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VIDEO: A-Z Food Does Cambodia

VIDEO: A-Z Food Does Cambodia

On our A-Z London tour video series, our travelers visit Lemongrass in Camden, London, for a taste of Cambodia

About A-Z Food: In this video series, Alastair Humphreys and Tom Kevill-Davies eat around London to find one restaurant from a nation for each letter of the alphabet. Check out A-Z Food: Bolivia here.

In letter "C" of the video series A-Z Food, Humphreys and Kevill-Davies relive their travels to Cambodia through a meal at Lemongrass, a restaurant helmed by Cambodian-raised chef Thomas. Starters include a Cambodian soup flavored with ginger, coriander, prawns, and pineapple, not to mention a classic shredded mango salad. But as A-Z Food discovers, the meal centers around Lok Lak beef, chunks of marinated beef quickly tossed in melted butter on a hot wok, with diced tomatoes and onions. "Lemongrass is worth a visit for the Lok Lak beef alone," they write.

Check out their full review (and more Cambodian food factoids) over on London's World of Food, Cambodia.

More From A-Z Food:

• A: Afghanistan

• B: Bolivia


VIDEO: A-Z Food Does Cambodia - Recipes

Thanks for this article. My name is Veasna Kay and i’m a chef here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My love of Khmer food has led me to create regular videos which I upload online every week. I also teach private cooking classes for visitors here in Phnom Penh. I love Khmer Food with a passion and love to see more people in the world discover it too.

I don’t eat meat so my dish of choice in Cambodia was fish amok. The best (most authentic) one I had was in Sen Monorum (Mondulkiri) – it was delicious!

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Stuffed Chicken Muffins

What happens when you take a stuffed chicken recipe and combine it with a muffin tin recipe? You get our irresistible Stuffed Chicken Muffins! This dish is filled with a delicious cheesy Italian-style filling that everyone will love. This whole recipe is sure to leave you stuffed and satisfied! For a change of pace from your average dinner, this muffin tin chicken fits the bill! Unusual as it may be, once you take a bit, you will be reminded of some of your favorite chicken recipes. This is cheesy, flavorful, and will be loved by the whole family. Try making it tonight!


Amok Trey (Fish amok)

Ingredients:

For the amok:

  • 1 kg firm white fish filets
  • 600 g mushrooms
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 8 pineapple slices
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 2 small slices of galangal root
  • 8 T chopped lemongrass
  • 4 t turmeric powder
  • 4 t curry paste
  • 4 T fish sauce
  • 8 t sugar
  • 600 ml coconut milk
  • 8 T oil
  • 4 t tomato paste
  • 2 t salt
  • 12 Kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 limes
  • 12 small star anise pods
  • 4 T chopped peanuts

For serving:

Preparation:

Slice lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves into fine strips. Peel and slice galangal root. Chop garlic, slice lime peel. Dice bell peppers, mushrooms, and pineapple.

Slice fish filet into two-centimeter pieces. Heat oil, then add garlic, lemongrass, galangal root, curry paste, turmeric powder, fish sauce, tomato paste, sugar, lemon leaves, and lime peel. Sauté briefly, continuing to stir. Add fish filet and salt, and sauté for around five minutes. Finally, add coconut milk, vegetables, star anise, and peanuts. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Place two banana leaf circles into each steamer basket. Position so that the veins of the leaves cross in a 90-degree angle. Fill steamer baskets with the fish amok and steam for around ten minutes in a pot with a steamer insert or a food steamer. Serve with rice.

Angkor Wat prepares Amok Trey


Eating Spiders – I Get A Taste Of Arachnid

Edible Spiders: They brought a live one out first!

So, they actually brought out 1 live tarantula on a plate first, it was scurrying about.

This tarantula species is dark grey and hairy. About 3 inches long (

7cm). It’s not pretty. It is not appetising. But, I had committed to spending $5 USD on a plate of 4 tarantulas, so I was going to eat them.

I have to say, whatever carnivore guilt I may feel for some animals humans eat, Spiders are probably at the very furthest end of the “actually I feel no remorse at all” scale, along with Scorpions.

Anyway, I don’t know if the little guy they brought out was actually my dinner, or whether he was their star actor spider that they brought out just for show, then take him back to his trailer to chill, while his friends deep fry.

Deep Fried Tarantula – Crispy and ready to eat

A short while later, four tarantulas arrive on a white plate with a little dipping sauce and some salad garnish. Here’s what happened:

So, the legs were super crispy and really don’t taste of anything other than deep fried. The fangs and head, mostly the same. The abdomen was the strange bit, a bit less crispy, the innards are sort of poached inside. Not horrendous, but certainly not my gourmet choice. Maybe more of an acquired taste.

I’ve eaten insects before, deep fried spiders don’t differ too much. They lack any weird hairiness that you may expect and taste more of the oil they are fried in than of much else. I would say they are better in texture than crickets, grasshoppers or cicadas, simply because there are no chewy wings or shells to get stuck in your teeth.

A well cooked edible spider, surprisingly, melts in the mouth!


Italian Recipes

Where do you find the most authentic and traditional Italian Recipes? Only at Cooking with Nonna.

Enjoy our Grandma's files for the most Original and Traditional Italian Food and Cuisine. Our collection includes: Pasta dishes, Soups, Desserts, Cookies, Fish, Meat and all the traditional Italian Holiday recipes prepared by our Nonne, our Grandmothers, who are the keepers of the most treasured traditions. It is like getting Free Italian Cooking lessons at your own pace. So, please become a member of La Famiglia and immediately have access to all the Best Italian Recipes. By joining La Famiglia we can also keep you informed of all new events and offers going on at Cooking with Nonna. Remember, when it comes to Italian Food. there is no higher authority than Nonna!

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Poolish pizza dough (with yeast or sourdough starter)

Making pizza dough with a poolish means adding a pre-ferment to your pizza dough, rather than adding yeast. Yeast is used in minimal quantities to kickstart fermentation. Pizza made with poolish achieves a lovely texture and bite, while also being easier to digest. If you’re looking for an alternative pizza base recipe, you should definitely give poolish pizza dough a try. It might become your favourite pizza crust recipe.

My favourite pizza dough recipe

Seriously. This is my favourite pizza dough recipe. Credits go to my ex co-worker Michele, a fellow foodie and Italian expat in Krakow. He is the one who first introduced me to poolish pizza dough and kindly shared his recipe with me. The funny thing is that we did not call the pre-ferment a poolish. I copied his recipe in Italian and the pre-ferment was always referred to as lievitino.

It was only when I got into sourdough bread-making that I learned that a pre-ferment can have various names, and the lievitino technique that Michele had taught me was actually a poolish. What’s even more funny is that the term “poolish” is derived from the word “Polish” as it was Polish bakers that spread this pre-fermentation technique throughout Europe. And I happened to learn this pizza dough recipe with poolish from an Italian in Poland. This was one of those “nothing in life happens by chance” moments.

Anybody else who keeps flour in a biscuit tin?

What is a poolish?

A poolish is a pre-ferment that gets added to the dough in bread and pizza making. A poolish is made of flour, water and a very tiny amount of commercial yeast. It is then left to ferment for about 8-12 hours. This is also known as “sponge” due to the very airy and spongy texture it develops during its fermentation (see pictures below). There are actually two types of sponge used in bread baking: poolish and biga. While biga is drier, poolish has 100% hydration, which means that you are adding 100% of the weight of flour in water.

This process may resonate with that of making a sourdough starter. In fact, we are somewhat applying the same concept with a poolish. Making a poolish is like making a levain: you are creating a pre-fermentation that will then be added to your final dough. What distinguishes a poolish from a proper sourdough starter is time. A poolish only requires 8-12 hours to make, while a sourdough starter can require something between 5 and 8 days. But if you have an active sourdough starter at hand you can also make a pre-fermented pizza dough using that! Read on to see my pre-fermentation recipe two ways.

If this all sounds a bit obscure to you, I invite you to hop over to my sourdough starter for beginners post where I have explained the very basics of a sourdough starter and the wonders you can make with it. Don’t worry, making pizza with poolish is much more simple than it may seem!

Poolish pizza dough requires a tiny amount of yeast.

How to make a poolish

To make a poolish you have to mix together the same weight in water and flour, and add a minimal amount of yeast. Michele’s recipe called for 5 g of fresh yeast, the one that comes in cubes. 5 g is generally the minimum weight a home kitchen scale will show, making it easy to measure. While I often use fresh yeast, when that is not available I turn to my instant yeast packets I keep as backup in my pantry.

One packet of dry yeast (14 g) subs a whole 50 g cube of fresh yeast. So if we need the equivalent of 5 g of fresh yeast we will need to use about 1 g of instant yeast. And that is not something you can measure with a regular kitchen scale. What I did the first time was to halve the content of my dry yeast packet until I got to 1/10 which is what I needed in this recipe and it became a very tiny amount, something that is even less than 1/8 tsp. A sprinkle, really.

In fact, the longer the resting time, the smaller the amount of yeast you need. The opposite is also true: the shorter the time, the more yeast you will need. Since we’re making our pre-ferment the night before, our poolish will have enough time to ferment even if we put too little yeast in it.

Just like when making regular pizza dough you would add a little sugar to activate your yeast, Michele’s recipe calls for the same procedure even in the poolish phase. If using fresh yeast, add it to 300 ml of lukewarm water together with a teaspoon of honey, dissolve, and pour this mixture into a bowl with 300 g of flour. If using instant yeast like I am in this post, there is no need to dissolve the yeast in water. Stir a teaspoon of honey into lukewarm water, and in the other bowl you mix the yeast directly into the flour.

Give the mixture a stir until it gets homogeneous, cover with cling film and leave at room temperature overnight. As you can see making a poolish is very easy, just like stirring water and flour. The yeast will do its thing while you sleep and the following morning you will have your sponge ready to use. You know everything has gone well if it has doubled in size and it shows a very bubbly top.

Mature poolish has doubled in size from the day before and has a very bubbly and frothy top.

How to make poolish pizza dough

Making pizza dough with a poolish is not more difficult than making regular pizza. All you have to do is combine flour and more water and add the pre-ferment. When pouring the poolish out of its bowl you will fully see why this is called a sponge:

At this point the dough will be quite sticky so I recommed to work it with a wooden spoon or a spatula in a large bowl. Only when it starts coming together you can proceed and mix in the salt. The quantities we are using in this recipe are:

  • all of your mature poolish
  • 800 g flour (preferably manitoba)
  • 300 ml water
  • 20 g table salt*

*Update: If you are using sea salt it will likely be quite strong in flavour, so 20 g will be more than enough. In Poland where I learned to make this dough I was using rock salt which has a milder flavour, and the salt I have here in Sweden where I am located now is as mild as the one I was using in Poland. I usually put 30 g of salt, aware that this is a rather mild salt. Start with 20 and if you notice that it’s not enough, it might be that you are also using a mild salt and could do a little bit more.

When most of the flour has been incorporated, pour the mixture onto a working surface and knead it until you get a proper dough. You can easily knead it by hand, as it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes at this point. You can go ahead and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil if you wish so. You know your dough has the right consistency when it feels elastic but not sticky. According to the flour you’re using you may need to add a sprinkle of flour to achieve the right consistency, if you feel like it’s too sticky.

When the dough is ready, put it back into the bowl, cover it with cling film and let it rest for a few hours again. I would recommend a minimum of three hours at room temperature, but I usually allow the whole day. In the next section I am giving you a breakdown of the times I usually follow to make my poolish pizza dough.

Salt is added only when the dough has started coming together.

Poolish pizza dough timeline

Compared to a pizza dough made with yeast that usually only requires a couple of hours from start to end, a poolish pizza dough will require more time. Remember that the smaller the amount of yeast, the longer the time it will need. I generally budget in 24 hours from the moment I prepare the poolish to the time I sit down to eat my pizza. This is the timeline I usually follow:

  • Evening of day 1: make the poolish. Takes about 5 minutes to put together so this is a non-existent hassle, really. Then I cover it and leave it on the counter overnight.
  • Morning of day 2: make the dough. When I want to have pizza night, I wake up 10 minutes earlier to fit in the time to put together my dough. Mix, a quick knead, and back in the bowl for bulk fermentation. This is when I leave for work and forget about it. By the time I come back I will have a nice pizza dough ready to use.
  • Afternoon of day 2: proofing the dough / making the pizza. When I come back home, my dough is ready to use. I have two ways to make pizza: either baked on the hot stone or in baking sheet/oven tray. If I’m using the stone, I usually just go ahead and portion out my dough. If I’m making the pizza in a sheet pan I will stretch it out and let it proof in the pan for one hour. Just the time it takes to get all the other ingredients ready and warm up the oven.
  • Evening of day 2: finally enjoy great pizza. Making pizza dough might have taken almost 24 hours, but now I’m enjoying a great homemade pizza with a fragrant crust that will also be much easier to digest!

Let your pizza dough rest in a bowl for the day until it doubles in size.

Is using a poolish worth it?

The biggest advantage of making poolish pizza dough is that you will feel less bloated after eating it, compared to pizza made following a regular recipe. Long fermentation makes a baked product more digestible. There are studies being conducted about long fermented breads being tolerated by gluten intolerants, which is pretty awesome.

Even people who are not sensitive to gluten often feel bloated after eating pizza. This is one of the reasons why I seldom drink beer together with pizza, as the food alone usually makes me feel so full I cannot possibly also fit in a beer. I have found that pizza made with a pre-ferment makes me feel less bloated and I am even able to have a beer with it without feeling like I’m exploding afterwards.

A pizza dough recipe that takes 24 hours to make may sound like an incredible chore, but most of that time is passive, really. Making the poolish itself only takes 5 minutes, and kneading the dough doesn’t take more time than a dough made with a regular pizza recipe with yeast would. Pre-fermentation of the poolish and bulk fermentation of the dough just happen on their own. So a pizza with poolish takes more time but does not require that much work, compared to a normal pizza dough recipe.

When baking pizza in a sheet pan I always proof the dough for one hour before topping and baking.

Sourdough poolish?

So now I’ve been sharing a classic poolish pizza dough recipe made with a tiny amount of yeast. But is it possible to make it without any yeast at all? The answer is yes, if you are using a sourdough starter. Just like in sourdough bread making, adding a sourdough starter will incorporate wild yeast into your dough, as opposed to commercial yeast.

Making a levain is key in sourdough bread baking. A poolish is basically the same concept. While a poolish is a mixture of flour, water and yeast, a levain is a mixture of flour, water and sourdough starter. The effect is the same: the wild yeast contained in the starter will trigger the fermentation of the flour and water mixture, delivering a sponge that will be added to the dough. So if you want to use a sourdough starter to make your pizza dough, you’re basically making your dough with a levain, rather than a poolish.

Water, flour and sourdough starter.

The poolish pizza recipe I’m sharing in this post yields 4 round pizzas, or 2 sheet pan ones. To get the same amount of dough if using a sourdough starter, the quantities for the poolish-levain are as follows:

Mix until homogeneous, cover with cling film and let rest overnight. The following morning, make the dough:

Mix levain, flour and water in a bowl with a wooden spoon or a spatula, adding the salt only when the dough has started coming together. Knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is homogeneous, feels elastic and not sticky. Add a little olive oil if desired. Return the dough back to the bowl, cover with cling film and let rest a few hours, until it doubles in size. I generally do not put the dough in the fridge but do all the steps at room temperature.

A pizza crust made with sourdough starter will be pleasantly chewy, can have a nice rise and lovely air bubbles (depending on oven temperature and thickness, of course) and a lovely sour hint, lent by the sourdough starter. As a long ferment, it will have the same quality of making you feel less bloated just like pizza made with poolish.

And since you’re curious to see what the dough I’ve photographed in this post has become, here’s the answer. Pizza bianca with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, white mold cheese and pecans.

Look at those air bubbles.

Ever since my colleague introduced me to pre-fermentation there has been no going back for me. The only times when I “cheat” and make pizza with a regular recipe with more yeast are only those times when I really want to have pizza and I can’t wait 24 hours. But I love not feeling bloated after eating my pizza, so when such pizza cravings hit I really try to hold my horses, prepare a poolish instead, and enjoy pizza even more the following day.

What’s your favourite pizza topping? I just love sautéed leeks and mascarpone! Or pear and blue cheese pizza bianca, that’s another favourite. Or how about trying poolish focaccia next time? Don’t forget to pin my poolish pizza dough recipe for your next pizza night!


The mother is the last to eat in developing countries

In some parts of the world, to be female is to be recognised as powerful, resilient and in receipt of the same respect given to a man of similar stature, character and charge.

But if you live in a developing country across Asia or Africa, to be female could mean you are hungry even though you’re in charge of your household’s food production. To be female may mean you’re a farmer who lacks access to the same work tools or land rights as your male counterpart. To be female may mean you starve, suffer malnutrition and die.

“In South Sudan, accessibility to food is much less for woman than men,” says Berhe Terwoldeberhan, Plan International Australia’s disaster risk and resilience manager.

"So access to food and water is really tilted first towards the men, then the children and then the mother who is always the last to eat.”

“That is really the tradition because women make sure the men eat first and they are the ones to eat last. This is the same in Sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia, Malawi. ” Terwoldeberhan continues.

“In some areas, there are also food and water shortages. So access to food and water is really tilted first towards the men, then the children and then the mother who is always the last to eat.”

Anab, 38 (pictured in the lead photo above), has been displaced by the violence in South Sudan. She tells Plan International Australia about the hunger she and her six children face.

"My youngest girl is called Mary," Anab says. "She is just one year old. I cannot get any food for her so most times I offer her my empty breast. When she is too hungry I boil for her leaves to keep her belly full.

". We are already too hungry. Food is our immediate need.”

"She is just one year old. I cannot get any food for her so most times I offer her my empty breast."

Plan International Australia’s food and climate change advisor (programs), Marilou Drilon, tells SBS that hunger and poverty may be the result of civil conflict or climate change. But it can often be the result of a power imbalance between men and women.

“At the end of the day, the gender with the most access to food is the decision-maker who has power [in the household or community],” Drilon says. “And that’s usually the male.”

The United Nations (UN) estimates that 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people in poverty worldwide are women. More than 120 million women in developing countries are underweight. In South Asia, for example, 60 per cent of women are underweight.

“The gender with the most access to food is the decision-maker who has power [in the household or community], and that’s usually the male.”

Josie Huxtable, gender advisor (agriculture and food security) for CARE Australia, cites gender inequality as a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty. But gender inequality doesn’t just hit women as food consumers, “gender inequality hits women squarely as food producers”.

“Among economically active women in developing countries, almost 80 per cent spend their working hours producing food through agriculture. Rural women make up nearly 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force.” In South Asia, Huxtable estimates this figure is as high as 70 per cent.

“. gender inequality hits women squarely as food producers."

She explains that women in impoverished communities often don’t have equal access to land (because laws might exclude them from inheriting land), training schemes (because most agriculture trainers are men) and credit for a loan to invest in their farm. They may also lack control over the income they earn from their crops.

Unfortunately, poverty and hunger in developing nations is intergenerational. In Terwoldeberhan’s experience, malnutrition is very high among females generally, and more specifically in pregnant women.

He says the current situation is so bad for pregnant women in South Sudan and other parts of Africa where conflict rages, that “they can die” purely because they don’t have enough food to eat.

“It’s not a healthy situation… These mothers [battling malnutrition] are more likely to give birth to underweight babies. We find that underweight babies are 20 per cent more likely to die before the age of five than a normal weight baby.”

Drilon estimates that half of all the pregnant women in the developing countries where Plan International Australia works are anaemic. “This causes around 110,00 deaths during childbirth each year,” she says. “And that’s just in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa.”

Girls and women in Rumbek, South Sudan, gain access to the wild fruit Laluq, which they typically use to make porridge. (Photo: Charles Lomodong and Plan International)
Source: Plan International and Charles Lomodong

Breaking the hunger cycle

Both CARE and Plan International Australia operate programs in developing countries to help change the gender imbalance and break the cycle of hunger facing women.

CARE works with small-scale farmers, who are mostly women, to improve their capacity to grow food and create positive changes in some of the social inequalities they face. It also operates training sessions for communities on nutrition, gender equality, accessing and participating in markets (so they get fair prices for their produce), and climate change. Social change targets males and females to encourage sustainable, community-wide gender equality.

“A resource like food brings people together. So we use food to change behaviours.”

“We know that simply by ensuring women farmers have the same access as men, they could produce 20-30 per cent more food and between 100-150 million fewer people would be chronically hungry,” says Huxtable. “So working with women and girls and addressing gender inequality offers our best chance to overcome hunger.”

Plan International Australia also targets culture change through the operation of food and nutrition assistance programs.

“What happens is that you do food assistance and distribute food, we find there’s usually an opportunity there to discuss gender equality with the community,” says Terwoldeberhan.

“We might talk about how women and girls should go to school and how ensuring women get access to food will benefit the whole community.

When people see a positive impact, they do change. This approach does work.”

Drilon adds: “A resource like food brings people together. So we use food to change behaviours.”

Sokhat, who lives outside Siem Reap, is on her way to school. She receives food rations and a daily breakfast via Plan International's School Feeding Program. (Plan International / Richard Wainwright)
Source: Plan International / Richard Wainwright

In Cambodia, Plan International Australia operates a school meals program. The premise is that in poor communities, households are encouraged to send their daughters to school. If the girl attends class 80 per cent of classes per month, her family will receive food rations.

“Food is being used as an incentive for families to send their daughters to school,” Drilon says. “And if their daughter goes to school, one day the family may get an income.”

“We can all act. And given these challenges, we must all act.”

This International Women’s Day, CARE and Plan International Australia urges males and females alike to acknowledge the food shortages facing women in the developing world.

“Whether its small actions like raising awareness on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change among family and friends or picking up the phone to call our local member of parliament,” says Huxtable.


Why it’s so hard to ‘eat local’ when it comes to fish

Australians are often taken aback to discover that we import about 75 per cent of the seafood we consume. Yes, that’s right – in a nation girt by sea that vaunts its love of a shrimp on the barbie, three-quarters of our fish and shellfish comes from overseas.

Wander over to your local supermarket and look at the seafood on offer. Barramundi, the iconic Australian fish, is usually there but it is often from Vietnam, having been farmed and frozen. The processed products – crumbed prawns or garlic prawns – are also usually from Asia, and bright yellow-dyed smoked cod is seemingly always from South Africa.

Then there are the truly “glocal” (local-global) items, such as crumbed products made using Australian fish that has been sent to Thailand for processing and then shipped back again. This type of practice is set to become more common, as the family-owned Australian seafood company Kailis Bros this year sold 90 per cent of its seafood processing, wholesale and export business to a Chinese conglomerate.

Eating ‘glocal’?

As anyone who has a passing acquaintance with contemporary food politics knows, it’s all about eating local, seasonal and sustainable produce. As previous writers on The Conversation have pointed out, food choices have become loaded with moralism, which can make choosing the “right” food somewhat daunting.

Our research – including Elspeth’s forthcoming book, Eating the Ocean, and Kate’s soon-to-be-submitted PhD thesis on sustainable tuna – shows these problems become even trickier when it comes to fish.

Beyond the obvious problem of trying to eat local when talking about food that comes from a vast ocean, there is the added problem of the way in which fishing has developed as a globalised industry.

Over the past 20 years the ownership of fishing boats in the Global North (including Australia) has shrunk to a fraction of what it was. This has been part of a necessary move to regulate international fishing practices and ensure all countries have access to a fair share.

But the quotas introduced in Iceland, Canada, and Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s have also had the effect of concentrating ownership of the fishing industry in relatively few hands. In South Australia, for example, the number of licensed bluefin tuna fishers went from several hundred to fewer than 30.

Meanwhile, the downturn in inshore fishing because of overfishing, and the need to cover the costs of increasingly sophisticated technology to track fish, has led to ever-larger boats that can work farther from shore.

Simply put, this means you can no longer go down to the dock and look the fisherman "in the eye” as the US writer Michael Pollan has urged us to do for land-based farming. Long fishing trips means that fish have to be caught in vast numbers, flash-frozen while still at sea, then landed and immediately transferred to huge logistical operations covering hundreds or thousands of kilometres.

There are other reasons why Australia, despite having the world’s third-largest Exclusive Economic Zone, consumes so much imported fish. Our seas evidently suffer from low productivity and scarce nutrients. But no matter: the government reassures us that high seafood imports are common in wealthy nations.

One answer might be to catch your own, but be careful where you try, especially in urban areas. UNSW Australia’s Emma Johnston has described how Sydney’s stormwater overflows, combined with a history of industrial dumping, have rendered its harbour a toxic slurry – so it’s better not to eat any fish caught under the bridge.

Fish going in all directions

The flow of fish goes both ways, or rather multiple ways. Australia exports high-value fish and seafood around the world. Our lobsters and abalone are loved in China, while nearly all of South Australia’s bluefin tuna goes to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market.

The tuna barons in Port Lincoln, SA, a town that used to boast Australia’s highest number of millionaires per capita, have become experts in international currency. Their fish, fattened in pens and inspected by visiting connoisseur Japanese investors, are priced in yen – and the farmers listen carefully to the visitors' advice, knowing that a good product is worth even more yen.

Back in the supermarket, there’s evidence that consumers are willing to spend time thinking about tuna too – at least, if Kate’s collection of dozens of eco-labelled tuna cans is any guide. Unlike the Japanese market, where the quality of the flesh is paramount, the supermarket labels suggest ecological sustainability is the key consideration. But sustainability goes deeper than just the fish itself we rarely think about how sustainable the can is, nor about how the metal was mined, nor about the transport costs for the fish or packaging.

Does it matter that we eat so much of other nations' fish, while sending our most prized delicacies to foreign buyers? The answers vary: some people worry about reports of illegal fishing practices and pollution in Southeast Asia, where some fish are still caught using cyanide.

Equally chilling are the reports of “sea-slaves” – indentured labourers from Cambodia and Myanmar who are forced to work in the Thai shrimp trade.

On the other hand, would we want to stop our fishers, who by and large work in a highly regulated, sustainable enterprise, from getting top dollar for their produce? It is a tough call, and an even tougher set of complex relations.

What’s certain is that guilt-tripping consumers into buying local doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the ethics of eating the ocean.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Elspeth Probyn is Professor of Gender & Cultural Studies, University of Sydney Kate Johnston is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies, University of Sydney.