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Why I Went to Safeway for My Birthday: Supermarket Makes Huge Announcement

The company did something that deserved celebration far more than me surviving another trip around the sun.
 
 
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In my little world, celebrations and holidays just aren't complete without copious amounts of food. My birthday is no exception -- I look forward to it every year as an excuse to throw caution (and perhaps responsibility) to the wind and indulge myself. I like to get together with loved ones and either cook up a feast or dine at some up-and-coming restaurant I've been salivating over for months.

I'm a big fan of moderation -- staying away from critically endangered delicacies like bluefin tuna, not eating sushi four times a week, and all that -- and I stand by it. But there's a time and a place for celebration, and that's important too. Not that I would eat bluefin tuna even for a holiday banquet, but I just might gorge myself a little bit (or a lot) on some sort of sustainable delight and fall asleep on the couch. My birthday is not a good day to be a crawfish, believe me.

Anyhow, my 32nd rolled around last week, and as per my usual routine, I decided to celebrate with a feel-good dinner. This time, though, I went about things in a slightly different way.

This year, I went to Safeway for my birthday.

I know that sounds like an odd place to celebrate, but I felt it was important to pay Safeway a visit. See, the company had just done something very special -- something that deserved celebration far more than my surviving another trip around the sun. By a fun coincidence, both events happened to occur on the same day.

On April 7, 2011, Safeway went public with a commitment to avoid purchasing seafood from the imperiled Ross Sea -- the world's last remaining relatively pristine ocean ecosystem. The company then took a second step by publicly encouraging all countries involved in Antarctic fishery governance (this takes place under the aegis of a management authority known as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine and Living Resources, abbreviated CCAMLR and confusingly pronounced "cam-lar") to designate the Ross Sea a marine protected area.

This is huge.

Of all the major seafood retailers in the United States, only one other company -- Wegmans, a well-regarded and progressive grocery chain in the Northeastern United States -- has made such a statement in support of the Ross Sea. It's nearly unheard of for a retail operation to foray into the political sphere in the name of conservation. And Safeway, with the buying power of over 1,700 stores, is an extremely powerful voice -- just the kind of voice we need on the side of ocean conservation if we are to have any hope of protecting and resuscitating our ailing seas.

I admit to being a borderline fanatic when it comes to Ross Sea conservation, but it's of critical importance. Not only is it a unique and invaluable ecosystem for a myriad of reasons, both scientific and ecological, but sending fishing vessels to this far-flung area raises a host of red flags from a sustainability perspective. It goes beyond issues relating to discrete fishery management and into a larger philosophical realm, which is where the core battle for sustainability needs to be fought.

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I know I've said this before, but it merits repeating: Sustainable fishing simply cannot occur when the fishery in question exists only as a reaction to an out-of-balance food system. We have depleted the fish closer to our homes and cities, so we sail ever outward in search of more -- but there is a limit. The Earth is finite. Industrial fishing in the Ross Sea -- or anywhere so far from human habitation and so close to the "end of the world," as it were -- must end if we are to develop a balanced and healthy relationship with our food and our planet.

 
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