I was withholding.
Tuna. I was withholding tuna. And it pissed me off.
Pissed me off because tuna is an affordable, versatile convenience food that's got much to recommend it. But the mercury thing, which is not especially breaking news, had gotten to the point where every time I slapped some tuna on a roll I felt like I was serving the sandwich with a side of broken thermometer.
So I pretty much stopped buying it.
Enter my friend and colleague Molly Watson. Molly mentioned she'd ordered some low-mercury tuna from a Seattle company called Fishing Vessel St. Jude, and though the name doesn't roll off the tongue quite like Bumblebee or Chicken of the Sea, I took note. Not because I was suddenly eager to start mail-ordering specialty fish products -- I'd rather spin my own wool -- but because it offered me a choice. Choice A: no tuna. Choice B: mail-order tuna with less mercury.
We went with B, and so far this new relationship is working out. Yes, it's more expensive, but it's also delicious. Plus, tuna is an indulgence rather than a staple. AND, I've turned my friend Lisa onto it, too, so the next time we order in bulk, we're going to split the shipping. To read about St. Jude's mercury testing procedures, click here.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
1) You get what you pay for. If your tuna is cheap, there may be a reason. Be careful, read labels closely, and try to determine where the fish was caught and by which method. Seafood Watch says that troll- and pole-and-line-caught Pacific tuna is a "best choice" from an environmental point of view. These methods also tend to catch smaller, younger tuna, which is good news for your health.
2) Variety makes a difference. The Environmental Defense Fund says that canned light tuna, which is mostly skipjack, is smaller and therefore contains fewer contaminants than albacore, or "white" tuna. Albacore tends to be much larger, so mercury content is often greater. But companies like St. Jude, and several others, claim that they select only "young albacore" as "young fish typically have low levels of mercury." Do your research -- there are multiple brands that make the low-mercury claim.
3) Go easy. This chart from the EDF indicates that pregnant women and young children, in particular, may want to be especially vigilant about mercury, and that adults and older children should monitor their consumption as well. Of course, as with all food choices, you'll have to do your own risk-benefit analysis. Tuna is high in beneficial omega-3s, so consider whether the added benefit to your heart and brain counteracts the potential hazards from the low levels of mercury. I've decided, for my own family, that it does, within reason.
Finally, as I've mentioned before, canned salmon makes an excellent, and safe, alternative to canned tuna.
Recipe for Tuna, Black Rice, and Arugula Salad
Choose low-mercury canned tuna (Google the phrase "low mercury tuna" for options) for this refreshing salad, which pairs black rice with peppery arugula and a quick lime vinaigrette.
Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a side salad
3/4 cup black rice (I use this one)
1-3/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups arugula, packed
One 6-ounce can low-mercury tuna in olive oil, flaked and, if desired, drained*
Juice of 1 lime
(2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil)
Prepare the rice according to package directions or in a rice cooker. Scoop out onto a rimmed sheet pan and allow to cool.
Arrange arugula leaves in a medium salad bowl. Stir in cooled rice and flaked tuna. Whisk the lime juice and oil in a small bowl and pour over salad. Give a quick toss, and serve immediately.
*You're welcome to drain the tuna into a small bowl and whisk the oil from the can with the lime juice, obviating the need for extra oil. Go with your personal preference.