Why not fish jerky?
“I was sitting on a mountaintop in the Gila Wilderness,” says Nick Mendoza. “I was thinking beef jerky, and then the thought came: beef jerky? Why not fish jerky?”
Mendoza was having a little mid-twenties crisis. He had been working in sustainable aquaculture research and marine science at Stanford. He’d had a good run: his work included several trans-Pacific voyages in sailing research ships, tagging sharks and tuna at sea, and generally seeking to change the shabby way we treat our oceans and their inhabitants.
“For starters, 90 percent of the fish we eat in the US is imported, 68 percent of it is mislabeled. And how come 71 percent of the earth is ocean, but marine food now contributes only 2 percent to the human food supply?”
So, despite his exciting life with Stanford, Mendoza felt he wasn’t getting traction on his goal of actually making a difference in saving the world. He upped and quit, and headed back to his grandparents’ cattle ranch in New Mexico. He thought he might try to turn it into a more ecologically-managed operation.
“I was so aware of the wastage in cattle farming. Like, it takes 1200 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. So I started thinking ‘What about jerky?’ And then, on the Gila Wilderness mountaintop, it hit me. Fish! Fish jerky. The Vikings filled their long ships with dried cod as they went off to discover America. Roman legions took tuna jerky with them on their long marches, and medieval Basques created a huge network in dried fish. All this fit into my passion for creating sustainable seafood. And I realized that dried fish is everywhere, but not here in the US.”
So Mendoza came down from his mountaintop, and got to work. “I sold two of my cows, got $800 per head, and with that money I was able to get a commercial dehydrator, and time to experiment with it. I discovered that dried seafood jerky is a sustainable seafood that’s way healthy. It has twice the protein, 30 to 100 times the omega 3 as beef jerky, and a third of its saturated fat.”
For 4-5 months he experimented with different flavors, different fish, but finally chose West Coast rockfish and Dover sole. He called his company “One for Neptune,” and settled on a recipe he called “Norse Smoke,” a combo of fish jerky, salt, pepper, and “gin-soaked juniper berries.” In a Stanford Global Seafood Innovation Forum contest, his team came in second out of 200. “A lot of people couldn’t believe our fish jerky wasn’t New Mexico beef,” he says.
He’s here today, in Tuna Harbor, because he wants to talk to the crew of the fishing boat Bigfoot. These guys go after rockfish. “Rockfish is a superfish,” says Mendoza. “It’s richest in selenium. I want to ask them to sell me their leftover fish on any given day, so that I can dry it and sell it as fish jerky. That way the growth of our company also helps cut their waste.”
I guess you’d call that enlightened self-interest.
Requiem for a Persian
Stats say there are 30-80 million feral cats out there. Almost 9 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year in the US, up to a million of those here in California. On the other hand, the Smithsonian Institution says US cats kill between 7 and 21 billion mammals every year, and 1.5 to 3.5 billion birds. And San Diego has more threatened and endangered bird species than any county in the US, according to San Diego Audubon.
I keep thinking about those stats every time this little ghost appears at my window late at night — or make that “appeared” — when I’d be sitting here alone, writing. She would never say anything. Not a meow. Just a steady gaze. Right away, you could tell she was Persian. Whiter than white, with billowing fur that made her look bigger than she was. Each night I’d end up borrowing from our legit cat Cecil’s food supply and taking it out to White Cat.
Unlike picky Cecil, White Cat would gobble down anything I brought out, all the while hissing at me. And after she’d finished eating, she’d sit there on the stoop, confidently licking her paws and cleaning her face. She’d even let Ms. Possum’s offspring come and scrape at the remains of her plate.
Cecil Langshanks (he has legs that make him look like a Star Wars Imperial Walker) started off feeling threatened, jealous — then completely lost interest.
But, as the months went on, White Cat started looking more scraggly. Her fur was getting stained. She had a wound on her side. She started limping, dragging her back-left foot. She would leap around to attack her haunches, and I knew it must be a flea infestation.
Eventually, I was taking out a large can of Friskies to her twice every night. Worms, I thought, because she didn’t fatten up.
I was going to have to do something. And I got a lucky break two nights later when I came in and shut the front window to keep out the chill, to find White Cat trapped inside, racing out of the kitchen. She must have been so hungry, she’d risked everything to sneak in for Cecil’s bowl.
I realized it was an opportunity. And it was almost as though she had presented herself to me. After a slight struggle and heart-rending yowls, she let me drop her into Cecil’s cardboard traveling box, to take her to Animal Control.
It was three days later that Karen, from PAWS, called. She sounded grave. “Your kitty… gone downhill… gash and abscess, ruptured on one side… bad shape… anemic... flea infestation… missing teeth… underweight…long-suffering. What do you want to do?”
I was thinking of that one moment each night after the second can, when White Cat would sit confidently on the stoop, licking her paws, wiping her face, and behind her ears, like the cat she had been, that spoiled, beautiful, confident daughter of some aristocratic Persian mama. I longed to at least take her one more can of Friskies.
Instead, I said. “You’d better put her to sleep.”