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Sardines, coming and going, in waves

Sep. 24, 2007

Any regular frequenter of restaurants knows that the fish we eat are subject to trends. For stretches of time certain fish will be “go-to” foods, and then suddenly they’re gone, replaced by something else. One day “Chilean Sea Bass” (actually Patagonian Toothfish, a less sexy name) started appearing on menus. And less than 10 years later, many chefs banded together to take it OFF their menus since it had been overfished, practically into extinction.

Once upon a time, people ubiquitously ate canned sardines. By the 1950’s, they had been replaced by canned tuna. What ever happened to sardines?

In his article in the Atlantic Monthly, Slow Food advisory board member Corby Kummer goes in search of fresh sardines, and does taste tests of canned ones. He explores the demise of sardine populations and the resulting shuttering of cannery row in Monterey.

The article is interesting on many fronts. As we study and fret about the collapse of bee populations, maybe there is a lesson here in population ebbs and flows? Also good for chefs to think about reintroducing sardines onto menus–the populations are healthy again, and need not only be used as food for larger fish, such as tuna. Kummer argues for their health benefits, sustainability, and ultimately, deliciousness. A perfect slow food…

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