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.


















embargoed Canadian fish imports. This conflict was resolved in 1981 when Canada and the United States signed a tuna treaty permitting vessels from either country to fish in each other’s waters and to sell their fish in either country.36 ROUND 5 The next theater of the tuna war was off the coast of Mexico. While both the United States and Mexico had claimed 200-mile economic zones, Mexico maintained that it had control over all fish—both sedentary and migratory—within the 200-mile limit. In

packed by Americans. It was likely imported from Europe, where it had been caught, and salted or pickled for decades. French canned tuna reached the United States by 1865.33 Canned tuna from Portugal won an award at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.34 At the same exposition, the American Fish Culturists’ Association met and dined on fifty-eight varieties of seafood, including imported “tunny” from France.35 By 1885, Sprague, Warner & Co. in Chicago distributed imported canned

controversy. The American Tunaboat Association attempted to counter the bad publicity by issuing a film of its own: Tuna and Porpoise: A Scientific Approach. Released in 1977, the film had little effect on the continuing controversy. In the same year, a San Diego television station released its own documentary, The Tragic Tangle: Porpoise and the Fishermen, illustrating the negative effects of the controversy on the men who manned the boats. It received little national coverage, but around San

Accommodation, 52. 48. Modell, Economics and Politics of Racial Accommodation, 53. 49. “Will Wipe Out Fish Industry,” Los Angeles Times, June 12, 1919, sec. 2, pp. 1, 3. 50. Pacific Fisherman 18 (August 1920): 34. 51. Pacific Fisherman 21 (February 1923): 46. 52. Pacific Fisherman 16 (January 1918): 49; Pacific Fisherman 17 (October 1919): 58; Administration of Immigration Laws: Hearings Before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Sixty-Sixth Congress,

Martinson, and Joanna L. Kramer. “An Evaluation of Mercury Concentrations in Three Brands of Canned Tuna.” Toxicology and Chemistry 29 (2010): 237–42. Gill, Theodore. On the Proper Generic Name of the Tunny and Albicore. Washington, D.C.: United States National Museum, 1889. Godsil, H. C. “The High Seas Tuna Fishery of California.” Fish Bulletin 51. Sacramento: Bureau of Marine Fisheries, Division of Fish and Game of California, 1938. Goode, G. Brown. American Fishes: A Popular Treatise upon

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