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Seafood and the American Food System



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Rude, Emelyn 


The fundamental aim of this thesis is to explore how marine species declines have changed the structures of the American food system. It does so through three case studies. The first focuses on the gradual decline of American oyster populations on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the impact this had on American cooking and cuisine. The second focuses on the collapse of the menhaden populations off the coast of Maine in 1879 and the impact of this event on both local bait fishermen as well as fertilizer producers reliant on menhaden scrap as a source of nitrogen for their fertilizer blends. The third focuses on the collapse of California Pacific Sardine populations off the coast of California in the late 1940s and the resulting disruptions this caused to the animal feed market in the post-World War II period. Overall, this thesis finds that these species collapses can be understood as significant moments of both change and continuity in the development of the food system, pushing producers and consumers away from localized food production and towards the greater stability of more industrialized supply chains. Through this work I hope to demonstrate that not only are marine species declines and fish stock collapses important events in the history of food production but also that fish have played a far greater role in the development of the American food system than the existing scholarship acknowledges.





Warde, Paul


culinary history, economic history, environmental history, food systems, seafood


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust