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February 9th, 2023

Publication by Paul Josephson appeared in “Jeopardy”

Sometime in 2005 or 2006, I found myself strolling in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and at the Gorton’s of Gloucester Company, with the iconic “fisherman at the wheel” logo and statue. A eureka question occurred: “Where do fish sticks come from?” Gorton’s was the originator of fish stick production. I immediately embarked on a journey that took me into the North Atlantic cod fisheries; into fishing towns along the New England coast; and into the history of refrigeration, flash freezing, supermarket display cases, advertising, overfishing and massive fishing vessels working in tandem, new plastic netting that could scarf up any fauna, band saws, breading, Food and Drug Administration regulation and advertising that resulted in the fish stick in the 1950s. I managed to work with Gorton’s corporate archives; it was harder at that time to gain access to corporate archives than into those of the Soviet nuclear enterprise. I learned that a Bates College history major, E. Robert Kinney, pushed the fish stick, eventually becoming CEO of General Mills. He generously shared a two-page letter (his reminiscences) of the glory days of the fish stick

In 2008, after revising and resubmitting in response to excellent reviewers’ suggestions, my article on “The Ocean’s Hotdog” was published in T&C. Since then I have been interviewed a dozen times on the subject including for National Geographic’s Six Part Series “Eat: The Story of Food.” But the most remarkable – and unexpected – public reckoning with fish sticks occurred on January 3, 2023, on the most watched US TV game show, “Jeopardy” (where contestants must give questions to answers displayed on a big electronic board in front of them) there appeared the answer:  “History Professor Paul Josephson’s definitive article on these breaded items is titled “The Ocean’s Hot Dog.”  I had no idea so many historians watched “Jeopardy,” but many of you wrote me about the show that night. The dude didn’t know the answer…er, question…”What is the fish stick?” The answer is that fish sticks come from a combination of overproduction and technological innovation in catching and processing, and brilliant advertising, not because consumers demanded fish sticks.  Or, as Feuerbach claimed, “Der Mensch ist, was er isst” – the epigraph to the T&C article