American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food (California Studies in Food and Culture)

American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Andrew F. Smith

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 0520261844

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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what he saw; Lapham was also an avid fisherman. Lapham agreed to invest in the new company and became its major stockholder and its president. He moved from Marietta, Ohio, to California in February 1893. A two-story factory with a salting house was constructed on Terminal Island—a four-square-mile, largely manmade island in San Pedro Bay. San Pedro was a good location for a fish cannery. The waters off the Southern California coast teemed with fish and seafood. A thriving fishing industry had

restaurants, East Side, West Side and up and down the town.”7 By 1970, Claiborne proclaimed sushi and sashimi haute cuisine in their own right, and he noted that New Yorkers had taken to them “with what could be regarded as passion.”8 In less than ten years, raw tuna had emerged from an unimportant exotic ethnic niche and had landed smack in the mainstream of American cuisine. THE JAPS GROW STRONG, EVEN FIERCE, ON RAW FISH! Although the Japanese sushi chefs get the credit for introducing most

States than the previous government had been, and it engaged in public discussions with the United States regarding tuna fishing. Without making a public announcement, the United States agreed to recognize Ecuador’s control up to 12 miles from its coast and to respect its control over specific fishing areas beyond this limit. Ecuador agreed not to seize American boats that were within 200 miles of the coast but outside these restricted areas, and for two years, no American fishing boats were

believed that this was an attempt by the United States to protect its tuna industry at the expense of Mexican tuna fishing. They tried to end the boycott quietly behind the scenes, but when the United States refused to budge, Mexico challenged the ban as a violation of the free trade provisions in GATT, the predecessor to the World Trade Organization. The GATT dispute resolution panel charged with investigating the matter found that American restrictions on importing Mexican tuna indeed violated

fishermen and boat owners who faced extinction. In the early 1960s, twelve tuna canneries remained in operation on the U.S. mainland. When significant commercial catches of tuna were made in the Atlantic in 1960, tuna canners began leaving California and setting up plants in Puerto Rico, where unemployment was higher, and labor was much cheaper. Puerto Rico offered tax incentives for companies relocating to the island, and its location was also advantageous. It was cheaper to ship product to East

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