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American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food [Hardcover]

Andrew F. Smith

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Book Description

Aug. 8 2012 0520261844 978-0520261846
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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Review

“In language as clear as cold water, Mr. Smith chronicles the [industry]. . . . Tuna is the story of America told another way.”
(Wall Street Journal 2012-08-10)

“A well-researched, highly readable account of an important part of the US food culture and business. Highly recommended.”
(Choice 2013-02-01)

From the Inside Flap

“Tuna are fast swimmers, but their journey into the heart of American culture and cuisine has been long and circuitous. With authority and grace, Andrew Smith charts the course of these big, beautiful, fearsome-looking creatures to our shores, from early disrepute to lunchbox ubiquity to gastronomic reverence and off into the cold, dark waters of near extinction. His fish tale is compelling, informative, and ultimately as meaty as his subject.” — Colman Andrews, Editorial Director of TheDailyMeal.com

"In American Tuna, Andrew Smith poses, and answers, a provocative series of question on the history, life, and environment of this most magnificent fish. A compelling and timely read." — Anne Willan, author of The Cookbook Library and The Country Cooking of France

“The indefatigable and prolific Andrew Smith has caught a big one this time. In this lively social history he shows us why the regal blue fin captured the appetite and imagination of 20th century America in the way that the royal cod captured the colonial imagination. More please!" — Molly O’Neill, author of One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking

“Tuna is not only America’s favorite fish, but an all-American champion food. How that came to be, how the tuna industry rose from being a local ethnic industry to a food giant, how that impacted the fish, their ecology and very survival, is the subject of this excellent and highly readable study by Andrew F. Smith. It is, literally, just about everything you want to know when opening a can to make a tuna salad sandwich. “ — Bruce Kraig, author of Hot Dog: A Global History

“From the master of the single subject food book comes another work, destined to become a classic. Smith has an uncanny ability to trace the changing fortune of an ingredient, following the vicissitudes of fate and fashion and turning it into a great story – a fisherman’s tale in this case, though with no exaggeration. Expect surprises at every turn, as Smith hauls in this huge subject.” — Ken Albala, author of Beans: A History

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hated Tuna's Hectic History Oct. 2 2012
By Marty Martindale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
American Tuna:
The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food
By Andrew F. Smith
A review by Marty Martindale, Editor, Foodsite Magazine

Have you grown up with just a little distain for tuna fish, mostly against the canned type, the sandwich filling your mom always depended upon when her imagination failed her?

Smith takes the lowly tuna and creates a scholarly hardcover volume of 242 pages, 53 pages of which are scholarly notes. If "Charley the Tuna" came to the surface and heard this statement, he would have remained happy the rest of his life.

This cheap sandwich spread for the thrifty went from being used as fertilizer to the elevated ad moniker, "chicken of the sea." It was a large fiber in the North American fabric as a dietary whipping boy which battled its way through extreme international and environmental strife. Smith reveals it all.

In case your mom missed any, Smith's tuna history also includes 27 test-of-time tuna recipes:

Baked Tuna Spanish
Tuna Canapes
Tuna en Casserole
Tuna Chowder - California
Tuna Croquettes
Deviled Tuna Baked in Shells
Tunny Fish or Horse Mackerel, Fried with Arrowroot Mayo Sauce "Tuny Fritters"
Tuna Loaf
Tuna Omelet (a lengthy one)
Blue Sea Rarebit
Thon Marine Salad
Botargo Sandwiches
Tuna Sandwiches
Blue Sea Souffle
Tuna Fish Soup
Tuna a la Newberg
Tomatoes Stuffed with "Tunny"
Pierce's "Tunny" Fish au Gratin
Pierce's "Tunny" Cocktail
Tuna Fish Balls
Creamed Tuna Fish
Blue Sea Tuna Ring
Tuna Stuffed Eggs
Beech-Nut Fish and Spaghetti
Veal with Tunny (Vitello tomato)

Maybe your well-meaning mom hit them all. My mom's favorite was her Curried Creamed Tuna with Hard-Boiled Eggs on Toast.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tuna: The American Story... Sept. 9 2012
By D. S. Thurlow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Andrew Smith's "American Tuna" is a breezy, magazine article-style, book-length look at the American love affair with tuna, the fish and the food. The several species of tuna and tuna-like fish have been a prime fishing stock for generations around the world but only in the last hundred years or so did it become a favorite of American consumers.

Smith's narrative travels on two parrallel tracks: the attempts to interest the American public in the consumption of tuna, and the efforts to organize an industry to meet the demand for tuna once it became an American favorite. The "rise and fall" theme of the book plays out in two ways. US consumer demand for tuna went from near zero to near universal in the first 50 years of the 20th Century, before recently falling back to some degree, based perhaps on concerns about methyl-mercury contamination. The US tuna industry became the world's largest by the end of World War II, only to become almost entirely outsourced by the end of the century. Virtually all US tuna is now caught and processed outside the US.

Smith's narrative is very accessible and concise at well under 200 pages plus a collection of (interesting) tuna recipes. The general reader may find it to be quite interesting. The fisheries or fish expert may find it a good introduction that raises more questions than it answers, particularly with respect to the economic and legal details of high seas fisheries and the reasons why the processing side of the industry has migrated overseas.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating History of Tuna July 10 2014
By Tom R. Halfhill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"American Tuna" is an impressively researched book that takes a seemingly mundane subject and makes it fascinating. Although the author is a college professor and a diligent academic researcher, don't be mistaken into thinking this book is written like a boring textbook. It's well written and entertaining. I learned a lot and enjoyed it. The main reason I purchased this book is that it tells the story of Albert P. Halfhill, arguably the founder of the canned-tuna industry. A.P. Halfhill is a distant relative of mine, so I was particularly interested in that chapter, but the rest of the book held my interest, too. I recommend it highly.
4.0 out of 5 stars american tuna Nov. 19 2013
By maurice - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
well worth reading, well researched and well written. it explains a lot of the history and position of the us government and industry on fisheries in the region
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't like tuna but that was a good read Feb. 15 2013
By I. Darren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Tuna is a fish people either love or hate that has had a bit of a mixed history within the American culinary scene. This book lifts the lid on a bit of history.

Whilst Europeans craved Mediterranean tuna, Pacific tuna failed to get a hold in the United States for quite a while, beyond the scope of sports fishing. The fish was even eschewed in the early days of fish canning, with most stocks being returned to manufacturers as it couldn't be even given away. It often ended up as fertiliser.

Something made Americans fall in love with tuna and within a decade it went from zero to hero, becoming the second most popular seafood overall. It has since remained a staple dish for many, whether as a canned low-cost, high-protein staple sandwich filling or a more expensive speciality item with sushi, tuna tartare and other haute cuisine dishes. Within this book the author carefully mixes culinary matters, sociology and history together to deliver an interesting, compelling story to the reader.

The so-called chicken of the sea remains popular as ever, despite environmental concerns about sustainability. Both cheap tuna products and eye-wateringly expensive tuna fish steaks co-exist and you would be forgiven for assuming that tuna has been ever-present and an integral part of a contemporary diet. Yet the reality and reasoning behind it is fascinating. Fortunately the author's exhaustive research is here for all to enjoy.

A tremendous amount of notes and a detailed bibliography can expose you to possibly more information about the humble tuna fish than you'd ever want to imagine. Careful editing and focussed writing makes this book a great read for the academic researcher and the interested amateur alike. Clearly, with the book's breadth and price tag, it is not going to be accessible to everyone (there would be great scope for a lower-priced softcover version here, perhaps with the footnotes stripped away). If you are interested in history, sociology, food or even just background knowledge en masse, this would be a great knowledge builder for you. About the only thing missing would be an appendix of tuna recipes throughout the "long history" (sic) of American tuna.

Internationalism is now placing competitive pressures on the all-American tuna too so maybe in time tuna's popularity will be diminished, perhaps by fashion, perhaps by environmental factors or perhaps by necessity. Is it too late for American tuna to swim against the tide, as it were?

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