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American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food (California Studies in Food and Culture) Hardcover – August 8, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0520261846 ISBN-10: 0520261844 Edition: 0th
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Editorial Reviews


“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

"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

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Product Details

  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture (Book 37)
  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (August 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520261844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520261846
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,375,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a freelance writer and speaker on culinary matters. I teach culinary history and professional food writing at the New School in Manhattan, serve as the General Editor of the Food Series at the University of Illinois Press, and am the general editor for the Edible Series at Reaktion Press in the United Kingdom. I am also the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia on Food and Drink in America and the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.

I am a member of the Culinary Historians of New York, the Association for the Study of Food Society (ASFS), and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). I serve on the editorial board for the ASFS journal, Food, Culture and Society and is the Chairman of The Culinary Trust, the philanthropic arm of IACP.

I have delivered more than fifteen hundred presentations on various educational, historical, and international topics, and has organized seventy-three major conferences. I have been frequently interviewed by and quoted in newspapers, journals and magazines, such as the New York Times, New Yorker, Reader's Digest, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Constitution, Chicago Tribune, Fortune Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. I have been regularly interviewed on radio and television, including National Public Radio and the Food Network. I have served as historical consultant to several television series and appeared in episodes of: the 'Food Essence,' developed by Charles Bishop Productions, Halifax, Canada; 'American Eats' and 'America Drinks,' documentaries regularly broadcast on the History Channel and A&E; 'A Century of Food,' produced by Greystone Communications, Inc., broadcast on the Food Network in January 2001; 'Follow that Food,' series by Gordon Elliot, broadcast on the Food Network; 'What We Eat,' hosted by Burt Wolf and produced by Acorn Productions, currently airing on PBS; 'Ever Wondered about Food' by the BBC; the Food Network's 'Top Five;' Burt Wolf's PBS program on 'Thanksgiving;' Tom Zapeicki's (WBGU) 'Ketchup: King of Condiments' on PBS; Meals in 1776, 1876 and the 1950s, Steve Gillion's History Center's program, 'Eating through American History,' which aired on May 21, 2006 on the History Channel; and Atlas Media's American Eats episodes on 'Salty Snacks,' 'Condiments,' 'Cookies,' 'Chocolate,' 'Canning,' 'Soft Drinks,' 'Holiday Food,' and 'Presidential Food,' which were released on History Channel during the Summer and Fall 2006.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marty Martindale on October 2, 2012
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D.S.Thurlow VINE VOICE on September 9, 2012
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom R. Halfhill on July 10, 2014
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.
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By maurice on November 19, 2013
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
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