District Fray Magazine: Shucking Delicious
“Cope with the meat shortage. Boost your immune system. Reduce your carbon footprint. Support small local businesses. Can you name one thing you can do right now to accomplish all four of these admirable goals? I can. And it’s shucking delicious.
Oyster farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a growing industry that creates jobs and plays a critical role in improving local water quality.
“A single healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons a day,” says Audrey Swanenberg, Chesapeake Oyster Alliance Manager with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). “They’re also incredibly important in terms of creating habitat for different types of fin fish, blue crabs.”
The majority of these oysters are going to restaurants. When restaurants closed and pivoted to takeout due to Covid-19, oyster businesses saw their sales drop to zero and were left sitting on thousands of ready-to-eat oysters without a market.
Swanenberg says this poses a number of challenges. Logistically, oysters left in the water for too long will grow past the ideal half shell size (making them less marketable) and can get stuck in cages. Financially, a lack of income prevents farmers from investing in oyster seed to start the next generation of oysters. Plus, if they can’t sell their inventory, there’s nowhere to put baby oysters, even if they do buy them.
“There’s potential that there will be ramifications in years to come,” Swanenberg says.
That’s where we come in. Many oyster farmers are turning directly to consumers to keep their businesses afloat.
“They’ve had to pivot and come up with really creative delivery and shipping options,” Swanenberg says. “I really love this as an opportunity for people to begin to eat oysters at home again.”
Now is your chance to be a hero and have a phenomenal meal: Host an oyster roast. You may not be able to gather a crowd, but you can still have a boatload of fun with a couple of close companions and a whole lot of oysters.
Plus, it’s a sustainable and nutritious choice: “Oysters are the most climate beneficial meat that you can eat. They’re a lot less intensive than say, beef, or anything like that,” Swanenberg says. “They have a super high level of zinc… It’s a really high protein, low fat meat.”
Hosting a roast is simpler than you think, and I’ve consulted bivalve buff Rob Rubba, of the forthcoming sustainability-focused restaurant Oyster Oyster, to break it down for you. Here’s everything you need to know to throw a shellfish shindig.”
Featured photo courtesy of Rappahannock Oyster Company.