Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fishless Future?

The cod is finally disappearing. It's not only cod, however, that's been over fished, but other species as well, such as bluefin tuna.

But it's the cod that is the staple of a traditional comfort food, fish and chips, often referred to in England by fish fans as the more precise cod and chips, which I wished it had been named on the menu at a favorite local seafood eatery that my family has frequented for decades, a family habit that existed long before I was born. My mother has related tales of her visits as a young woman with her mother and sister to the original (and no longer existing) 1940s downtown location.

The family-owned restaurant at its peak had 4 or 5 locations around town, gradually reduced until today there are only two, on opposite sides of the county. Thankfully those two are the ones I've been visiting since my own childhood, so the memories are refreshed each time I patronize them (though regrettably, a major remodeling at one of them a few years back erased much of what my memory holds of those warm, happy dining experiences, leaving only those fading images in my brain, the concrete reality gone forever).

There was only one item on the menu we ever ordered as an entree, the fish and chips, with choice of salad or coleslaw as the side. The other strange things on the menu were for the seafood nuts to eat, items we avoided like the plague. Lobster, oyster, crab, abalone? Fish with weird names served with their heads still attached? Never! One of our favorite places to eat was a full service seafood haven that we, with our narrow culinary focus, had transformed into a mere fish and chips stand.

A few years ago I wanted to share that fish and chips with a good friend. We went finally one sunny afternoon. After we received our plates of battered fish and steak fries, I soon discovered something fishy about the fried fish on my fork. It was not consistent with the product I'd been eating there my whole life. Unlike the flaky cod, this fish was soft and mushy and refused to flake when you cut into it.

"This isn't the fish and chips they usually serve," I told my friend. She looked at me like she didn't believe me. I could tell, though, that she was no more fond of the fraudulent substitute fish than I was. She politely kept saying how good it was, however. It seemed cod had gone up in price or was in short supply at that time, and though they would eventually go back to the version of the dish that I loved, my friend missed out on it that dismal day. I fear it may one day disappear on a more permanent basis.

About ten years ago, when I was taking a cooking class for my food service certificate, our instructor told us that seafood as we knew it was going to be a thing of the past in our lifetime, due to extreme overfishing of the seas. I hope that prediction isn't coming true.

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