Is there a bright future for tuna?


By Danny Tyree

Cagle Cartoons

I’m a big fan of comfort foods, but a recent headline made me feel decidedly uncomfortable.

“Tuna seeks return to salad days,” blared the Wall Street Journal.

To my dismay, once-ubiquitous canned tuna has fallen upon hard times. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption dropped 42 percent between 1986 and 2016.

I’m disappointed by snobbish modern consumers who sneer at canned tuna. My fellow Baby Boomers and our parents certainly gobbled down mass quantities like good Americans, even though Charlie the Tuna made an unnerving animated spokes-tuna for StarKist.

Charlie was the antithesis of Chick-fil-A’s cows painting “Eat Mor Chikin” graffiti. Charlie begged to be caught and processed and consumed by StarKist’s customers. Talk about one sick puppy.

I guess the slow decline of canned tuna began decades ago because of worries about potential mercury poisoning. The industry should’ve done a better job of responding. (“Beef: it may be what’s for dinner, but will it take your temperature?”)They should’ve expanded into the medical benefits of other seafood.(“The chowder that mimics a stethoscope.” “Squid tentacles that tell you to turn your head and cough.”)

And I suppose people wearied of the great “tuna fish” redundancy. (“*Sigh* Sorry, sir, we’re fresh out of tuna fish; but I have some lovely tuna marsupial. It comes with its own pouch for holding the mayo.”)

Canned tuna struggles to catch on with younger consumers, who prefer fresher, less-processed options (if they eat tuna at all). Canned tuna is deemed too inconvenient for younger shoppers. With no guarantee of a Purple Heart, they are sometimes forced to endure the living hell of opening the can, draining the water and fetching a utensil. (“It’s like being dragged back to the days of landline pushmowers and landline iceboxes or whatever, dude.”)

According to the Journal, many millennials don’t even own a can opener! Folks, this is not butter churn and spinning wheel territory. No one is asking you to steal a can opener from the Pioneer Days craft fair. Museums have generously turned a few loose for the general public. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. (“Open, can – open! Baby, I think this universal remote is broken!”)

Today’s consumers complain that traditional canned tuna smells too “fishy.” Folks in Biblical times got on the last nerve of prophets, but surely, they weren’t this whiney. The 5,000 whom Jesus fed with five loaves and two small fishes were thrilled to get a meal. There’s no record of anyone complaining, “Can’t we have something that smells like brimstone instead? And were any locusts harmed in this meal’s preparation?”

The tuna industry is valiantly trying to reboot demand for the product with resealable bowls, meal kits and premium lines of safer, more sustainable high-quality fish.

They want to make tuna cool and exciting again. Hey, maybe they can use distressed cans, all pre-rusted and decorated by ball peen hammers. (“Only twice the price? Pinch me – I’m dreaming!”)

Danny Tyree’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.

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