I sat for a while yesterday for a conversation with Mark Kurlansky, the New York Times Bestselling author of Salt (2002) Cod (1997) The Big Oyster (2006) The Basque History of the World (1999) The Last Fish Tale (1999) All these books speak to Mark’s passion for salty air and what the influence this air means to world survival. For Mark, it seems that his life is filled with all things fishing.
His love for the ocean carries into his home. You can see it in the hand built fishing boat models crafted from wood that line the top of his arts and crafts designed bookshelf in his pre-war style- NYC office. You can hear it in his stories of sailors who toiled at sea and his childhood, far away from the ocean. To fiish out in the dark and mysterious oceans for the illusive inhabitants of the sea has become Mark’s mantra for this cautionary tale.
Mark’s workspace is filled with books of his travels and his trade. I immediately noticed his passion for literature and the visual metaphors that speak to his lifetime at sea or at least, near the water. A solidly built man, with a shock of white hair, Mark shakes my hand with the power of a person used to coiling hemp (read rough) ropes. I envisioned him hauling lobster pots from the deep and ice cold churning water without any assistance. His hair, wild, was a bit shorter than my own, yet he is not corporate in any way, shape or form.
His home is comfortable, dark and filled with his personal memories and dreams. I was amazed by all of his books, stacked high from floor to ceiling on the handsome, custom built arts and crafts-style bookshelves.
World Without Fish is written for children and adults. The book begins with the premise that it’s great that people enjoy eating fish. Entire countries were founded on feeding people through the richness and bounty of the sea. These countries sent sailing vessels further and further away from shore to find the fish. In recent times, certainly over the past several decades- there have been major changes afoot because of pollution, temperature changes, and reef destruction due to these destructive influences.
Mark’s book, World Without Fish, explains the decline of fish populations around the world as a direct result of human populations and overfishing.
Overfishing is just avoidable.
I held the brightly illustrated hardcover book in my hands. It’s a magnificent creation! The artwork, almost a cartoon type format, created by Frank Stockton grabs my attention immediately and holds it throughout my reading. Crisp, heavy paper carries the message and the photography that dots the page is a joy! The line spacing is what I also noticed immediately. For these- older eyes it’s rather pleasing to have double spaced lines. I don’t have to use such a bright light to read! Certainly this is a book for kids, but unlike any children’s book I ever read growing up. Mark writes in a style which is kid friendly, informative and fun. Which is not to say that the subject matter is trite, far from.
If we don’t teach our children to respect the ocean, how can we hope to save the ocean and its inhabitants for future generations? Here’s how you can teach your kids and yourself how to do it!
( The following list is from Mark’s publicist at Workman Publishing, Rebecca Carlisle.
Thank you for all your kind and helpful assistance Rebecca!)
1. You should eat fish, but only good fish, fish that were caught sustainably.
2. Where can you find sustainable fish?
3. Line-caught vs. net caught fish.
4. Why the fish we eat, including tuna, salmon, and cod, could become extinct within 50 years.
5. The impact of oil spills, pollution, and debris on the marine environment.
6. The history of fishing and how it became and industry.
7. Why farmed fish aren’t the answer.
8. The effects of overfishing and global warming.
9. How evolution could, and is already, reversing itself.
10. Why are jellyfish are the “cockroaches” of the sea?
But what can we do about it?
There are plenty of things we can do and after you finish Mark’s book, you may feel differently about ordering fish in a restaurant or buying it haphazardly in a store. Doesn’t it scare you that 90% of the large fish in the ocean have disappeared in the past 50 years? It scares me. Plenty. Mark’s book gives clear and thoughtful instructions on what we can do to save the few fish that we still have. And through this intervention or rescue if you will, the world will continue to have fish into the future. Of course with any cautionary tales there are consequences. And these aren’t pretty. Our seas have become oceans filled with death. Only jellyfish live there. A giant septic pond of decay filled with garbage from our throw-away society.
And through this decay the potential for our survival is very grim indeed.
From Mark’s book:
Most farmed fish we eat today are fed wild fish that are caught by massive net draggers the size of factories. These net draggers indiscriminately scoop up wild fish by the thousands and grind them into fish meal, which is then pressed into fish pellets to feed the fish back on the farm.
—Learn more from Mark Kurlansky’s WORLD WITHOUT FISH (April 18, 2011)
The Five Questions: Mark Kurlansky
1. Why Fish? What is it about fish that interests you?
I grew up as a Jewish kid from Hartford, Connecticut. True it was land-locked but that only stimulated my imagination of the sea. I was drawn from an early age to fish and fishing. I always wanted to work on commercial fishing vessels and did for a while. I summer in a town up on the Massachusetts coast famous for their “old salts” the rich history of their seafaring tales. Not too mention the plethora of great freshly caught and prepared seafood! Growing up I had the fantasy of being a biologist. The ecology of the sea was (and still is) a real draw for me. My books speak of this commitment to the sea.
2. Do you cook? If so, what is your favorite thing that you prepare? Who taught you how to cook?
I do cook, yes I love to cook. But what I love to cook most are desserts. They make me happy. I like to bake. In many ways baking brings me back to growing up. There was always food in our home. My mom, grandmom’s.. they all cooked.. There is only so much food you can eat on a daily basis. I love making specialty cakes. My grandmom’s and mom always had things baking in the house. There are only so many slices of cake you could eat. My dad was the grill guy. He was the king of his domain at the grill. But my true cooking lessons were taught by the women in my family. I love the foods of New England. Chowders, lobster, oysters. They remind me of when I worked on a commercial fishing boat. I love foods from Paris and lived there two different times. Some of my favorite foods are trout, caught in the wild (when we don’t release them immediately) and steak- eaten in Idaho. That’s about all you can get there. Steak or Trout. Simply prepared with passion. Like fly-fishing? Eating simply? Go to Idaho.
3. Is there anything that you have eaten that brought a tear to your eye when you had it? Why?
Well as far as a tear in my eye? No. But I love to have the good feeling that go along with making something wonderful in the kitchen. I’d rather make something that made me happy than one that made me sad.
4. If you could be anywhere in the world right now where would that be? What would you be eating/drinking once you got there?
I’d be in the Basque region of Spain eating Bacalao (Salt Cod) or in Jamaica eating ackee and saltfish or out in Idaho eating Trout, freshly sprung from the Snake River. You have to earn the fish’s trust to catch them.
5. What is in your refrigerator right now?
Ah… in my refrigerator right now? Nothing! This is New York City! No one keeps any food in their fridge. Oh, yes, I do have one thing in there. A hunk of cheese from the Basque region in Spain. That lasts forever.
Thank you Mark for taking part in the Five Questions. I also really enjoyed reading your book and I plan to do something about your talking points immediately!
Mark Kurlansky was born in Hartford, Connecticut. After receiving a BA in Theater from Butler University in 1970, and refusing to serve in the military, Kurlansky worked in New York as a playwright, having a number of off-off Broadway productions, and as a playwright-in-residence at Brooklyn College. He won the 1972 Earplay award for best radio play of the year.
He worked many other jobs including as a commercial fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef.
In the mid 1970s, unhappy with the direction New York theater was taking, he turned to journalism, an early interest–he had been an editor on his high school newspaper. From 1976 to 1991 he worked as a foreign correspondent for The International Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Based in Paris and then Mexico, he reported on Europe, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean.
His articles have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The International Herald Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Partisan Review, Harper’s, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Audubon Magazine, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Apetit and Parade.
In addition to numerous guest lectures at Columbia University School of Journalism, Yale University, Colby College, Grinnell College, the University of Dayton and various other schools, he has taught a two week creative writing class in Assisi, Italy, a one week intensive non-fiction workshop in Devon, England for the Arvon Foundation, and has guest lectured all over the world on history, writing, environmental issues, and other subjects. In Spring 2007 he was the Harman writer-in-residence at Baruch College teaching a fourteen week honors course titled “Journalism and the Literary Imagination.” His books have been translated into twenty-five languages and he often illustrates them himself.
He has had 19 books published including fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books
Among the awards he has received are:
2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonviolence
2007 Doctor of Letters, Butler University
2006 Bon Apetit Magazine’s Food Writer of the Year.
2001 Basque Hall of Fame
2001 Honorary ambassadorship from the Basque government
Cod received the 1999 James Beard Award for Food Writing and the 1999 Glenfiddich Award
The children’s book, The Cod’s Tale, received the Orbis Pictus award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
The children’s book, The Story of Salt, received the ALA Notable Book Award
A Continent of Islands and Cod both received The New York Public Library Best Books of the Year Award
Salt received the Pluma Plata award from the Bilbao Book Fair and was a finalist for the LA Times Science Writing Award and the James Beard food writing award.
1968 received the ALA Notable Book Award
Cod, Salt, 1968, and Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times Best Sellers and along with The Basque History of the World were international best sellers. But, of course, given that Sarah Palin’s tome is also a best seller, this seems a dubious laurel.
Falksalt from Sweden
I love professional samples. Joe Domanski from Falksalt (Foodworks) sent me a lovely free box of very special sea salts from Sweden. I love all things Swedish. Cameras, cars (I drive a Volvo) Ikea.. like a homing pigeon for my Volvo…come back to the Motherland… Distilled Spirits from Sweden, Chef Marcus Samuelsson… I like Sweden. Sort of reminds me of Maine. Similar topography. People. Vocal inflections. The train system. Thank you Joe for keeping me in salt for a good long time. I promise to create some interesting cocktails with your flavored salts. Did I say I got these as a gift? Just like to stay on the up and up.
Put me on a plane for Sweden. I want to go.
Falksalt is not your usual finishing salt. The flavors are not typical either. Citrus, Karl Johan (lightly smoked) Black Salt, Wild Garlic, Natural and Smoke, plus Rosemary, Chipotle, and Wild Mushroom. My favorite is the Citrus. It is crunchy in texture and alive with culinary possibilities. If flavor is your passion seek out these sea salts. They are called Crystal Flakes and for good reason. Light in texture, almost fluffy. They have a crunch and finish that goes on for days it seems.
Falksalt Citrus Salt for a perfectly roasted chicken.
Roast your chicken as you like, well rubbed with pepper and stuffed with whole garlic cloves. Let rest for 10 minutes, drizzle the pan juices over the top and sprinkle with Falksalt Citrus finishing salt. That’s it!
B&G Oyster/Boston- Photo: Warren Bobrow
Stockton Farmers Market Photo: Warren Bobrow
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Wild River Review/Wild Table editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ. A graduate of Emerson College in Boston- with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year of college as a research assistant in visual thinking. (CAVS @ MIT)
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