01 October, 2007

The Power of Cod and History

I have just finished reading Mark Kurlansky's 'Cod: A Biography of The Fish That Changed the World'. What a book! Before reading it, I didn't know that Cod, such a simple fish - like the way shark meat has shaped Hadhramaut - has had such a major role and impact in shaping European and American history. And how communities and societies, so much depended on it and revolved around the fish; and how some still, do. Nor did I know that the fish is that endangered . Nor did I know that, people in some West African countries such as Nigeria - have such a great liking for cod. And nor did I know that - present day American recipes and cuisines, have been very much affected and shaped by former African slaves who worked as cooks and helpers in American kitchens, long ago. I found it interesting too, learning - of how Iceland was formed and how rapidly it has changed to what it is now; and how the Basques relate to cod fishing and were, apparently, the first peoples to fish cod commercially.

Right at the beginning of the book, Kurlansky quotes from 'The Lessons of History':

So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life - peaceful when food abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food. Animals eat one another without qualm; civilized men consume one another by due process of law.

How very right and frightening! With the world now faced with rising costs of food and more people going hungry or with less to eat, it is frightening to think of what would happen if (I prefer using 'if') mouths outrun the food. A few reviews on Kurlansky's book:

"You probably enjoy eating codfish, but reading about them? Mark Kurlansky has written a fabulous book--well worth your time--about a fish that probably has mattered more in human history than any other. The cod helped inspire the discovery and exploration of North America. It had a profound impact upon the economic development of New England and eastern Canada from the earliest times. Today, however, overfishing is a constant threat. Kurlansky sprinkles his well-written and occasionally humorous history with interesting asides on the possible origin of the word codpiece and dozens of fish recipes. Sometimes a book on an offbeat or neglected subject really makes the grade. This is one of them." Science Daily

"This eminently readable book is a new tool for scanning world history. It leads to a vastly different perception of why folks did what they did. The King of Spain married off his son to the royal house of Portugal, all right; but what was at stake, which nobody in high school told us about, was fishing rights -- then as now, fish meant money. Cod was also the original traveling food -- dried and salted, it was one of the world's first nonperishables, making it not only an excellent trade item but fuel for centuries of carbo-loaded explorers." The New York Times

"What a prodigious creature is the cod. This bottom-dwelling fish forms massive schools and swims with its mouth open, devouring everything that will fit down its gullet. A fully mature female may produce 9 million eggs a year. No wonder that when John Cabot explored the North Atlantic in 1497, his crew simply dropped baskets over the side to haul in all they could eat. But in Cod: A Biography of The Fish That Changed the World, author Mark Kurlansky says: ''If ever there was a fish made to endure, it is the Atlantic cod--the common fish. But it has among its predators man, an openmouthed species greedier than the cod.''" BusinessWeek

After reading the book, I have been thinking: is the organically farmed cod at Shetalnd, really organic? There seems to be controversy in that. As endangered as it is, should I ever eat cod fish again? Well, I like cod meat, just as I love most sea food. Kurlanky's book has many cod recipes from different parts of the world; some, very interesting. Worth trying. Next time I have cod- if I can and and if I will, I will certainly have much more appreciation for my meal; and I will always, now, have enormous respect for the Cod.