By John Pappalardo
We’re throwing an early summer outdoor bash, July 1 on the grounds of our old captain’s house in Chatham, and I’m tempted to say the reason why is simply because – finally — we can!
That’s part of it, but even more it’s because we want to celebrate the great haddock chowder we’ve been making for almost a year now, find a way to share it with you as well as the food banks and pantries who do such great work in our communities.
And gather your support to keep it going.
I could offer you all kinds of statistics to show how successful this program has been: Almost 300,000 pounds of haddock chowder distributed to food banks across New England, all the way down to Delaware and Washington DC. More than 200,000 pounds of haddock purchased. Scores of jobs in seafood processing and manufacturing supported. Almost a dozen local food pantries and kitchens as direct recipients to help friends and neighbors facing food insecurity.
Here’s another way to see it:
This effort is now being celebrated at the highest levels of our federal government, used as a national model and call to action.
On June 15, a delegation of ranking elected officials in Massachusetts came together to write a letter to the new Secretary of Agriculture in the Biden administration, Tom Vilsack. As head of the US Department of Agriculture, he is in charge of many things, including the large distribution effort run by USDA that is supposed to send American-made food across the country to schools, food banks, the military, and prisons.
We want fish, and independent, small-boat fishermen, to be included in that effort. We think the haddock chowder program proves that’s feasible.
As it turns out, so do United States Senators Ed Markey and Ellizabeth Warren, plus Massachusetts Congressmen and national leaders Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, Steve Lynch, and Richard Neal. Our own Congressman, Bill Keating, galvanized and led the effort.
Here is their letter:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We applaud your leadership as the Administration confronts economic disruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this spirit, we are writing to underscore the critical need to engage the nation’s commercial fishing industry, particularly independent fishermen.
The non-profit Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance has created a successful initiative to harvest sustainable small haddock and manufacture frozen chowder for donation to food banks across New England and the mid-Atlantic. Since last year, the Alliance has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify eligibility for seafood products.
To date, small-boat family fleets have not been able to participate in USDA procurement programs. Haddock is a plentiful, wild-caught fish that can be landed by many small-boat fishermen in the Northeast. It does not necessarily produce uniform fillets, but is perfect for a chowder base—much like comparable sustainable species in other parts of the country.
This initiative thus features a sustainable new product that keeps family fishermen on the water and provides volumes of nutritious, affordable, ready-to-serve meals. Moreover, the Alliance initiative is a replicable model that would be adopted by other independent fleets across the country – from Alaska to Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Fishermen’s Alliance has been working for months with USDA staff to address each of the procurement specifications and procedural requirements. However, USDA has historically struggled to recognize new seafood products as commodities for its food programs, making it a challenge for this effort to advance. Notably, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report again recognized fish as an essential element of diet for all Americans and underscored its positive health effects, especially for pregnant women and young children.
For these reasons, we urge you to consider partnering with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and other family fishing industry leaders. Specifically, we ask USDA to:
· Expedite the deployment of seafood chowder specifications within the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Food and Nutrition Service to include haddock chowder;
· Extend these specifications to include chowders using sustainable seafood products from other regions of the country; and
· Include sustainable seafood products from independent fishermen in USDA purchasing and distribution programs.
The long-term goal is to fully integrate fish and seafood purchases into USDA programs, comparable to successful programs for beef, pork and chicken. We look forward to working together to embrace the initiative of family fishermen to help address the urgent priority of food insecurity across the country.
Thank you for your attention to this matter…
That’s plain talk, and with their great support, we’ll keep on keeping on.
Now we need your support too. Please join us on July 1, buy a case of chowder – hell, order one whether you can make it on July 1 or not! — and know that by doing so, you get some wonderful food as well as helping us move into year two.
Click here to sign up and help us. And remember you can still buy chowder if you can’t make it on July 1.