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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intrigued enough to continue canning it after the sardines returned to the bay in 1904. Over the next few years they perfected their canning method.11 The Los Angeles grocers Hans Jevne Company and M. A. Newmark & Company purchased a few cases, but two years after selling them, Halfhill walked in their stores and found cans from the original order still sitting on their shelves.12 The canned tuna was just too oily, strong tasting, and it was an off-putting dark brown color. Rather than give up

1924. For the charge to be true, it would mean that the Japanese navy had sent these men decades before to spy on America.68 Yet another myth claimed that the tuna boats were resupplying Japanese submarines with gasoline at sea. No evidence was ever produced then or since that any of these stories were true. But at the time this possibility was given some credence by the United States Navy, which put a restriction on tuna boats in 1940 that they could not carry extra tanks of gasoline on their

on the assumption that American tuna boats needed to come into port to pick up ice or to catch bait, which was more easily accomplished close to shore. Rather than carry full supplies of bait and ice from their home ports in the United States, it was more efficient to stock up in South American ports and pay for licenses and fees at that time. But two technological changes made it unnecessary for tuna clippers to acquire bait inshore: the invention of sturdy nylon purse seine nets and the power

Representatives, Eighty-fifth Congress, First Session, 44–46; Fenrick, “Legal Limits on the Use of Force,” 140. 3. To Protect Rights of United States Vessels on High Seas: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, House of Representatives, Eighty-fifth Congress, First Session, 2, 44–46; Fenrick, “Legal Limits on the Use of Force,” 140. 4. To Protect Rights of United States Vessels on High Seas: Hearing Before the

Recreational and Environmental Groups to Solve Fisheries Management Problems.” National Fishermen 81 (July 2000): 32–33, 56. Meade, Tom, and Paul C. Nicholson. The Atlantic Tuna Club: Then and Now. [South Kingstown, R.I.]: The Club, 1992. Meltzoff, Sarah, and Edward S. LiPuma. A Japanese Joint Venture: Worker Experience and National Development in the Solomon Islands. ICLARM Technical Reports 12. Manila, Philippines: International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, 1983. Meron,

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