I’m Japanese American, and my wife is Japanese. We cook fish all the time. Tonight we had wild salmon, we have mackerel in the fridge, and there are some dried fish snacks in my pantry. While I was eating recently, I think I finally understood why Americans don’t eat much fish.
I used to think that the reason Asians eat more fish than Americans was geography. America is a big country with a vast inland. People living in places like Kansas are less likely to have access to fish, especially from the sea. With their large pastures, Americans have learned to raise livestock like cows, pigs, and chickens. On the other hand, Japan is a large island surrounded by an ocean full of fish. Not having the vast lands the US has, they rely much more on fish than livestock. And the bountiful seas there provide all sorts of fish: mackerel, halibut, tuna, snapper, cod, bonito, and more.
But, even those Americans living on the coastline tend to eat more meat than they do seafood. I’m pretty sure of this. I live in Seattle, where salmon and other fish can be found on any restaurant menu. Many people will eat fish, but I estimate they only eat it once or twice a week. The rest of the time, they are hoggin’ down on steaks, ribs, and fried chicken.
You could argue it’s a matter of taste. Americans say they don’t like that ‘fishy’ smell, but usually fishy means it’s spoiled. Fresh fish is almost odorless. In this sense, Americans aren’t well versed in the preparation of fish. They don’t know how to fillet a whole fish, and they freak out when they see fish heads or tentacles, and make a yuck face. It seems only those who have a culinary background know how to prepare a wide variety of seafood. So could this be the main reason for white fish phobia?
Naw. I think the main reason white people don’t eat as much fish as Asians is because they can’t use chopsticks. Seriously! This is HUGE. This explains why Americans almost exclusively feed on a select variety of fish; they eat cod, salmon, halibut, and tuna. Why only these fish?
If you watch a Japanese person eat sanma (pacific saury), you will probably be amazed. The pacific saury is a small yet long fish that has a lot of tiny bones. I’ve never seen white people eat it. It’s because when you eat them, you have to constantly be picking out the needle-like bones from the flesh with surgical precision. You can do this if you have solid chopstick skills, but if you don’t, forget about it. No fork will do the job, nor a spoon. If you try to swallow the bones, you’ll gag as the needly bones get stuck in your throat. You absolutely need to have solid chopstick skills or you can’t eat it. There are lots of other small fish that require this sort of precision, like flounder and mackerel. So, my point is that Americans are unable to eat most fish because they don’t have the ‘chops’ to do so. Total culinary clutzes. Americans will only eat very large fish that are easy to fillet, such as tuna or halibut. A halibut is the size of a large human, fyi, and you can fillet it with a machete. And, even with these fish, white people tend to fry the shit out of them to a point where they taste like french fries. No culinary finesse.
Americans do eat more varieties of fish these days, but it’s usually at places where there are Asians preparing it. They are too clumsy to prepare it themselves. Raised on Chef Boyardi, they can’t taste the delicate flavors of fish anyway. Will white people change? I doubt it. White culture is moving more and more towards fast, processed shit foods that are easy to prepare. Cooking fish takes skill and patience. It takes Japanese chefs 10 years before they can make great sushi! Why bother when you can eat Chef Boyardi out of the microwave in 90 seconds?