John McQuaid got the first inklings for Gusto while reporting a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles about the global fishing crisis for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The decisions people made at local supermarket seafood counters were triggering the collapse of fish populations around the world. Shrimp had gone from a niche product to a mass-market item thanks to the rapid proliferation of aquaculture in Asia, a trend that was destroying delicate coastal habitats there and ruthlessly undercutting American shrimpers. The sciences of food safety and fish population biology were being subverted to cash in on this chimerical fish boom. The popcorn shrimp or seared salmon on your dinner plate, in other words, mapped how the world works today.
Since then, McQuaid, 50, who has also been a foreign correspondent, covered presidential campaigns, and investigated secret military contracting, has explored diverse topics as a science and environmental journalist, looking for similar “world maps”. He found one in invasive termites from China that had invaded and were literally devouring the housing stock and infrastructure of New Orleans, at a cost of billions of dollars per year. The series, which delved into termite evolution and the emerging field of invasion biology, was a Pulitzer finalist and won awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Later, he explored the fields of structural engineering, storm surge wave modeling, and risk analysis to report that New Orleans was fatally exposed to hurricanes, collaborating on a series that predicted what would happen when Katrina struck a few years later. He worked on the paper's Pulitzer-winning Katrina coverage, traveling to the Netherlands to look at that nation's vastly-superior flood control techniques.
In 2006, he left The Times-Picayune and co-authored Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. Since then, he has written pieces for Smithsonian magazine about the terrible toll of mountaintop removal coal mining and, in another “world map” story, the global trade in cut flowers. He never left food behind. He traveled to Brazil’s vast sugarcane country to report a series about the globalization of sugar (never published because of Katrina). He has written about the promises and risks of ocean aquaculture, which will mean lining our shores with giant underwater cages. A recent piece for Eating Well magazine focused on the biology of genetically-engineered salmon, which the FDA is poised to approve for sale in the United States, and other “frankenfoods".
McQuaid is a graduate of Yale. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife and two children.