One of the most serious sustainability issues facing society is the depletion of endangered sea species because of overfishing driven by consumer demand. That demand in turn is energized both by the traditional appeal of seafood and by studies that document the health benefits of consuming seafood. So one should eat more fish, but that doesn’t mean it has to be endangered species—and that is the tack taken by Boston College (BC) Dining Services with a weekly menu special dubbed Taco Tuesday Re-imagined, which features a banh mi fish taco made with locally harvested underutilized fish species Atlantic pollock and Acadian redfish. For an illustrated look at the concept, go here.
Seafood-loving BC students seem to have embraced this new fish taco version, as the school sells an average of 225 pounds of the product per week. That not only helps the ecology but also the dining department’s bottom line, since the two under-utilized species are considerably less expensive to procure, with both costing a dollar less per pound than the popular Atlantic cod alternative.
“Our fish taco, a traditional dish reimagined, seeks to achieve our goals to serve delicious, nutritious and responsibly sourced food from our local waters,” summarizes Julianne Stelmaszyk, manager of regional and sustainable food systems for BC Dining.
So where did the idea come from? It began with a trip that more than 30 BC Dining staff members took last summer to tour regional producer North Coast Seafoods, one of the department’s vendors.
“In their facility on Boston’s dry dock, we observed the receiving, processing and food safety checks of the food they serve and what we source every day,” recalls Stelmaszyk. “From North Coast’s experts, we learned about many of the problems and challenges facing today’s fisheries, due to overfishing and depletion of seafood sources in the Gulf of Maine region.”
As part of the visit, the BC Dining team was tasked with designing recipes using local and underutilized fish that could serve as sustainable substitutes for overfished species. It included a seafood cooking competition between staff chefs that was judged by Andrew Wilkinson, R&D chef at North Coast, and it was in this event that the fish taco stood out.
Then, later in the summer, the management team at BC’s Corcoran’s Commons decided to incorporate the dish into its offering, using Atlantic pollock or Acadian redfish as the main ingredient in the recipe.
Good decision! At the first dinner service, it sold out within two hours and a subsequent social media poll indicated that almost two-thirds (63%) of students said they not only enjoyed the dish but also wanted it on the menu going forward.
Wilkinson was subsequently invited to come to BC Dining’s weekly culinary showcase where he engaged with students and discussed sustainable seafood practices. As a fun touch to the event, BC Dining interns dressed up in a Fish Taco costume to promote the special dish that was featured that night for dinner.
“Customers’ love for the dish is our greatest asset, and indeed it is the best part of the reimagined Taco Tuesday,” Stelmaszyk observes. “We like to think of the introduction of banh mi fish taco as a ‘triple win’ situation because it is sustainably sourced, affordable and delicious!”
As “underloved” fish species, Atlantic pollock and Acadian redfish—both from the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to the Bay of Fundy—are harvested well below their designated quota, so they are available in greater volume, and thus less expensive, than the overfished Atlantic cod.
“Local sourcing can be challenging for foodservice operations with short growing seasons, food costs and distribution inefficiencies,” Stelmaszyk says. “By taking full advantage of our coastal location, we’ve found unique opportunities to support local food systems by increasing our local seafood supply. By introducing this new banh mi fish taco through reimagining Taco Tuesday, we are directly contributing to a more sustainable, transparent and regional food system.”