Fish, mercury, and not freaking out

One of my main goals for this pregnancy has been not to freak out. In general I'm a slightly anxious person--calibrated so that my system tends to operate with a bit more adrenaline than other people's--and I'm also someone who likes to be informed, educated, and in control. But I've felt that many of these tendencies could be counterproductive for me as a pregnant person. I haven't wanted to become an expert on pregnancy. I've been reading midwifery books, but really nothing else--not What to Expect While You're Expecting, not the four million pregnancy websites, not even the very interesting books out there about third wave motherhood (although I might get to those). It's Biffle's job to do the reading--he has a site that he looks at once a week to tell me what's happening gestationally, and if I have specific questions ("Can I take Tums?" "Is it normal that I'm feeling a shooting pain in my side?"), he looks them up and finds the answers (yes to both of the sample questions).

I knew that there were concerns about mercury in fish and that I was supposed to avoid certain fish, but I didn't know the details. In my own head I figured any flaky white fish was probably fine, and so--although I don't eat fish often--I have had fish every now and then when we've gone out to eat. For some reason, this morning I wanted details, so I had Biffle do an internet search about mercury in fish, and how this relates to pregnancy. He found a ton of information. It turns out there are a lot of fish pregnant people are supposed to avoid altogether, including king mackerel (repulsive, so I have not eaten it), shark (I think I may oppose shark-eating on political grounds), and tilefish.

I ate tilefish a few weeks ago, when Catherine and James were in town visiting. Tilefish is a flaky white fish--and it was quite delicious--and now it turns out that pregnant people aren't supposed to eat it at all because of the high levels of mercury in the fish, mercury that can affect fetal brain and nervous system development. (It also turns out that two of the other fish I've eaten while pregnant--grouper and halibut--are on the "eat very rarely" list).

To my credit, I didn't freak out, although I did make Biffle look around longer on the internet until he found an FDA site that said that eating tilefish once while pregnant probably wasn't a crisis situation.

But here's my question: what the fuck are we doing to our planet? The run-off from our coal-fired power plants is affecting marine life so significantly that there is a solid consensus that certain fish are now too toxic for pregnant people to eat. This shouldn't be just an interesting fact for a pregnant person to tuck away--this is a sign of very, very bad things to come. Although I don't want to freak out about this on a personal level, I do think a bit more cultural freaking out would be appropriate.


mary said...

being immersed in the food world 24/7 right now causes me to completely agree that the world should do a little more "cultural freaking out."


it sucks that those little pocket sized lists of "what fish are okay to eat this (insert time frame here) often) even have to exist.

and also...you are most likely growing a superbaby (cape and all) that would kick any mercury villain the ass.

Quiche said...

Women, period, are experts at pregnancy, and you are too (: Happy Mother's Day, Alison (in case I don't get the chance to say so day of)! Much love and blessings!

Aaron Piepmeier said...

2 things.

1) I don't eat shark, because then it has the right to eat me.

2) You guys should come up to visit us and you'll feel vindicated knowing that a whole state (pretty much all of it) shares your views on the environmental/food crisis.

Elizabeth said...

Alison, I've spent my career as a marine scientist and can tell you that things are not getting better. There are too many people living on the coast and the watersheds. I'm almost at the point where I don't see that things are reversible. Money, developers, uninformed people and a general disregard for the environment have taken its toll.
As far as mercury contamination, it's a problem, especially for pelagic fishes. And shark isn't a good species to eat because they are slow growing, have few young, and are easily overfished.
I try to be an optimist but it's hard to see how things are going to improve when water quality is poor, habitats are being lost, species are being lost and we just keep on with our manic conversion of the planet.