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Whole Foods Market Adds Sustainable Seafood Rating System With Monterey Bay Aquarium

As you all well know, Tasting Las Vegas is usually not in the business of regurgitating press releases, but when one comes to my inbox that tickles my fancy and is of great importance, I’ll certainly shoot it right out to you.  This is great news that Whole Foods Market (The Official Grocery Store and hopefully-someday-sponsor of Tasting Las Vegas *cough cough*) has joined forces with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute to not only empower their customers with knowledge of our environment, but also commit to eliminating the sale of endangered species in its entirety by Earth Day of 2013. And while Whole Foods is providing a great service, of course the best way is to empower yourself while you are at the grocery store or fish market of your choice.  You can download and print the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide based off what part of the U.S. you’ll be eating in, or if you’re headed to RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay anytime soon, they have a stack of the Seafood Watch cards near the downstairs hostess stand.

You can follow Whole Foods (national) on Twitter at @WholeFoods
You can follow
Whole Foods (Las Vegas) on Twitter at @WFMLasVegas
You can follow
Whole Foods (Town Square) on Twitter at @WFMLVB
You can follow
Whole Foods (The District at GVR) on Twitter at @WFMHenderson
You can follow
Monterey Bay Aquarium on Twitter at @MontereyAq
You can follow
MBA’s Seafood Watch on Twitter at @SeafoodWatch

Good Groceries Sold Here (photo:

Good Groceries Sold Here (photo:


Without further adieu, here is the full press release from Whole Foods Market:

AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 13, 2010) – Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI) today launches the first in-store color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood and commits to phasing out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013.

Partnering with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive, science-based sustainability rating system for wild-caught seafood. The system’s green, yellow and red ratings make it easy for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case.  Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or “good alternative” ratings mean some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods; and red or “avoid” ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The new initiative expands upon the sustainable seafood program that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 1999, and the new ratings apply only to non-MSC-certified fish.

“At the end of the day, it’s a team effort. Our customers, buyers, fishermen and fishery managers can all make smart decisions that move us in the direction of greater seafood sustainability,” said Carrie Brownstein, Whole Foods Market seafood quality standards coordinator. “The new color-coded rating system is a transparent way to provide sustainability status information. This new program, along with our promise to phase out red-rated species, deepens our commitment to having fully sustainable seafood departments.”

With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reporting that 80 percent of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted, Whole Foods Market’s is combining the passion of its customers, the commitment of its skilled seafood buyers, and the dedication of its many seafood suppliers to help reverse this trend.

“We’re delighted to help Whole Foods Market expand its commitment to offering seafood from sustainable sources,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who oversees its Seafood Watch program, “Whole Foods Market is a leader in the field, and its decision will have a real impact on seafood suppliers and other retailers. Its in-store education and commitment to phase out red-rated seafood will help raise awareness and improve fishing practices around the world.”

“Blue Ocean Institute applauds Whole Foods Market’s continued commitment to consumer education. Our rankings represent authoritative science that examines the key factors affecting the health of ocean populations,” said Dr. Carl Safina, MacArthur Fellow and founder of Blue Ocean Institute. “The rankings on the Whole Foods Market signs reflect the efforts of seafood science experts. Each also represents information consumers can understand and trust. This partnership will give seafood lovers the tools they need, where they need them—at the seafood counter—to make informed choices on behalf of ocean-friendly seafood.”

Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium are both highly respected for the strength of their science-based seafood programs, which evaluate species and fisheries on life history, abundance, habitat impacts, management practices and bycatch. Both organizations provide customers with information on the sustainability status of fisheries that are not certified by the MSC. Whole Foods Market continues its ongoing partnership with the MSC, the world’s leading certification body for sustainable wild-caught seafood. It uses a multi-stakeholder, international market-based approach to provide incentives for fisheries to address key issues such as overfishing and bycatch. The blue MSC ecolabel identifies wild-caught seafood products that are MSC-certified.

Whole Foods Market previously stopped selling especially vulnerable red-rated species such as non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks, and marlins (with the exception of Hawaii-caught blue marlin, sold only in Hawaii stores). All swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries will be eliminated from seafood counters by Earth Day 2011. By Earth Day 2012, all other seafood from red-rated fisheries will be discontinued with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will be sold through Earth Day 2013.

The company’s new wild-caught seafood rating program and partnerships will complement its existing farmed seafood standards, which remain the highest in the industry. Whole Foods Market requires third-party audits and traceability from hatchery to market, and they prohibit use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives like sulfites and phosphates, genetically-modified seafood and land animal by-products in feed. Farmed seafood at Whole Foods Market carries the “Responsibly Farmed” logo to indicate that it meets these high standards.

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Vote! Not just for me, but for the health of our oceans!  You can vote once everyday from now through 09/30/10! Thanks!

Vote! Not just for me, but for the health of our oceans! You can vote once everyday from now through 09/30/10! Thanks!

Mario Batali's Carnevino Hosts Screening of The End of the Line

One day, Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability (that sounds like a fun gig) of B & B Hospitality Group went to her boss, Mario Batali, with a DVD and said, “You’ve got to check this out.”  The boss popped some popcorn, kicked off his Crocs (yes, I will make a Crocs reference in every post I write involving Batali and/or one of his restaurants), watched the movie and said, “My staff needs to see this.”  The movie was the mind-blowing documentary The End of the Line.

The End of the Line

The End of the Line

The End of the Line, written by British journalist, Charles Clover, and directed by Rupert Murray is a documentary about the devastating effects of global over-fishing.  It is estimated that since records began to be kept in 1952, nearly 90% of the world’s fish population is gone due to over-fishing.  Tasty fishies such as the Bluefin Tuna or Black Cod are on the brink of extinction because we can’t stop eating them, so fishermen can’t stop fishing for them.

The statistics in this film are simply jaw-dropping.  There is enough fishing line from commercial boats in the water right now that if you tied it all from end to end, it could circle the globe 550 times over!  The biggest trawling net being used by a commercial fisherman right now could cover 13 747 jumbo-jets!

Screening of The End of the Line at Carnevino

Screening of The End of the Line at Carnevino

What may be the worst number in the film, however, is 2048.  2048 is the year scientists predict the world’s oceans will no longer have any of the fish we eat today if we don’t drastically change our fishing practices and consumer habits.  That’s not just a species like Big Eye Tuna, Wild Salmon or Chilean Sea Bass…that’s ALL of them!

There needs to be reform on so many different levels, political is certainly one of them.  The film covers the failures of the European Union’s Environmental Ministers.  Scientists say to sustainably fish Bluefin Tuna in the Mediterranean Sea, they need to keep the fishing to 15,000 tons of tuna, 10,000 tons if they want a recovery of the species.  The E.U. Ministers however have set limits on fishermen at nearly double the recommended allowance at 29,500 tons!  If that’s not bad enough, the fishing is so poorly regulated and enforced that it is estimated fishermen take nearly 61,000 tons, or nearly 1/3 of the entire Bluefin Tuna population!

Marine Stewardship Council Logo

Marine Stewardship Council Logo

The film covers what steps we as consumers can take to do our part. One of which is to become educated on what species are endangered and know to make our vote of an alternative choice when at a restaurant or grocery store. You can visit a website such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and print out one of their handy Pocket Guides and bring it with you to the restaurant or store that you’re going to.  Also, if you see the blue logo shown above at the grocery store, you know that product has been deemed a Certified Sustainable Seafood by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Santa Monica Seafood's Paddy Glennon and Carnevino's Chef Zach Allen

Santa Monica Seafood's Paddy Glennon and Carnevino's Chef Zach Allen

Co-sponsor of the screening events, Santa Monica Seafood was on hand and the ever-exuberant Paddy Glennon, V.P. of Sales for Santa Monica Seafood, talked to the audience following the film.  An adamant environmentalist, Paddy passionately spoke of ways the audience packed with local industry pros can help the cause.  Educating the consumer through their menus and taking agreeably delicious, yet collapsing species of seafood off their menus are just two simple ways restaurants can have a significant impact.  Just imagine a restaurant that does thousands of covers per week that educates their customer on where the food that is on their plate came from, and how each of those customers goes back to their homes and tells their family, friends and co-workers stories of what they learned (in between the stories of flirtatious strippers and hour-long rolls at the craps tables, of course).  Awareness is the first step to a better tomorrow.

Hopefully you can see why Chef Batali found it so important to hold screenings for all of his staff to see.  The private dining room in his Carnevino restaurant at the Palazzo resort was the chosen viewing spot for his Las Vegas contingent of eateries.  Many thanks to Chef Batali and Carnevino’s executive chef, Zach Allen, for bringing this important film and message to the attention of their employees and culinary colleagues.  I can’t encourage you enough to take the time to see this very important film for yourself.  Here’s to eating well and eating responsibly!

To find out more about The End of the Line, visit their website at:

You can follow The End of the Line on Twitter at @TheEndoftheLine

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Molto Vegas Farmer's Market Offers Pride, Variety and Quality

“I’m not gonna put horseshit on my product and then sell it to you to eat.”

That brilliant statement by Jim King, owner of King Ranch in White Hills, AZ pretty much sums up why I have quickly come to love the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market so dearly.

While Jim was speaking in a more literal tone, as he was referring to his policy to not use animal manure as fertilizer on his ranch, his statement can certainly be used in the figurative sense to get at the heart of what makes the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market and other Farmer’s Markets like it so important: you will get food the way food was meant to be; without chemical treatments, genetic modifications and hormonal enhancements.

Small but strong, the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is tucked away in what appears to be an industrial storage facility for Mario Batali’s restaurant’s knick knacks.  Odd for this boy born and raised in the Northeast to see a Farmer’s Market indoors, it makes perfect sense as the blistering, herb-wilting Vegas heat is just around the corner.

Keeping in mind this is the end of January, what fresh produce there actually is at this time of year was indeed fresh and bountiful.  From the largest display in the market by Kerry Clasby and California Family Farms of Westlake Village, CA to the more intimate selection of the handful of items by Kerr Farms in Sandy Valley, NV, there was an extraordinary variety of products and personalities at this Farmer’s Market.

The most local of the local growers of the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market (near the corner of Warm Springs and Dean Martin) location was Gilcrease Orchards.  Located in the far northern end of the Las Vegas Valley, the 68-acre local orchard brought some of their delicious Apple Cider and Pecans, as obviously we’re still a few months away from the bulk of their fresh fruit offerings.

Boulder City, NV was well represented with Herbs by Diane and Colorado River Coffee RoastersDiane Greene has been growing herbs and practicing organic growing methods for the last 30 years. Diane introduced me to something I haven’t had before, Sunflower Sprouts, and I can tell you, they make quite a flavorful, nutritious addition to any salad.

Colorado River Coffee Roasters know their beans. Whether the beans are from Sumatra, Ethiopia or Guatemala, Colorado River Coffee Roasters micro-roast the beans to the point of “caramelization and not carbonization” so the discerning taster can truly experience the subtle difference between each region. He is a true master at the art of all that is coffee and is a wealth of information eager to share with inquisitive listeners.

Coming from what the pictures he showed me was one of the more beautiful places on Earth, was Brian Brown with China Ranch Date Farm in Tecopa, CA.  For a guy who thought dates came off the tree wrapped in bacon and stuffed with almonds, I was amazed at the variety of dates presented with origins from Iraq to Algeria, but now grow abundantly on the grounds of the magnificent China Ranch.

It’s all about the Pistachios at O.U. Nuts in Pahrump, NV.  Winner of the most adorable person at the market, Meili Ou proudly presented her pistachios with partner (not quite as adorable, but just as proud) Ron Thaxton.  Showing the shakers that harvest the tasty nuts, Meili used just about every English word she knows to talk about her family farm and the quality of the product that comes out of it.

The reason why I can’t wait to eventually add a podcast to our little Tasting Las Vegas venture is the chance to interview people like Jim King of King Ranch in White Hills, AZ.  Hilarious, direct and full of pride, Jim loves what he does and he certainly isn’t quiet about it.  I’d be hard-pressed to find another person who would as emphatically boast about his radishes as he does, but with the care, time and dedication he puts forth, he more than deserves it.

While the market was diverse in what it offered, both in produce and personality, many recurring themes were present.  One of which is the concerning cost and red tape a farm has to go through to become U.S.D.A. Certified Organic.  I asked many of the vendors that claimed “organically grown” if they were actually certified, and universally their look of pride turned into a look of frustration and disgust.

Across the board, the sentiments of attaining the U.S.D.A. Certification was labeled as a massive pain in the ass that isn’t worth it.  Where some of the bigger outfits have the people and resources to jump through the government’s hoops, the smaller guys get buried in paperwork and costs. I was encouraged by everyone, however, (just as you would be, too) to visit their farms and ranches to witness the “organic” process which they believe in and adhere to.  I’m certainly going to take each and every one of these fine people up on their offer, as it is important to myself and the Las Vegas community to do whatever I can to present the great things these people are doing to our growing Tasting Las Vegas audience.

Fortunately, getting the fancy Organic Stamp from Uncle Sam is no big deal to them, because the chefs they sell their products wholesale to know better. One of the primary purposes of the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is for Las Vegas’ top culinary industry professionals to meet what Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich already know as world-class quality producers of produce.  Shawn McClain of his new Sage restaurant at the Aria resort was reportedly there scoping the scene out before I arrived.  The fact is, these pros know better.  They don’t need a government stamp to see the remarkable quality these dedicated farmers and foragers have to offer.

This leads me to another point about the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market.  It gives us kitchen hacks at least a snowball’s chance to be on par with the masters.  We might not be able to cut the food like they do, or pan-sear the food like they do, but this Farmer’s Market allows us to buy the radishes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic and chervil they do.  Even Truffle Dealer to the Stars, Mikuni Wild Harvest had a table at this Farmer’s Market!  Sure, we might scorch our risotto unlike a Batali, but we can still put a couple hundred dollars worth of the same White Truffle on top just like Mario can!

The most important common thread in this market is a word that has already come up several times in this post; pride.  I can only dream to have as much pride and love for my job like these people do.  Whether it is Mark from Gilcrease Orchards or Diane from Herbs by Diane talking about the compost they use, or whether it is Brian from China Ranch telling you about the subtleties between Halaway and Khadrawy Dates, or Jim from King Ranch telling you about hoeing the weeds rather than using chemical poisons, there is an unmatched pride in what each of these champions of quality health share with us.

I can not stress enough the importance of supporting this market and the people who are a part of it.  Enough is enough with big corporate food factories (yeah, I’m talking to you Monsanto and ConAgra) stuffing genetically modified, chemically packed food mutations down our gullets.  Supporting our local, sustainable and organic farmers will make us as a community grow stronger and healthier.  From a town of strippers, gamblers, Elvis impersonators and other social misfits (musicians), we can and will come together as a community bound by cultural awareness.  Supporting our local talent is just the first step.

A big round of applause to Chef Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich for using the pedestal of their celebrity to shine a light on the hard-working little guys out there that not only make them look good, but promote a healthier, higher-quality way of living. Bravo! Now if we could only do something about those Orange Crocs….

The Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is open every Thursday from 10:00am-  11:00am for an Industry Preview (although I was told everyone is let in, shh!) and then for the Public from 11:00am – 1:00pm.  Address is 7485 Dean Martin Dr. Suite #106, Las Vegas, NV  89139.


Websites of Participating Vendors (January 28, 2010)

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

Book Review: Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

Hot off the heels of his two groundbreaking, some might say Earth-shattering books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto comes Michael Pollan’s newest guide to good eating, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

In Food Rules, Pollan continues his quest to educate Americans about the dangerous pitfalls of a Western diet, full of highly processed, chemically and hormonally enhanced “edible foodlike substances.”  Through 64 short, yet profound “rules,” Pollan navigates us around these pitfalls and leads us to a land of eating healthier, tastier whole foods.

To gather these 64 rules, Pollan drew upon his years of dedicated research and interviews with renowned doctors, scientists and nutritionists.  He also took the advice of grandmothers from around the globe, which is quite often much more reliable than the admittedly young and growing field of Nutritional Science.

Broken up into three sections; What should I eat? (Eat food.), What kind of food should I eat? (Mostly plants.) and How should I eat? (Not too much.), Food Rules offers a fairly comprehensive guide to how we should approach what we put in our mouths. Here’s a few examples of Pollan’s pithy wisdom:

  • #2 – Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • #13 – Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • #19 – If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
  • #57 – Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
  • #60 – Treat treats as treats.

This book is an important read for those of us here in Las Vegas; the land of over-indulgence.  I personally have struggled a great deal from a lifetime of eating exactly how this book tells you not to eat.  As I make this transition in my own life, this blog will highlight the triumphs and the fails of the process to a better, healthier life.  Not only eating healthier, but eating more ethically responsible.  Even though Las Vegas is inherently one of the most unsustainable places in the world, the locally grown, organic, sustainable food movement is alive and well here from both Las Vegas Strip celebrity chef’s such as Mario Batali or Rick Moonen as well as Off The Strip gems like Chef Rex George’s Chef’s Palate or Chef Jean-David Groff-Daudet’s Garfield’s Restaurant.  It is my own, as well as Tasting Las Vegas’ pledge to bring this world of better eating to you.

Getting back to the subject at hand, Food Rules comes in at a lean 140 pages, although it really isn’t even that, and I really can’t imagine a better way to spend $11 than to buy this book.  It’s a quick read that can literally change your life, all for the better.  If you have ever said something like; “I don’t remember, is water good for you or bad for you anymore?”, then Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual is the book for you.

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.