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Donna Foote, In the Urban-Education Trenches

Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches With Teach for America, by Donna Foote.

06:02

Other segments from the episode on April 21, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 21, 2008: Interview with Kyle Chandler; Review of Donna Foote's book "Relentless pursuit: a year in the trenches with Teach for America;"Interview with Tim…

Transcript

DATE April 21, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Kyle Chandler, actor, on the third season of TV show
"Friday Night Lights"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for Broadcasting & Cable
magazine and tvworthwatching.com, in for Terry Gross.

"Friday Night Lights," the critically acclaimed NBC adaptation of the book and
movie about a Texas high school football coach and his family, recently was
renewed for a third season. Its second season comes out on DVD this week.
Our guest today is Kyle Chandler, the star of "Friday Night Lights." He plays
coach Eric Taylor, the no-nonsense father figure to a bunch of wayward
gridiron guys in a small Texas town. And his concept of no nonsense is
exactly that.

(Soundbite from "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. KYLE CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Listen up. We got Westby in two
days. I know you all don't want another loss pinned on your assess.
Quarterbacks and receivers are going to be with me today, linemen on the
boards with Mack. Any questions?

Group of Actors: (In unison) No, sir.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) What's that?

Group: (In unison) No, sir!

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) I didn't hear you.

Group: (In unison) No, sir!

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) All right, let's go have some fun
today.

(Soundbite of hands clapping, whistles, cheers)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Chandler appeared in the recent remake of "King Kong." But his
most identifiable roles have been on television. He played the World War II
heartthrob in "Homefront," a man who tries to change the future in "Early
Edition," and, most recently and memorably, the ill-fated bomb expert on
"Grey's Anatomy."

The movie version of "Friday Night Lights" was directed by Peter Berg, who's
also executive producer of the TV series. I asked Kyle Chandler what advice
Berg gave the actors when they started shooting the pilot.

Mr. CHANDLER: He told us, he said, `look, know your dialogue when you come
to the set. You've got to know your characters. If you don't know your
characters, you haven't created them, it's not going to work. You've got to
know your characters 110 percent.' And he said, `the last thing is, get ready
to throw all the dialogue away. We might just throw it away and do new
stuff.' So right then it's exciting.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: I mean, some actors freeze, some directors when they come they
freeze. But if you're ready for that and you want to just expand, it's the
perfect fertile ground.

BIANCULLI: Now, your biggest fellow actress is Connie Britton, who plays your
wife, Tami, who came from the movie. So she already was familiar with both
the character and maybe Peter's style of work. How did you guys bond
initially? How did you get to a level field? Did she help you out? Did you
not need the help?

Mr. CHANDLER: I didn't need the help. And she didn't have to do anything.
As soon as we met, it was clear that the casting was perfect. Initially, I
think we shook hands, said hello, and within 10 seconds were already starting
to barb on each other. We both have a very similar sense of timing and
comedy. And we both love comedy. And, you know, there's not that much of
that in the show, but there's enough of it to create that relationship. And
we realized one day that I can play the fool in front of Connie and there's no
problems. And she can always play the fool in front of me and there's no
problems. And the reason there's no problems is because on the show when we
do play the fool for each other, as actors we never let the other one hit the
ground. We always catch them right before they do. And it's very similar to
a marriage. I've been married 12 years, and that's it, that, you know, no
matter how angry we get with each other, no matter how hard we fight, it's OK
because we know that we're always going to be together. I mean, that's the
bottom line.

BIANCULLI: I'd like to play a scene that I think exemplifies this and shows
some of the humor. It's from the first season of the show. You've had a
problem with an air conditioning unit and you meet with your wife in a diner,
and she seems to have come up with a solution that you may or may not like.

(Soundbite from "Friday Night Lights")

(Soundbite of sighing)

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) You go first.

Ms. CONNIE BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) OK, you want the good news or the bad
news?

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) I want good news, always the good news.

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) All right, I'll give you the bad news. AC?
Done. Like I said, we need a new unit, $3,000 minimum.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) What's the good news? There a cold
front moving in?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) No, the good news is that I think I might be
able to help you pay for the new unit because I think I got myself a job.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Really?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) That fast you got a job?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Where'd you get the job?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) I--at the high school.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) What school?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) At the high school.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) At my high school?

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) I wasn't aware that you had bought it, but,
yeah, I'm the new guidance counselor at the high school.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) You know, guidance counselors can be a
nuisance...

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) Eric.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) ...and that means we're going to have
some interaction.

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) Well, that's good. I like that we're going to
have some interaction.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) And counselors have some interaction.

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) I think that's great.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Well, I just think that we should
probably talk about it.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. BRITTON: (As Tami Taylor) Well, I've taken the job already.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Gee, what happened to the consultation
we were going to have.

Hello, Coach Taylor.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: One of the things about the role, one of the directions in which
you go sometimes, is you're not afraid to be a jerk, which is very endearing
and, for a TV heroic lead, fairly unusual. How much fun is that to play?

Mr. CHANDLER: It's the greatest thrill in the world. I mean, even when I
did "Early Edition" years ago, the fellow who gets the newspaper, a cat brings
you a newspaper.

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. CHANDLER: You know, at the beginning of that show, though, seriously,
you know, I was basically directed in the area of being the hero, being the
man who goes out and saves the day. And I had big problems with that. Even
as a young actor I knew it was wrong. And I knew immediately this guy hates
cats because it wasn't written that way. And I knew another thing: This guy
does not want this responsibility. And that worked. It worked for four
years.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: And on this role, no one's perfect. No one's--I'd be lying if
I was going to get on-screen and be this perfect guy. I love falling. I love
playing a role where I think I'm right and then you learn you're not. And
it's what you do with that information.

BIANCULLI: Right.

Mr. CHANDLER: What you do when you realize you're wrong? How do you say,
`I'm wrong' or `I'm sorry' or this and that? And I don't want to make it too
easy on him, but it's great to be wrong. It's great to be a jerk and then
realize, I was wrong. It's real life. I mean, it's just fun. It's a joy to
play.

BIANCULLI: There's one other clip that I want to play, and it's from the
championship game episode from the first season, and here you are playing the
coach coming in and talking to your team, but your team is down at halftime,
and you're confronting the team.

(Soundbite from "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) When Jason Street went down the first
game of the season, everybody wrote us off--everybody. And yet here we are at
the championship game. Forty thousand people out there have also written us
off. And there are a few out there who do still believe in you, few who'll
never give up on you. You go back out on the field, those are the people I
want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts.

Every man, at some point in his life, is going to lose a battle. He's going
to fight and he's going to lose. But what makes him a man is that in the
midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over. This
battle is not over. So let's hear it one more time, together, clear eyes,
full hearts.

Group: (In unison) Can't lose!

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Let's go!

Group: (In unison) All right.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Your reaction?

Mr. CHANDLER: Well, I've got chills, to be quite honest. That quiet speech
followed by those kids in there with, you know, "can't lose." It's just, it's
the perfect setup for the scene. We were up in Dallas shooting that, and I
had the flu. I was sick as a dog. I remember Pete Berg coming down on the
field to say hello to me and he just walked away because everyone knew.

So I do remember doing that scene. It as a daze. I was in a daze, actually.
But right before that clip went on, I was thinking the one thing that allows
me to do so much on this show is honesty. And this is a very honest show.
There's a reality to it that comes out of me quite easily, and I think that's
what makes that scene because, out of my honesty those kids have the honesty,
and they're sharing it right back with me.

BIANCULLI: In terms of your acting career, I guess other than "Friday Night
Lights," the thing for which you're most famous--in the last few years,
anyway--was your appearance in a two parter on "Grey's Anatomy" where you
played a bomb expert that was brought in to rescue the character of Meredith.

Mr. CHANDLER: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: I understand that that led you to being cast in "Friday Night
Lights." I'm not sure whether it's because the casting director for both shows
are the same, or because Peter Berg was floating around there, who was one of
the executive producers. Do you have a story about that before I play a fast
clip and ask you a question about that?

Mr. CHANDLER: Yeah, I do. I do. First of all, I want to say, when I went
to do that, I was very, very nervous. And it was outside the door of the
studio that I stopped and literally closed my eyes and talked to myself and
said, `listen, you can go in here and you can be nervous and you can do it
that way, or you can get yourself together and realize you can go in here and
do a great job and get your mind set.' And I literally forced my mind to go to
the latter. And it as a great, enjoyable--I left my fears at the door. It
was--that alone was a great accomplishment for that whole experience.

BIANCULLI: Let's play a clip from "Grey's Anatomy," and this is your
character, who's exuding a lot of confidence in taking Meredith down a
hospital hallway as she has her hand inside a patient and she's holding an
explosive device that, if she lets go of it, chances are the whole hospital is
gone. So let's play.

(Soundbite from "Grey's Anatomy")

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Dylan Young) You're doing great.

Ms. ELLEN POMPEO: (As Meredith Grey) Let's go over it again.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Dylan Young) Device is shaped like a rocket, about eight
inches long. We're going to have everything ready. Dr. Burke's team is
going to be in place. My team is going to be in place, and I'm going to ask
you to take the hand that you have in Mr. Carlson and wrap it around the
device.

Ms. POMPEO: (As Meredith Grey) And pull it out.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Dylan Young) Level, pull it out while keeping it level.

Ms. POMPEO: (As Meredith Grey) You know, I don't like you very much.

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Dylan Young) I don't like you, either.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: What memories do you have of shooting that or the impact of that
role?

Mr. CHANDLER: Well, I don't know. First of all, I have to say, seeing it is
one thing with the dialogue with the visuals, but without the visuals that
sounds rather risque, I must say. Holy cow! That was a really interesting
experience doing that show because, you know, I think it was right during the
Emmy season when I was working on it. So, you know, you've got this show
that's so popular, it's an Emmys show. And you've got all these actors that
are entrenched in their roles on the show so you're going to have to carve out
your own niche. I think it's the first, since like "China Beach" or
something, it was the very first guest starring role I'd done within 10 or 12
years. I mean, that's a whole other job, coming on and guest starring on a
show.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: I realized that real quick. But, as well, those people not
only work hard, long hours over there, but, you know, they're working in a
hospital. And after a few days I felt I was in the hospital. I actually
poured one cup of coffee I had down a water fountain drain on the set and it
fell on my feet because it's just a hollow tube underneath. I thought it was
a water fountain. You get to think you're living in a hospital. So, you
know, I think, the crew takes on a complete different sense of humor, I think,
because they work in a hospital every day.

BIANCULLI: Our guest is Kyle Chandler, who plays coach Eric Taylor on NBC's
"Friday Night Lights."

For a television star of one of the best shows on TV right now, you're kind of
an enigma. I mean, you've starred in other TV shows and you've starred in
movies. But we don't know as much about you as we do about a lot of people
who are this level. So your father, according to the biographical material
I've been able to read, was--one of the things he did was a farm owner and
your mother was a dog breeder. This sounds like no matter where you went as a
kid, you were hit with chores. Is that true?

Mr. CHANDLER: Yeah. I mean, when we moved down to Georgia, we owned 22
acres of land; about seven of it was pasture. We went from Lake Forest,
Illinois, which is not a farming community...

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: ...by a long stretch. And my father, he bought this piece of
land. They'd always raised and showed, they showed Great Danes. They've
always had Great Danes. And they were very successful with the breeding and
the showing of them. Hence, I was always in a motor home traveling around the
country going to these dog shows as a kid. As well down there, we had a
boarding kennel. So the responsibility of 22 acres with a boarding kennel, a
business. And there were a lot of chores, a lot of responsibilities. And I
did the best I could to keep up with them, yes.

BIANCULLI: What about your own high school experience rings true to you even
though it's a different generation? What do you remember--I know you played
high school football for a couple of years, and you've downplayed your
abilities--but what do you remember about the other players and the coaches
and just the other students in general?

Mr. CHANDLER: Mm. High school was interesting, because I went from a public
school middle school to an academy where the first year we were doing Latin,
chemistry, biology. I mean, I was woefully unprepared for the type of study.
At any rate, it was halfway through that first year of school as well that my
father passed away. However, he did get to see, that year I played football
for the very first time. I was the smallest cat on the--smallest fella on the
team.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: And we won the state championship. So I've got to experience
something that very few people get to experience. I didn't play. I was a
rather small and very heavy, however I put my two cents in worth, and the joy
of winning that state championship, I felt just as much of my sweat was on the
field as anyone else's.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: And it was just an incredible feeling of accomplishment. And
truly, it was a proud moment. And the things that I learned out on the
football field, again, lessons that you just don't forget, you know, the guy
who reaches down and picks you up and says, `hey, good job,' even though he's
6'2" and just knocked your helmet off your head, it makes you feel good. You
learn lessons about yourself. You learn about yourself, what you can give and
how far you can go.

High school itself was just like any other high school. I was completely--I
was lost. I wasn't one of the cool people. I wasn't--you know, I always felt
more comfortable being the quiet outsider, especially after my father died.
And that seclusion and that quietness, I think, might be the reason I do what
I do and I understand a little bit better what I do.

BIANCULLI: If this is too sensitive a question, just tell me, but I'm
wondering if at that age if you, when you lose a parent, if you have to make a
conscious decision to decide how to act to the people around you, to your
friend, to people who don't know you, to your relatives, and if that isn't
some sort of, you know, the most horrific kind of acting choice?

Mr. CHANDLER: I would go a step further and say that you try to figure out
how to act with people so many different times and so many different ways that
in the end you're not quite sure how you're acting, but that's the choice.
There are--do you know what I'm saying?

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: I can remember now, thinking about it, trying to figure out
how to act, how to be. Because not only do you lose a parent and it's such a
shock. I was in a new world for not very long before I lost him. I'm 14 at
this point. I mean, 14 years old and a boy loses his father, you know, there
are worse things in the world by far, but it's complicated.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: And I didn't know--I never knew how to be a man. I didn't
have a figure to bounce off of. My mother, a wonderful woman, just can't take
the place of that. My brothers and my sister were moved on. So I was always
trying to figure out how to act, how to be. And I was always very conscious;
it made me very self conscious. And I was also far more introspective, and I
was far more curious about observing others and how they did it.

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Kyle Chandler, who plays coach Eric Taylor on
NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

You talked early, when your dad died when you were a kid, about not really
knowing, you know, how to be a father or at least what a father was providing
for those years. And then here you are on a television show where your
relationship with your TV daughter is so important, and you're a father figure
to so many kids on the team, and I'm wondering how you learned that, how you
approach that. And then now that you have, I guess, daughters who are 11 and
five, how that's fed your real life?

Mr. CHANDLER: Hm. Look, I am a father. And there's no way--no one gives
you a book on how to be a father. I've learned that. I remember my coach
from high school, and I remember many coaches, and I've been down there and
I've met many coaches and they are figures of extreme importance and
authority. And, you know, once I, Kyle, strap on that Southern accent and I'm
a coach out there and I'm dealing with kids who I'm responsible for--one of
the coaches I met literally when I was studying the role, I was holding his
baby in my arms and we were barbecuing. They allowed me to come over to their
house. And he gave me the biggest hook into this whole role I have. He said,
`look, no one's going to coach, no one's going to be a good coach, no one
wants to coach except for one reason, because you love the kids.' And that was
a complete lock for me. I mean, I'm in.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHANDLER: You love the kids. So there I am. Now I get to play with,
yeah, you love the kids, but what's more important? When it comes down to it,
is it winning or the kids? Because if you don't win your family's going to
get kicked out of town. So you've got all these dilemmas that come up.
There's so much to this role that I'm playing. It's so much. I can go
anywhere with it. And, you know, I've lived a little bit of it and I sensed a
little bit of it and I practice with a little bit and step out and see what
happens with it.

BIANCULLI: All right. Well, Kyle Chandler, thanks very much for being on
FRESH AIR.

Mr. CHANDLER: It was a pleasure to be here. I love your show, and thank you
so much.

BIANCULLI: Kyle Chandler, star of the NBC series "Friday Night Lights."

The DVD box set of the show's second season comes out tomorrow. And the third
season will premiere in the fall on DirectTV, then be shown on NBC. I'm David
Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan on "Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the
Trenches with Teach for America" by Donna Foote
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

Books about the classroom experience, like "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "To Sir with
Love" and "Up the Down Staircase," grab our attention because we all sat in a
classroom at some point in our lives, and because teaching stories always
revolve around the theme of transformation. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has
just read another good teaching tale, this one nonfiction, about the Teach for
America program and its core of young, idealistic recruits. The book is
called "Relentless Pursuit," and it's written by former Newsweek correspondent
Donna Foote. Here's Maureen with her review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

There's a goofy and endearing, but also telling classroom moment that Donna
Foote describes towards the end of her new book about four Teach for America
recruits and their first year at in inner city high school in Los Angeles.
One of the recruits, a 22-year-old Boston College grad-turned-biology teacher,
who's name is Hrag Hamalian, is doing a PowerPoint presentation on sickle
cells when he stops for a minute, looks around, and realizes that every
student in the classroom is staring at him, listening. The idea that all of
these teenagers are looking to him as the authority figure, a guy who just
last year was a party-hearty college senior, is such a mind blow that Hrag
bursts out laughing. The kids, taken aback, stare harder, which only makes
Hrag laugh harder, so hard he can't catch his breath. Eventually Hrag gets
the giddies under control and the lesson proceeds.

Foote presents this particular moment as something of a triumph. During his
first semester teaching at Locke High School, Hrag was so stressed out he
couldn't sleep. By spring he's on top of things and, more importantly, test
scores show that his kids are learning. But Hrag's laughter also exposes a
bleaker social absurdity, one that Foote probes throughout her smart book.
For all his ferocious hard work and talent for teaching, Hrag is just 22.
Like the other young recruits, he was plopped into his classroom after only
five weeks of summer boot camp run by the Teach for America program.
Depending on what chapter of Foote's book you happen to be reading, the
sections describing the masochistic idealism of the Teach for America recruits
or the other more sobering sections detailing how an infantry of Teach for
America neophytes is all that's keeping some of America's neediest public
schools functioning. Well, you could, like Hrag, laugh or cry.

Foote's book is called "Relentless Pursuit," and it's a substantive and
unromantic account, not only of the year in the collective lives of those four
new recruits at Locke High School, but also of the Teach for America program,
founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, a Princeton undergrad, who wrote her senior
thesis on the idea of starting a national teacher core like the Peace Corps.
As Foote describes, Kopp matched her visionary dream to a shrewd realization.
She recognized that to make the low-paying profession of teaching attractive
to the new generation, there had to be an aura of status and selectivity about
Teach for America.

Fast forward to 2005, the year Hrag and his colleagues enter the program. To
obtain the privilege of teaching at Locke, a gang-ridden, barb wire bedlam in
the heart of Watts, the four recruits had to beat out nearly 20,000 other new
college grads from the nation's most elite institutions for the 2,000 teaching
slots offered by Teach for America. Lucky, the cynical leader thinks. But
the amazing thing is that this gang of four does come to believe that they're
mostly lucky to be teaching at Locke.

The kids in Taylor Rifkin's ninth grade English class, for instance, start out
the year by chattering and fighting through her lectures. They end it doing
grade-level analysis of "Romeo and Juliet." And the transformations occur in
both directions. By the end of the year all four of the recruits are hooked
on education as a career and have come to identify so much with their students
that they find themselves no longer able to entertain friends and relatives
with ghetto teaching battle stories. It smells like a betrayal to tell those
tales out of school. Although--fortunately, for the sake of dramatic
interest--Donna Foote has no such qualms.

As I often do, I have a graduating senior in one of my classes right now who's
entering the Teach for America program. I told him about Foote's book and how
after reading it I was even more filled with admiration for what he was doing.
I sounded like every daughter and parent, mentor or donor that Foote describes
in her book. And like every Teach for America recruit who Foote describes, my
student, the overachieving humble type the program seeks, just shrugged off my
praise.

BIANCULLI: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America"
by Donna Foote.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Tim Fitzgerald, a marine scientist, with tips for
selecting healthy and environmentally friendly seafood
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Like many people, I'm eating a lot more seafood these days, and feeling a
little proud of myself for eating healthier. But what if I shouldn't feel so
proud? What if the fish I've been grilling is fast becoming endangered? And
what if the sushi I love to order is so high in mercury more than a few pieces
a week actually is dangerous to my health? To answer these questions I spoke
with Tim Fitzgerald, a marine scientist who works in the Oceans Project at the
Environmental Defense Fund. The EDF is a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental
advocacy group that provides scientific information about what's happening to
the planet and the creatures that inhabit it.

For Fitzgerald, this means touring the globe to study various species of fish
and shellfish--which types are being overfished or poorly farmed, which ones
are healthy to eat, and which ones pose a serious health risk. Keeping all of
that straight isn't easy. But Fitzgerald and the EDF have made it simpler by
creating an easy to read, easier to carry wallet card listing the latest news
about what to order and avoid the next time you visit the seafood counter at
the supermarket or go to your favorite restaurant.

On some of the worst lists are things that, for years, I thought I'd been a
very good person by ordering and eating. You know, Chilean sea bass, red
snapper, bluefin tuna, imported caviar.

Mr. TIM FITZGERALD: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: They're all in the worst, and they're fairly popular choices. Can
you explain with one or two of those what makes them the worst in the terms of
conditions that Environmental Defense has examined?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Sure. You know, in many--maybe not all, but in a lot of
these cases--these fish are being loved to death, and that they're so popular
and that they're so widespread and that demand for them is so high that that's
really driving a lot of the negative environmental issues with each one. For
example, overfishing is probably the most common environmental issue that most
people associate with their seafood. You mentioned caviar, Chilean sea bass,
red snapper, things like that.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FITZGERALD: These are all fish that have been historically fished at a
rate that was higher than would allow their populations to recover.

BIANCULLI: Well, doesn't that become sort of a catch-22 of catching fish? I
mean, by putting something on the best list and you're telling people this is
the stuff you should go after, you're in danger of endangering it just by
leading to higher demand?

Mr. FITZGERALD: In a lot of cases, especially with the wild fish on the best
choices list, one of the reasons that they're on the best choices list is that
they have a very responsible and cautious management regime. So, for example,
wild Alaskan salmon is on the best choices list and is a very popular and
abundant fishery in Alaska. Demand for wild Alaskan salmon is very high right
now and will probably continue to rise in the coming years.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FITZGERALD: But one of the reasons we consider wild Alaskan salmon so
highly is that the management structure is such that it's almost impossible
for very severe overfishing to occur. There's lots of controls that basically
shut the system down if not enough fish return to their spawning streams, or
if there's just too much fishing pressure.

BIANCULLI: In doing some research for this, I got really depressed about some
of the global things that you have to contend with after you identify the
problems. Just to use an example, that if there are Europeans that
overfishing bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, there are scientists there that
recommend quota levels. And then the European Union officials double those
quotas, and then fisherman routinely exceed those quotas by half, and that's
just one example with one fish.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Well, unfortunately, you hit on probably one of the most
extreme, yet telling, examples of how fisheries management can go terribly
wrong. Bluefin tuna is possibly one of the most valuable fish in the world.
You know, it's so prized in the sushi market, especially in Japan, that it
really drives some pretty extraordinary fishing levels. Single fish have gone
for over $100,000 at auction. So you can imagine what kind of financial
incentive there is to catch that fish. It's also a fish that doesn't really
obey national boundaries. You know, there's nothing to keep it from swimming
through European waters into African waters or North American waters, etc.
And traditionally those are fish that are very hard to manage because they
require international treaties. And when you have that kind of fishing
pressure going on in multiple places for the same fish, you can imagine their
populations are pretty hammered right now.

BIANCULLI: There's a new book called "Bottomfeeder" by Taras Grescoe, if I'm
pronouncing that name correctly, the subtitle is "How to Eat Ethically in a
World of Vanishing Seafoods."

Mr. FITZGERALD: OK.

BIANCULLI: So I thought it was fair game. And one thing in there really
creeped me out. According to Grescoe, tilapia and tuna--now, I don't know
whether this is US tilapia or Latin America tilapia or Asian tilapia, but
somewhere--tilapia and tuna are being treated with carbon monoxide, also known
as tasteless smoke...

Mr. FITZGERALD: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: ...to prevent the meat from turning brown and to keep it that
nice, healthy looking red, almost forever. Is that widespread? And isn't
that just wrong?

Mr. FITZGERALD: It's definitely very widespread. And tuna, I'm not--I was
not aware of it being used in tilapia, but for tuna, you know, everyone wants
that really deep red, almost purplish color in their tuna, you know, almost
like a beef steak. But tuna, after it's caught and once it's processed,
starts to slowly turn, you know, shades of brown. And that is not necessarily
an indication of bad quality, it's just the flesh starting to oxidize. But
when fish are mishandled, a lot of times that will speed up the browning
process, if you will, and you'll see bruises or brown spots, etc. And this
carbon monoxide, or tasteless smoke, is a gas that basically reverses that
process, but just from a color standpoint. It really just turns the fish back
to that bright shade of red. And so it's really used to basically cover up
mishandling and possibly even fish that's maybe a little bit past its prime.

BIANCULLI: And excuse this if this is a really naive question, but shouldn't
there be some federal regulation that keeps that from happening?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of these consumer
right-to-know things that there doesn't really exist good regulation for.
Another example, very similar, is the orange coloring in farmed salmon. In
the wild, you know, salmon are eating a whole bunch of things, and some of
them are krill, which, you know, have shells that have this red or orange
pigment in their shells. And so the salmon eat the krill and they absorb the
color from the krill, which is how they get their very distinct orange color.
But in farmed salmon they're eating formulated pelleted feed, which is made
from a combination of ground-up fish and soy protein and minerals and those
kind of things. And so they have to put a synthetic version of that pigment
into the feed, otherwise the farmed salmon would be kind of a grayish color.
And so in some places it's actually required by law that you label farmed
salmon as color added.

BIANCULLI: And then I have questions about one fish that I see and don't know
what it is and another fish that I don't see and wonder where it is. What is
a Hawaiian butter fish?

Mr. FITZGERALD: A Hawaiian butter fish. Well, as you've probably noticed in
many seafood markets, names are not always consistent. And a lot of times you
can pretty much call a fish--not anything you want, but there's a lot of
leeway in the regulatory system for fish names. A Hawaiian butter fish can be
a number of things. The most common is probably something called escolar,
which is a pretty interesting looking fish. It's also sold, in sushi
restaurants, under the name white tuna. And from what I've read, in about 50
percent of the people that eat it they have a--how can I put this lightly?--a
negative intestinal reaction to it.

BIANCULLI: Ah.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: And I may have this wrong, but wasn't Chilean sea bass once called
something a lot less attractive than Chilean sea bass?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Chilean sea bass is actually just a, you know, one of these
made-up market names to make the fish sound more appetizing and probably sell
it for more money. The more kind of common name is Patagonian tooth fish.

BIANCULLI: Gee, why would you ever change that? And so the one that I don't
see anymore that I used to catch when I was growing up in south Florida,
kingfish. Is that still out there, or is that called something else?

Mr. FITZGERALD: It's definitely available again. It's one of these fish
that goes by four or five different names. You said you were catching them it
Florida.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Probably king mackerel. It's definitely still around. It's
actually a very well managed fishery. It's just--it's not something that you
see a lot in the commercial markets, you know, outside of where it's caught.
It's a very popular recreational fish.

BIANCULLI: Would it be on your OK, worst or best list?

Mr. FITZGERALD: It's not on our seafood card just for the reason that it's
not a very large market share.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FITZGERALD: We do have more information about it on our Web site. But
another thing to point out with that specific fish is that it tends to be very
high in mercury. So it is actually on the FDA advisory list for mercury
levels.

BIANCULLI: What are the dangers of farmed salmon? I understand that there
are times where they can get caught in nets and then they get parasites and
they get diseases and there are all sorts of side effects that aren't supposed
to be there and aren't very beneficial to the whole fish farming system.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Unfortunately, there are a number of environmental issues
with salmon farming. It's probably one of the poster species for, you know,
how not to farm fish. They're grown in what we call net cages or net pens,
which are just, you know, kind of floating enclosures in near shore waters.
And a lot of times they grow them at very high densities. And, just like with
chicken or pigs or any other animal, when you grow them in very close
proximity to one another a lot of times they'll get stressed. When they get
stressed they're more susceptible to disease or parasites. When they get
diseases or parasites, they often have to be treated with chemicals or
antibiotics. So unfortunately you have this kind of negative feedback cycle
where one problem begets another.

And there's also issues with harassing or even killing predators. A lot of
times there will be seals--or sea lions that, you know, are just trying to get
a free meal. They see this floating pen full of dinner and they just, you
know, want to get a little bit. And a lot of times farmers will either
install these acoustic harassment devices, which are pingers that drive the
animals away, or sometimes they'll even just shoot them. So those are just
some of the issues with salmon farming. They also create a lot of waste which
doesn't get treated. It just goes directly into the environment, given that
it's a floating cage. So a lot of pretty serious environmental issues with
salmon farming.

BIANCULLI: What fish would you steer us towards that we might not have ever
tried before that we ought to try?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Well, a lot of the fish that are on our best choices list
are some of the smaller, oilier, and some will say stinkier fish, things like
sardines and anchovies and mackerel and those kind of things. They definitely
have a strong flavor, but most of them are fairly small species of fish, and
smaller fish tend to be more resistant to overfishing. They grow quicker.
They reproduce quicker. They're able to replenish their populations. And the
other nice thing about them is that they tend to be less expensive. And a lot
of people think that sustainable seafood or organic food or, you know, fair
trade, etc., that that automatically means more expensive. And in a lot of
cases, many of the fish on our best choices list are similar in price or less
expensive than things on our worst choices list. Canned salmon is another
great example.

BIANCULLI: Let me ask you a question about eating at a sushi restaurant.
With all of your knowledge, I'm wondering how you do it, especially if you
order like a sushi deluxe platter or something and you're just getting
whatever the chef is giving you, how do you take the knowledge that you have
and make informed decisions about what you're getting, what you're eating?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Well, it pretty much rules out the possibility of the sushi
deluxe platter because at least half of that is going to be farmed salmon,
farmed shrimp, long line-caught tuna, etc. So when I eat out at sushi
restaurants I normally have to go on the a la carte menu and pick out specific
items. I like a lot of the shellfish. For example, octopus, squid, clams,
oysters, saba, or mackerel is actually another one that I really like a lot,
and it's a really good indicator of the quality of the restaurant itself, and
that it's a fish that, again, is very strong flavor, and so you can tell right
away if it's a little bit off or if it hasn't been handled properly. But if
you find a restaurant that has good mackerel, that's definitely one to stick
with.

BIANCULLI: Well, Tim Fitzgerald, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Thanks for having me, Dave.

BIANCULLI: Tim Fitzgerald, marine scientist for the Environmental Defense
Fund.

You can download and print one of his seafood selector-to-go cards by going to
our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Kevin Whitehead reviews "Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition
of Himalayan Art" by the Chris Byars Quartet
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

In February and March of this year, saxophonist Chris Byars led his quartet on
a month long tour sponsored by the US State Department with stops in Slovenia,
Slovakia and Saudi Arabia. Last year another band he was in was sent to
Central Asia. Back home in New York last October, Chris Byars did a concert
at the Rubin Museum inspired by art from the Himalayas. The music he wrote
for that concert is now out on CD. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Chris Byars on alto sax with trombonist John Mosca on
Byars' new CD, with the ungainly and Mussgorskian title "Jazz Pictures at an
Exhibition of Himalayan Art." I don't detect more than hints at music from
Tibet or Nepal that I've heard, nor catch any parallels between the
compositions and the masks and paintings in the album's photo gallery. But
this music stands fine on its own. For starters, Byars has written a handful
of jumping, be-bopping tunes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: Stefan Schatz on drums, with Chris Byars on tenor sax. He
also plays a bit of soprano and flute.

Byars is a student of overlooked aspects of 1950s and '60s jazz, like the
music of tenor player Lucky Thompson. The foursome here sounds informed by
the piano as quartets, pastel harmonies and woodwind colors of 1950s cool
jazz, not least when the leader's dad, James Byars, adds oboe or English horn.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: Adding oboe gives the band three winds, but it can sound like
four when Ari Roland picks up his 'boe to sing on the bass. He'll often solo
using the 'boe, too. He gets a good jazz sound with it, not too sweet or
scrape-y.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: Chris Byars' "Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan
Art" is on Smalls Records, as in the feisty Greenwich Village nightclub
Smalls. In the '90s, that basement joint was a second home, finishing school
and research lab for Byars, bassist Ari Roland and other night owls. The
club's partisans talk as if it was the only place in New York where
be-bop-oriented players could develop their music--an overstatement, but it
helped nurture many accomplished players now active in New York. Chris Byars'
disc is a good example of the kind of swing-y, quirky, finely-crafted music
that has helped Smalls leave a big mark.

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American Studies at the
University of Kansas, and he's a jazz columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed
"Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art" by the Chris Byars Quartet
on Smalls Records.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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