We are publishing the work of all the winners and runners-up this week, and you can find them here as they post. Excerpts from some will also be in the special Learning print section on Sunday, June 9.
Nothing Gets Between Me and My Sushi… Except Plastic, Maybe
As an Asian-American self-proclaimed millennial foodie, imagine the shock I experienced when I discovered a horrifying truth—plastic cuisine. Ubiquitous plastic extends beyond our surroundings—and invades our guts—through what we eat and drink. I first learned that sushi is chock-full of microplastics. There’s so much plastic in the water, churned down to the size of rice grains or smaller, and fish gobble it up. When the fish end up on our dinner plates, guess what? Our bellies receive an unsettling supplement that wasn’t on the menu.
In fact, a National Geographic study found microplastics in 114 marine species—with over half of them regulars in restaurants—meaning that my tummy acquires some uninvited non-digestible additives.
Even water isn’t safe! My parents often tell me to drink more water to wash down my food—but did they know that I was ingesting plastic too? A 2017 study by Orb Media found microplastic contamination in 83 percent of global tap water—with the highest amount, 94 percent, found in the United States!
You may wonder: So what? Has there been a study that proves housing microplastics inside of your body is harmful? Not yet, but still. Firstly—it’s gross! I’m eating a material that’s meant to last beyond a thousand years, and will probably accompany my skeleton long after I putrefy in my grave.
Imagine the surplus of chemicals needed to make these durable particles. National Geographic highlighted a few chemicals contained in plastic with the potential to become poisons in certain doses: “endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function, even contribute to weight gain. Flame retardants may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children; other compounds that cling to plastics can cause cancer or birth defects.”
By informing you of this ongoing crisis, am I telling you to give up seafood? Never!
Personally, and I think I can speak for many fellow foodies, nothing gets in between me and my sushi. Instead, let’s stop dismissing the old-school motto: reuse, reduce, and recycle. Seriously—no more Acme bags that drift yonder with the wind, and take a hint from good ol’ Trader Joes for the more environmentally friendly alternatives. Sure, paper bags may be more fragile, and fabric ones are often more expensive, but that’s a small price to pay for potentially saving a sea creature that would have been strangled or starved otherwise.
Let’s cut down on the plastic, and the next time you’re tempted to innocuously trash some plastic straws, just remember that same “harmless” plastic is somewhere puncturing a turtle’s brain through its nostril and killing a fish through literally explosive bowels… and its next stop?
Kosuth, Mary, et al. “Synthetic Polymer Contamination In Global Drinking Water.” Orb Media, 16 May 2017.
Quenqua, Douglas. “Microplastics Find Their Way Into Your Gut, a Pilot Study Finds.” The New York Times, 22 Oct. 2018.
Royte, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?” National Geographic, June 2018.
Wassener, Bettina. “Fish Ingesting Plastic Waste, Study Finds.” The New York Times, 8 July 2011.