Leave it to the New York Times to ruin the fun for everyone; only Slate runs more buzzkill fact-based exposés. This week, tilapia come under the Gray Lady’s withering gun of skepticism. The mild-tasting, fast-growing, ultra-robust fish seem like the miracle food-solution of the future, but the Times does a bit of digging and discovers that tilapia are about as unhealthy as fish get (lacking most of the omega-3’s that make fish so good for us) and are polluters, to boot: Poorly regulated tilapia farms in developing countries are ruining lakes with pollution. On top of this, the fish are ruinously invasive, wreaking havoc when they pop up in foreign ecosystems.

The Times article is a splash of cold water on an otherwise exciting phenomenon. Because tilapia are so easy to raise (and so agreeable in flavor), they lend themselves to some very interesting and profitable growing conditions including urban aquaculture. Earlier this winter, I visited a tilapia farm in Wisconsin called Future Farm. The farm did three interesting interrelated things: used the effluent from its tilapia tank to fertilize an herb farm, cycled the water purified by the herb farm back to hold the fish, and pumped bio-methane-heated water from a neighboring dairy farm to heat both the greenhouse and fish tanks. The robust and fast-growing tilapia were perfect for this sort of a setup, thriving under cramped, high-stress conditions that would annihilate most other commercially desirable fish.

Obviously, then, the pollution thing isn’t an unsolvable problem. So if we can just breed some more omega-3’s into the suckers, we will have gone a long way toward creating the superfood of tomorrow. Until, of course, it comes out that omega-3’s cause cancer, as does essentially every food ever eaten …

Image source: Flickr member Bytemarks under Creative Commons

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