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Networking: Linda Cornish
Executive director, Seafood Foundation, McLean, Va.
By James Wright
December 01, 2012
Eating healthy foods has been a lifelong practice for Linda Cornish. The daughter of two pharmacists who moved their family from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to the United States in 1978 is now in a prime position to help others lead healthier lifestyles through an improved diet that includes more seafood. In October, Cornish was named executive director of the Seafood Foundation, a new group that aims to help Americans become confident seafood consumers through education, awareness and inspiration. The group was founded through contributions from National Fisheries Institute members but will operate as a separate entity.
Cornish, 41, is an avid runner who has completed several half marathons but she knows that food choices are equally important as exercise in the pursuit of health. According to the foundation, low seafood consumption is the second-biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the United States, taking about 84,000 lives each year. Cornish’s earliest memories of childhood in Taiwan include the aromas that emanated from the family kitchen — the Taiwanese, she explains, are obsessed with food. “A common greeting in Taiwan is, ‘Did you eat yet?’” she says. When I caught up with Cornish in mid-October, she wasn’t yet officially working with the foundation, but was eager to get started.
How differently do Taiwanese and Americans view seafood?
Very differently. Americans that live along the coast tend to value seafood more than those who are landlocked, so that appreciation is similar. But there’s more of an appreciation in Taiwan for going shopping frequently for fresh food. The culture in Taiwan also thinks about food all the time. It’s a very hospitable type of culture. When you meet someone, they’ll want to give you tea, snacks and make sure you’re well fed because it’s a top priority for them.
There also aren’t the same [objections to seafood]. The skills required to prepare seafood well are passed down through the family. I can imagine now with busier schedules that there probably is more of a tendency to move toward fish that’s already been filleted so you have easier access. But the desire and preference for seafood is still very high in Taiwan.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited to get to know the supply chain and understand how seafood comes from either the ocean or fish farms to the consumers’ plates. I have a lot to learn in terms of how every point in the supply chain works and to understand the industry leaders and the challenges they face each day.
What are the foundation’s goals?
To address the seafood deficiency in the American diet. The U.S. dietary guidelines in 2010 for the first time recommended that Americans eat seafood at least twice a week. It’s been a couple of years and the eating habits of Americans have not changed. The mission of the foundation is to help build awareness for Americans’ health issues and those that we can prevent by eating seafood at least twice a week. The general public understands that seafood is healthy. But there’s a big gap between knowing that it’s important to eat seafood and actually eating it on a regular basis.
What’s the first order of business?
To form a board of directors. I’d like to reach out to industry leaders from both the seafood and healthcare industries to build a team that can complement each other and build a strategy.
Is the medical community’s involvement lacking?
I believe it is. It will vary depending upon the doctor a patient has interactions with. But there is quite a bit of information about the healthfulness of eating seafood. For example, the warning for pregnant women due to mercury has been widely overblown in the media and the medical community. One of the roles for the foundation is to dispel this information. That’s a big job ahead for the foundation to tackle.
Find other SeaFood Business articles on the Seafood Foundation here.