The Best Meal for the World

Paul Greenberg
5 min readMay 16, 2021

If you’re looking for small carbon footprint and big nutrition look below the surface

“Seashore Sunset” by Vitor_Esteves is licensed underCC BY 2.0

When you sit down to write an eye-catching essay about the best meal in the world your first instinct is to go with one of the sleek creatures that have historically captured the human imagination. Salmon battling 20 knot currents to reach their spawning grounds at the headwaters of the world’s mightiest rivers. Bluefin tuna charging faster than thoroughbred racehorses, crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific and circling the bottom of the world. But when you sit down to write about sustainability and seafood and try to consider which creatures might supply us with the most nutrition for the least amount of environmental damage you have redefine your definition of “best”. You must choose a much more meditative set of organisms that are equally amazing as salmon and tuna yet much less visibly so.

Consider, then, the mussel.

Mussels, like nearly all the creatures grouped under the term “bivalve” tend to stay put. After a brief window as free swimming “veligers” they choose a place to settle, extend a “foot” and attach themselves to a rock, a line, a piece of wood, what have you, for the most of the rest of their lives. Though they can, in a pinch shorten their byssus threads and tumble themselves to a new location, they prefer not to. They do not move to hunt their prey. They do not move to flee from predators. Rather, they grow a shell to armor their tender insides. Their only exposure to the outside world are two “valves” (hence bivalve) through which they filter their waters around them and patiently put on weight.

What all this means is a creature that while very modest in appearance is in fact remarkably potent and efficient in both cleaning the ocean and providing humans with protein, fat and essential nutrients.

It is this passive, complacent act of filtration that is the quiet miracle of mussels. They are, in a sense the Buddhas of their domain. Just as in meditation we’re told to note our inbreaths and our outbreaths and to allow ourselves to merge with the universe, mussels take in worlds of microscopic phytoplankton with every pulse of their gills…

Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World