Abstract: The Pristine and Polluted: Marketing, Flavor, and the Environment in the Farm-Raised Catfish Industry

Karen Senaga


Between the mid-1960s and the 1980s, despite a series of economic, agricultural, and business impediments, farmers and food processors turned the catfish into a southern food staple. The image and flavor of the fish posed some of the most significant concerns. This paper will explore the ways in which the farm-raised catfish industry marketed their crop using the idea of controlled environments. The industry promoted flavor differences of the wild and farm-raised fish by emphasizing and contrasting the pristine versus polluted environs the fish inhabited. Yet flavor and environment, in the case of the catfish, had far greater implications than just promoting a crop. The industry sought to create a new appreciation of the fish and establish a product that onlookers initially deemed unmarketable, as well as to cross both the racial and class boundaries that traditional consumers of catfish usually comprised. In the process, the farm-raised catfish industry altered a southern food way and helped create a crop from a fish that many found inedible, unsavory, and unclean.