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'Cooking for Solutions': A sardine revolution

May 18, 2012 | 10:30 am

The first discussion at the 2012 Monterey Bay Aquarium "Cooking for Solutions" program was on the problems facing forage fish -- those many little guys marine biologists refer to as "small, schooling pelagics" but which you and I think of mostly as sardines and anchovies. Times are tough indeed, an estimated 90% of the catch goes to making fish oil and food for aquaculture and chickens.

During the break I was bemoaning the waste of this delicious resource with Mike Sutton, the Aquarium's vice president for the Center of the Future of the Oceans, when he confided that he and some friends had been part of a revolutionary group called the "Sardinistas," which was devoted to bringing an appreciation of that fish to a wider audience.

Recognizing a fellow traveller, I immediately started pressing him for the group's favorite dishes. "Well, we make a sardine salad," he said. That sounded great! Maybe with arugula and roasted peppers? Some black olives and pinenuts?

No, he confessed, actually it was a basic tuna salad using sardines instead. "And when we served it to people blind, they couldn't tell it was sardines," he bragged.

This seemed to me to be beside the point, but he argued, "You and I might love sardines, but a whole lot of people don't. We found the biggest impediment to getting people to eat sardines is that people just don't like oily fish."

Unless they're named salmon, I pointed out.

Sutton shook his head wearily. "That's right. But it's an uphill battle convincing other people of that. At the end of the day, they're still sardines."

Me, I think that any movement that hopes to convince people to eat sardines by apologizing for the fact that they taste like sardines is not going to make much headway.  

But when it comes to food, I guess I'm a revolutionary, but a big tent revolutionary. There's room for sardine salad as well as sarde en saor and sardines cooked with mustard breadcrumbs.

-- Russ Parsons


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