When Catfish Isn’t, Or Aren’t Catfish Anymore

—I knew I wouldn’t be able to put any new posts up with the new baby home, so I did a few before the new baby came, using Blogger’s feature to publish posts automatically for a date in the future. ((Like the one earlier this week about the new quilts picture book. Just so you aren’t wondering how I am able to do this with a newborn!))—

The NY Times Magazine Food Issue came out a couple of weeks ago and one of the features was about catfish. Here in the US, the industry is based mostly in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In the Black Belt area of Alabama, there are man-made catfish farms all over – mostly they look like big rectangles of water, just one after another.

Well, actually the article wasn’t just about how the industry was doing (which is: not great considering about 1/3rd have quit due to how high feed and fuel costs are right now plus overseas competition – there was even did a separate article about how bad it was in the July 18th NY Times) but also how soon U.S. farm-raised, Grade-A catfish won’t be called catfish anymore.

It will be called “Delacata” – a name which the president of the Catfish Institute said was market-tested.

I…don’t know…”Delacata“? Really?

The whole reason behind this new name for catfish here in the US is, it seems, to further differentiate what is grown here from catfish overseas (Pangasius/Tra/Basa). A few years back, Congress even passed a measure so that these Asian fish can’t be called “catfish” here. There’s more about that here from Harvard. But I guess that wasn’t enough – I mean, because of labeling laws it’s pretty clear at the grocery store what you’re buying, but if you go to a restaurant and order catfish, how do you know for certain that what they’re going to bring out is from the Southern US and not Vietnam or China?

Even more, the Catfish Institute has even uploaded a couple of videos on YouTube about how nasty they say overseas catfish is. The NY Times Magazine article states: “They accused (justifiably, it turned out) Vietnamese growers of using carcinogenic fungicides and antibiotics banned in the United States to get higher yields from their ponds.”

Um, yuck.

The article ends this way:

But it is the new name Delacata that many hope will end the time of catfish troubles. Delacata is, like Pangasius, a name with no pejorative associations. And now, after eight years of catfish wars, disassociation is obligatory. As Jon Stamell, a marketing consultant who was contracted briefly by the Vietnamese government to rebrand Pangasius, said, “All of this fighting and disagreeing over a product puts out a negative message to the consumer, and this has a way of doubling back on you.” When I asked Stamell what he thought of the name Delacata, he paused. “Hmm,” he said, “sounds like a car.”

American catfish advocates, meanwhile, are driving forward. “I hear Delacata’s really taking off,” the celebrity chef Cat Cora told me recently, not long after renewing her endorsement contract with the Catfish Institute. “I’d like to see it as a secret ingredient on ‘Iron Chef.’ ”

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