August 30, 2007

Why are we eating so much shrimp?

Shrimponomics. Not only are we eating a lot of shrimp, but we're concocting a lot of explanations for why we're eating shrimp.

Before reading the piece, let me just say that I think people think they should eat more fish, but they don't like fish, so they enlarge the concept to "seafood" and eat the one thing they like that isn't as expensive as the one thing in the category that they really like (lobster).

Reading Stephen D. Levitt's analysis:
Interestingly, women in general were only half as likely to give supply explanations as were men....
Oh, damn. Caught being a woman again!

Levitt thinks the answer is on the supply side:
I’m not exactly sure, but here is what I can glean from the Internet. A key factor is that prices have dropped sharply. According to this academic article, the real price of shrimp fell by about 50 percent between 1980 and 2002. When quantity rises and prices are falling, that has to mean that producers have figured out cheaper and better ways to produce shrimp. This article in Slate argues that there has been a revolution in shrimp farming. Demand factors may also be at work, but they don’t seem to be at the heart of the story.
Why don't they seem to be at the heart? Because Levitt is a man?

43 comments:

halojones-fan said...

The ocean called...

Original Mike said...

I am eating more shrimp because it's cheaper.

halojones-fan said...

As for "why eat shrimp": It's a unique food item. It's crunchy--but it's also meat! It's got its own flavor so you can serve it un-garnished--but the flavor is mild enough that you can serve shrimp with whatever dip you like. Shrimp is, by its very nature, available in the bite-sized snackable units so beloved by American eaters--but you can also incorporate it into a main dish, where it can be either whole or diced. And there's just enough "procedure" involved to give you something to do (and a convenient handle to hold your food) but not quite as fiddly as eating lobster or crab.

Shrimp! It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!

halojones-fan said...

I'm reminded of a classmate's idea for "animal poppers", a sort of meat equivalent for jalapeno poppers. You genetically-engineer these small mouselike animals that only have one bone. You eviscerate and deep-fry the things, then serve them; eaters just grab the bone and snork the meat right off it, then throw the bone away. Like chicken wings, only more so.

Roger said...

Guessing its a supply thing based in large part on increases of aquacultured shrimp from Thiland, China, and Viet Nam. Increased supply (coupled with cheaper labor and production costs--its cheaper to grow them than pay for boats and maintenance to get them in the ocean) increased the overall supply which reduce the price. Check the label on your next bag of frozen shrimp.

Maxine Weiss said...

Bottom feeders.

Kirk said...

Maxine,

That's more like it! I actually LOL'd at your comment.

Joan said...

Shrimp is pure protein, tastes good, and is inexpensive. I'd say there's a correlation between rising shrimp consumption and rising beef prices, along with falling shrimp prices. The prevalence of diets that emphasize getting enough protein is probably also a factor.

I also think there's a lot to the theory that people think they should be eating more fish but a lot of people don't like fishy fish, but do like shrimp.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Its not just Southeast Asian shrimp, but Southeast USA.

I talked to a woman a few years ago who had taken their tobacco settlement money and turned their 200 acre tobacco farm into a shrimp farm. Low dikes to hold water in ponds, dump in the krill in spring, feed them through the summer & harvest the shrimp in the fall.

Support Kentucky farmers- Eat more shrimp!

Roger said...

Red: I wasnt aware of that. I moved to Memphis this year, and am amazed at all the catfish farms. And I know tilapia is farm raised as well. And in the sacramento area they raised crawdads in the rice paddies. Maybe aquaculture will be the next "green" revolution.

Original Mike said...

Oh, no! I bet those paddies and ponds are methane belching planet-killers.

Icepick said...

Althouse: "Before reading the piece, let me just say that I think people think they should eat more fish, but they don't like fish, so they enlarge the concept to "seafood" and eat the one thing like they like that isn't as expensive as the one thing in the category that they really like (lobster)."

No, we should eat less fish and less seafood, unless it has been commercially grown in farms such as Red and Roger mention. Deep sea trawling should be completely banned. Fortunately, things seem to be headed in that direction.

(Hat Tip: Amba, who has some other good links in the post I'm pointing out.)

Pastor_Jeff said...

Shouldn't there be an Onion infographic with that headline?

9% Dare
16% Revenge
39% I can quit anytime, honestly
15% Already overharvested every other form of sea life
21% Costco 20 lb Bag 'o Shrimp a really good deal

Pogo said...

Sorry to break up the pisces party, but um,
get a mercury level checked if yer eatin' lots fish!

From the NYC Dept of Health
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release # 059-07
Monday, July 23, 2007

ONE IN FOUR NYC ADULTS HAS ELEVATED BLOOD MERCURY LEVELS

Nearly Half of Asian New Yorkers Have Elevated Blood Mercury Levels

"Very low in Mercury: Shrimp
Eat up to 5 servings per week."



Apologies all around. Sometimes I just can't help myself!!

wyatt gwyon said...

Shrimp is cheaper for the same reason our toys are cheaper: China is producing them in enormous quantities at a very low cost. And just as the cheap and plentiful toys we get from China carry much higher risks than we seem to have anticipated (like lead paint), the shrimp is at much greater risk of being diseased. Moreover, fish farming of any sort carries it's own big risks, both to the environment and to its consumers. A green revolution through fish farming? Maybe, but very possibly not.

Beth said...

I eat shrimp every week at least during the season, because I live on the Gulf Coast and can get fresh, beautiful wild American shrimp cheap.

In fact, I have my own dealer, a young man who is a licensed wholesaler and also sells from ice chests in the back of his truck. He's in my cell phone address book under the only name he shares with his customers: Big Shrimp. I call, say Hey, Big Shrimp, where are you? He tells me what corner he's parked at and I go get 5 lbs of 13-15 size shrimp for $20. He delivers if you want 10 lbs. or more for a party.

It's so fresh it smells of salty sea water, not seafood.

Beth said...

This topic has made me happy. It reminded me that oyster season starts in two days. Yay!

AllenS said...

I remember the days when shrimp was free range critters.

Tibore said...

Hehe... Beth makes it sound like a drug deal. :)

Shrimp. Unfortunately, as it's a crusteacean, I am unable to eat it. And my friends keep telling me how badly I'm missing out. But I'm perfectly happy with the seafood I can eat. Good ole striped bass, wild salmon, flounder... Anyway, it may be cheaper to get nowadays, but I still don't think it's cheap. At least not where I'm at, stranded in the midwest.

Now, if you wanna talk about a food I can get excited about: Beef. Like in that previous thread. Yum.

David53 said...

Beth,

I have shrimp envy. It's the best; mmmm stuffed bacon-wrapped shrimp, deep fried, grilled, boiled, etc, it's all good. New Orleans does have the best food period.

reader_iam said...

I'm thinking of that part in "Forrest Gump," where the shrimp guy lists and lists and lists and lists over a series of flash-scenes the ways you can eat shrimp.

blake said...

OK, lunch is at Beth's.

Joan said...

Beth, you'd best call Big Shrimp because you're going to need a lot more than 10 lbs when we all show up!

John Burgess said...

Living in Florida--which has its own wild shrimp harvesting industry--I have a good view of the economics of shrimp.

Locally caught shrimp regularly sell for $2-$4 more than farm-raised shrimp of the same size. Farmed shrimp, primarily from Thailand and Bangladesh, are consistently cheaper and are the only ones that go on sale. Farm-raised fresh water prawns are now selling in my supermarket for $6.99/lb. These come in only one size, the equivalent of 'Jumbo'.

The price competition is so great that the Florida Shrimpers' Association is running TV ads extolling the virtues of wild-caught shrimp. These are not in danger of over-fishing as there have been catch regulations in place for close to 20 years. They are, however, expensive.

lurker2209 said...

One thing no one here seems to have brought up in the comments (and now someone is bound to point out the one comment I didn't read carefully enough) is that people are eating more salads these days. And they are eating it as a complete meal, not just a side dish. Look at fast food restaurants for an easy example.

Shrimp--they go good with salad. And when you want to eat healthy and are tired of chicken on salad , then shrimp it is.

Jennifer said...

I can't eat lobster anymore after watching a waiter break it open on my table and all that blackish gunk poured out.

Yet, I call shrimp cockroaches of the sea and still love them.

Odd.

GeorgeH said...

Steak and shrimp cost about the same.

Fish used to be as cheap as chicken.

Fish is now as expensive as steak or shrimp, so why would anyone choose it?

Other than cold smoked Scottish Salmon.

John Stodder said...

I have this queasy feeling about shellfish in general. I like some of it, but I find it disturbing. I feel like I'm eating spiders, or Soylent Green or something.

Does anyone else feel that way?

For me, seafood means salmon. I love salmon. The mercury thing has scared me off two other fish I used to love, swordfish and halibut. My brother grilled us a swordfish last month and I felt like I was taking a huge risk eating it, so I didn't enjoy it.

I was gradually getting off red meat a couple of years ago, and now I'm thinking, it's actually the best form of protein (if it's from a ranch that does the organic thing.)

Beth said...

Joan, the more you buy, the cheaper it is by the pound. I just need a good, big pot and a few boxes of Zatarain's shrimp boil (pronounced "srimp berl" in these parts). You'll love my remoulade sauce.

Jeremy said...

Well played, Pastor Jeff.

Morgan said...

People should feel good about eating more shrimp-- I've seen the farms, and it's a business anyone with some cinder blocks and mortar can start in a country like Thailand.

They throw some food in there, let them walk around and eat in the mud, and harvest a certain size to be sold.

I love it, absolutely love it. Then that guy is one step closer to being able to buy something from me someday.

Kirby Olson said...

It's oxymoronic that we like LARGE SHRIMP. Tiny shrimp taste like smelly feet. LARGE shrimp taste like lobster.

Sarah said...

In my family (at least, the part that lives in Ohio) we eat less shrimp than we used to, because my little sister came across a piece of popcorn shrimp that hadn't been, in her words, "properly de-veined." To be specific, none of us kids have had any shrimp since, that I know of. My stepfather only likes to eat shrimp when he can get a giant bucket of it and gross us out by peeling it all (we hide behind our menus till he's done.)

I love salmon and tuna, though.

(and I am also icked out by crustaceans generally; even if the Shrimp Vein Incident hadn't happened, my marine biology class likely put me off them for good.)

Tully said...

We used to go out in the Gulf and seine our own, and then have neighborhood shellin' parties. All us kiddies would get paid a pound of cleaned shrimp for every five pounds bagged and frozen. The grownups would chum the heads out into the bay off the docks, and then have us crab the next day off the docks.

We'd also get yellowtail and specs, fishing while we seined for the shrimp. Good times....

aaron said...

Umm... We've been exposed to large, cheap increase in supply from the Chinese market?

r a said...

Reading Stephen D. Levitt's analysis:

Interestingly, women in general were only half as likely to give supply explanations as were men....

Oh, damn. Caught being a woman again!


Levitt is just making an observation. Why get so cranky about it??

Patrick Carroll said...

I'm sucking down as much Pad Thai, Thai hot, before my guts finally give out.

The shrimp are just gonna hafta suffer for the moment.

They'll have *me* soon enough.

Jim Hu said...

I question the premise of his followup question here.

Kirk said...

reader_iam,

You mean Bubba? Love that scene!

And with all the talk of being squeamish about eating shrimp, I guess I'd better not mention edible termites, eh?

hdhouse said...

I love to cook and do so for most every meal at our house. I try and do shrimp once a week because of the interesting tastes you can surround it with....not hanging off an iced martini glass with redhot sauce to dip it in either.

Frankly it is a budget godsend as in the Hamptons the red-meat prices double during "the season" and a small whole chicken hits $2.50 a pound. I'm hoping that squid follows shrimp and mussels in the farm raised catagory, people stop fishing the oceans out of fish and we survive on about 1/10th the cattle.

Roger said...

HD: I'm with you on the importance of aquacultured sea food. Atlantic Salmon has been a godsend IMO; the Cubans are experimenting raising spiny lobster; there is a Mahi Mahi experiment going on in Hawaii. Having seen the depletion of fish stocks and surrounding reefs in the Keys (I grew up there in the 1950s) the less we intrude on the oceans and its stocks, the better for all (channeling my inner ecologist here).

Michael said...

TAANSTAAFL, kiddies.

Aquaculture is not enviro-friendly. Nutrient plumes and waste plumes contaminate downstream waters.

In the case of salmon, fjords are closed off to other uses of spectacular seaside locations. Diseases which incubate in medicated farm populations can have devastating effects on wild stock, and the inferior genetics of farm fish escapees can contaminate the genetic stocks of endangered wild Atlantic salmon.

Also, farmed fish and shrimp taste like fish pellets which have been eaten by fish.

Not saying that wild-caught is a panacea, the wild fish stocks can't support our appetite for fish and nearly every targeted species is in serious trouble, just saying that fish farming is not environmentally free.

Roger said...

Michael: of course there is no free lunch. Seems to me the benefits of aquaculture outweigh--OR can be made to outweigh the costs.