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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Ryan

Pantone Salmon, or, salmon are what they eat

Last week in the Paris Review, the artist-architect team Cooking Sections who look at the connections between food and climate change, published an essay Oranges are Orange, Salmon are Salmon.

Shifting cues in flesh, scales, skin, leaves, wings, and feathers, they write, are clues to the environmental and metabolic metamorphoses around and inside us.

The color of salmon flesh is a map of where the fish has traveled and what they eat. Salmon color emerges from a diet of crustacean, krill, and small fish with bellies full of shrimp. These small creatures transform algae into food for whales, herrings, and salmon, and so to food for bears, eagles, and humans.

Crustaceans swimming at 63°29’19.8″ N, 10°21’55.7″ E might be redder than those at 56°52’01.7″ N, 6°51’00.6″ W, but pinker than those at 56°41’24.9″ N, 175°58’53.5″ W. Salmon record their location by metabolizing these shades—their flesh is color-coordinated. If salmon could peer inside their own bodies, they could distinguish, from their muscle tones, the Trondheim Fjord from the waters of Skye or the Bering Sea.

Salmon who never travel and who never eat their ancestral food – which describes 75% of the salmon in any given market – are not salmon-colored but gray, the natural color of farmed salmon. Synthetic carotenoids like Lucantin pink from BASF, the German chemical company, and Carophyll Pink from DSM (formerly Roche) are added to the kibble of farmed salmon. Pantone no. 485U is added to make sockeye their characteristic deep pink-red color, and Pantone no. 487U is the color marker for king and pink salmon.

Salmon, the fish, are cleared of salmon, the color. Once they are gray, they are [salmon].


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