New York seems to have a week dedicated to everything: fashion, restaurants, Broadway, honey, and now, oysters.
New York Oyster Week is September 11-28th, offering much to learn and enjoy. There is much more to oysters than just a perfect shucking technique and a quick, briney slurp: the tasty bivalves help clean water, develop ecosystems and have a massively positive environmental impact.
The fourth annual Oyster Week kicked off Thursday evening with the first-ever Brooklyn Oyster Riot at the Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Eight shellfish farms from as close as Fishers Island, NY and as far as Bay Center, WA, provided freshly-shucked oysters to help oyster lovers taste the difference between East and West Coast varieties.
Kevin Joseph, co-founder of Oyster Week, has a vivid enthusiasm for oysters, and was happy to share his knowledge (and oyster spawning -- i.e. oyster porn-- iPhone videos with this lucky reporter).
"I started Oyster Week because I love oysters, and I wanted to make a living from my passion. Oysters do great stuff for the environment and oyster farmers are geniunely cool people."
Unlike other farmed fish or seafood, oysters are practically impossible to raise in an unsustainable way, so all oyster farmers are helping the environment.
"Oysters help maintain the ecosystem," Joseph explained. "They create habitats and living conditions for other creatures."
Every time you eat an oyster, you're promoting oyster farming, which is, in fact, helping the environment.
Plenty of New York restaurants help support the environment by serving oysters.
"In a world where everyone is trying to be more green friendly and make more sustainable choices in regards to their food, the oyster shines brighter than any other pearl!" said chef Michael Citarella of The Monarch Room.
The restaurant also loves that farmed oysters, unlike other seafood, has the benefit of being very traceable. Each bag is legally required to have a tag that identifies its harvest location, harvest date, and grower and/or distributor.
"This is comforting to us as a restaurant and kitchen as we are able to know exactly where our products are coming from and ensure they are safe to consume by the platter-full," he said.
Steve Malinowski from Fishers Island Oyster Farm just outside of New York City grows oysters by "suspending oysters in a water column, resulting in positive environmental impact." The more oysters they grow, the better the surrounding ecosystem becomes.
In addition to being delicious with cocktail sauce, raw oysters are full of protein, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc and vitamin C. It sounds almost futuristic to think of a food that not only nutritionally benefits the human body but also improves the environment.
But yes, oysters are here, and have been consumed for centuries, by humans and animals alike.
In fact, the late 1800s marked the end of wild oysters in New York Harbor: 19th Century palates craved so many that they became over fished, and the population was depleted. While the current harbor waters are too polluted to farm edible oysters in, oysters help maintain the brackish waters, and are crucial to improving the conditions of the local estuary.
The Billion Oyster Project collects shells from consumed oysters to help re-populate New York Harbor with a population of one billion oysters. Help from volunteers and schools, including The Harbor School on Governors Island, has resulted in replenishing 7.5 million oysters to New York Harbor.
New York Oyster Week celebrates the oyster's "considerable and extraordinary role in the history, culture, cuisine, economy and ecology of New York." New Yorkers can celebrate the role of this tasty, nutritious and beneficial food at plenty of upcoming events including Oystoberfest, Kevin Joseph's famous Merroir and Terroir tasting, a Local Oyster Showcase as well as many more informative and tasty events.