the Global Food Alaska 2011 conference and trade show was held in Soldotna, June 8 – 9, we would have written about it before the fact. Alas, we weren’t informed. Helene York, the director of strategic initiatives for Bon-Appetit Management Company, was invited. She blogged about it for both Bon-Appetit and The Atlantic.

Her role in the conference, she said, was to redefine "sustainability," a term that's been misused for profit, she argued. Which it has, by the industrial agricultural business. Not so much by those in the independent Alaska seafood business. In fact, what she found at the conference in Soldnotna was the following:

Most of the 200-plus attendees were small- and medium-size, husband-and-wife owners of food businesses—dairy farmers, commercial fishers, elk ranchers, scallop and oyster mariculturists, a barley farmer, even a tortilla-chip manufacturer who produces salmon wraps for public school lunches. Most were primary producers who aren’t yet creating 'value-added' products or distributing beyond very local channels.

Nothing unsustainable there. 

Where she did find blatant waste was in the fish processing plants, where she wrote as much as 10,000 pounds of perfectly edible "odds and ends" are thrown out daily. One company, who is presumably using some of the odds and ends (it’s not clear in the piece how, or if they’re selling them), treated her to tartare and salmon burgers from otherwise unusable salmon. She also ate “sockeye bellies, enjoyed like ribs and eaten with two hands.” Yum.

The fact that average, non-fishing, Alaskans, as well as those who don't write for a living, can’t get their hands on a crispy sockeye belly is perhaps one of the most perfect examples of a wasted economic opportunity in Alaska. Or something like that.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com