Every minute of the day and night, someone’s trying to convince us to buy something (or not buy something else). Maine-grown oysters are hyped for their fine taste, described in terms a wine taster would envy. Seafood is classified as sustainable (and therefore worthy) or otherwise, using screening systems developed by conservation organizations. Such “niche” or “guilt-free” marketing is all around us, applied to commodities from seafood to beef and building materials.

When reacting to such appeals to our sensibilities, however, it’s always well to consider the source. Buying an oyster because it’s sweet or has a certain “finish” is a simple matter of our own personal tastes and does no harm. But ordering seafood in a restaurant based on highly-edited information provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium or National Audubon goes beyond personal tastes; it means accepting someone’s judgment as to what’s “sustainable.” New Englanders know very well that the sustainability of a given stock, be it lobsters, herring or groundfish, is always open to debate. Information about stocks can be out of date. The cards issued by groups urging us to select certain kinds of seafood may be out of date, over-simplified, or fail to take regional differences into account.

Nothing’s ever simple, is it?