DREDGING UP LIES
When it comes to identifying hand-dived scallops there’s no pulling the wool over eyes Guy Grieve’s
Guy Grieve uncovers a distressing food fraud
“We’d been subjected to food fraud. The dived were in fact dredged
On the rather sombre occasion of my 45th birthday it seemed a good idea for me to leave my dive fishing boat in the capable hands of my first mate as dark weather loomed and head over to Edinburgh for a special dinner with Juliet and our two sons. As usual the weather in the East was sparkling and dry compared to the winds and drama of the West coast. Edinburgh felt upbeat and happy as it always does. From the bedrock up Auld Reekie is always a joy, as befits the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment. The mass of tourists had left and the city belonged once more to her successful inhabitants. As you can probably tell I was hugely enjoying the contrast between my remote island base and the capital. We headed for a rather brassy and confident restaurant which was maybe more to the boys’ taste than ours and found ourselves nicely placed with a very friendly waiter. Immediately ‘hand-dived’ scallops shone out from the menu. Our two boys, so proud of how we fish, of course ordered them. When they arrived I noticed that the meats were loose in the shells. That was not surprising - many of our own customers buy our scallops prepped and out of their shells, then cook and prepare them in the shells, which we provide separately. The scallops were large and juicy looking and the dish looked appetising. However, on first bite I knew they were not dived. The meat was too soft. This is a sign that they’ve been soaked. Dredged scallops are usually soaked and washed for a while to eliminate the grit and sand which is a consequence of the dredging process. The water is often lightly chlorinated too in order to increase shelf life and whiten the meats. I asked the waiter where they had come from. And with a sinking feeling heard that they were bought from a fishmonger that I know has never bought dived scallops in any quantity. I persisted and asked if he could find out where they’d been caught. Our helpful waiter went off to the kitchen and came back proudly declaring that their West Coast origin was stated on the packaging. This was now 100% confirmation that they’d been dredged. It was utterly depressing. We’d been subjected to food fraud. The ‘dived’ were in fact dredged, and we’d eaten them. I looked around and saw people merrily tucking into their scallops, feeling good about their responsible food choices and paying a premium for their supposed first-rate provenance. Suddenly I felt as if I was there for my 85th birthday. I felt incredibly tired. Tired to find myself swimming, yet again, against the endless tide of commercialism. Our boys were shocked – they are still naïve enough to think that if you read something on a menu it must be true. Food fraud is one of the most intimate forms of lying; cynical businesses make dishonest margins and then pat themselves on the back as people literally swallow their lies. A falsehood becomes part of their intimate physiology. I tweeted about this depressing discovery and Andrew Fairlie, one of Scotland’s greatest chefs, said I should name and shame the establishment. I am not going to. Instead I am going to attempt to educate the owners about fish. This wild product cannot be manufactured, so chefs need to be honest. If the genuine dived scallops can’t be bought instruct the waiters to tell diners: ‘Sorry, our dived scallops are not in tonight and due to our ethics as a restaurant we’re not prepared to buy in a dredged replacement.’ People will accept this. The public want the truth, not shoddy short-termist smoke screens. At the very least they could just be honest and say: ‘We’ve only got dredged today not dived – is that okay?’ Of all the food fraud out there I am most angered by the kind which claims the environmental extra pound from a wellintentioned public when really the product has been generated in a destructive or cruel manner. We left feeling a little blue but managed to generate some cheer elsewhere. I’ll never eat there again and wonder if this is what they’re telling us about their scallops, what other short cuts are they taking? After all if you see one rat in a farmyard there’s almost certainly a nest nearby.