American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food

American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food

American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food

American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food

Synopsis

In a lively account of the American tuna industry over the past century, celebrated food writer and scholar Andrew F. Smith relates how tuna went from being sold primarily as a fertilizer to becoming the most commonly consumed fish in the country. In American Tuna, the so-called "chicken of the sea" is both the subject and the backdrop for other facets of American history: U.S. foreign policy, immigration and environmental politics, and dietary trends.

Smith recounts how tuna became a popular low-cost high-protein food beginning in 1903, when the first can rolled off the assembly line. By 1918, skyrocketing sales made it one of America's most popular seafoods. In the decades that followed, the American tuna industry employed thousands, yet at at mid-century production started to fade. Concerns about toxic levels of methylmercury, by-catch issues, and over-harvesting all contributed to the demise of the industry today, when only three major canned tuna brands exist in the United States, all foreign owned. A remarkable cast of characters-- fishermen, advertisers, immigrants, epicures, and environmentalists, among many others--populate this fascinating chronicle of American tastes and the forces that influence them.

Excerpt

Tuna histories usually begin in the Mediterranean, and for good reason. Tuna spawn in the eastern Mediterranean, and each year they migrate through the Mediterranean to the Straits of Gibraltar and then head out into the Atlantic Ocean. Since the migration is an annual event, fishermen can predict within a few weeks when the fish will be passing near their shores. As soon as migrating tuna are spotted, fishermen flock to their boats and net as many fish as possible before the school moves on. Once in the open ocean, tuna have widely divergent migratory patterns, making their capture much more problematic.

For several thousand years fishermen in the Mediterranean have caught and consumed tuna. It comes as no surprise that ancient Greek and Roman texts make numerous references to tuna, and images of the fish appear in art and on coinage. References, artifacts, and archaeological digs have documented tuna’s history for thousands of years, and the fish’s continued popularity in southern Europe and northern Africa is yet other reason to begin tuna’s history in the Mediterranean.

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