Posts tagged ‘fish’

This week I would like to rant about… fish!

The i-cord is probably going to take longer than I initially thought, because it is boring as hell and there’s 48 inches of it in total. Yawn. RSI. Yawn.

So to distract me from that, I am going to rant about fish. I really should turn this into some kind of weekly ‘food in the news’ feature – that would make me feel like a proper, grown-up blogger. But I keep getting distracted.

Anyway, pollack is being rebranded. As Colin. ‘Colin’ is to be pronounced ‘co-lan’ (nasal vowel rather than proper ‘n’ – even I think blogging in IPA is geeky). To their credit, Sainsbury’s want to sell more of the stuff, because it is virtually indistinguishable from cod and, although this is not difficult, more plentiful, and they want to do it now because we eat more fish over Easter. I suppose that makes sense. Even people who don’t eat much fish the rest of the year often have it on Good Friday. I have nauseous memories of the yearly fish pie my mother would make for the benefit of my very traditional grandparents, even though as a family we hardly ever ate fish at any other time of year.

For an island nation, Britain doesn’t eat a lot of fish, for which Henry VIII bears a great deal of the responsibility. After the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, eating fish became seen as a rather Catholic practice and good Protestants were supposed to eat lots of red meat. This is, given that being an island tends to lead to having a lot of coastline, somewhat silly. Personally, I have tried (especially since moving in with my Viking) to overcome culture with logic, but my taste buds are surprisingly resilient.

But perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies – it may be as well we don’t eat as much cod as we could.

However, I would suggest that the reason why pollack is ‘unpopular’ and we buy cod instead is less because we think that the name is silly* and more because, well, it just isn’t available very often. And you have leading sellers of processed fish products boasting about their products being ‘100% cod’ as if it’s something to be proud of, and you always get cod in restaurants. Cod, like much post-war food, is paradoxically both the default choice and the aspirational choice.

Hence, I suppose, the name change. And, yes, removing the rather ordinary, slightly comical English name in favour of a fancy French one does attempt to give it connotations of affluence and French cuisine, but it isn’t exactly the most straightforward name. I suppose they couldn’t just make something up out of thin air, but deliberately choosing something that is spelt like a common English name but is pronounced differently and uses a sound we don’t even have in English isn’t the easiest thing in the world either, which makes me think there’s something else going on here.

Firstly, it reinforces the idea of sustainable food choices as being associated with well-educated, middle-class ‘foodies’. Following T*sco’s pseudo-populist response to the first Chicken Out programmes, I’m half expecting one of the more budget supermarkets to start marketing ‘Just Plain Cod’, the normal, everyday, wildly unsustainable food for people who can’t be doing with this fancy-schmancy French malarkey and would just pronounce /kɔlɛ̃/ like the name ‘Colin’.

It also allows the food industry to shift the blame onto us. We don’t buy pollack because we aren’t mature enough to eat something with a silly name. It has nothing to do with the fishing industry, the processors, EU subsidies, the supermarkets that offer an illusion of choice which is really just uniformity in different-coloured packaging: in short, the cod-industrial complex. It perpetuates this myth that the global food system is responding to our choices and our preferences, and allows them to say, ‘Ooh, look at this magnanimous gesture we’re making to help you, poor ignorant consumer, to choose your fish more responibly!’ when in truth we didn’t choose to be ignorant about food and didn’t choose to have such restricted food access and so little real choice. We had it forced upon us.

Right. I have another 36 inches of i-cord to knit. Photos to follow when it’s done.

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* I mean, really, when you buy fish in a supermarket, how often do you actually say the name out loud to another person anyway? Usually you just pick it up off the shelf and put it in the trolley, requiring no silly names to pass your lips.

April 7, 2009 at 8:41 pm 2 comments


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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."