Like everyone in this industry, I have done more than my fair share of seafood-related travelling.
I have experienced the rainbow-stained hustle of India, the spice-scented drive and ingenuity of China, meandered dirt roads by the Mekong, and dirty roads by the Thames, ridden a train through lush Galician countryside and a car through Brazilian cities I was told to lock all the doors on at traffic lights.
But, while my first travels raised goose bumps, they are now more prone to give me deep vein thrombosis, so it is always a pleasure to find a new experience.
So I was pretty happy to attend the Global Seafood Marketing Conference in Orlando, Florida, last month, which felt not just like a new experience, but a journey to the land before time.
And it gave me some insight into why the world's second-largest market for seafood isn't growing.
For starters, there's far too much focus on farmed shrimp in the US market. I understand. Shrimp is delicious. But in the United Kingdom, warmwater "prawns"(as we call them) aren't God's gift to man. They're a nice treat paired with chili and garlic, to be enjoyed as one might enjoy a nice beef steak.
American seafood companies' over-focus on the species has led it into some dark places -- bulk shrimp rings drowned in cocktail sauce, or deep fried into "popcorn shrimp," "boom boom shrimp" or, of course, my favorite, "bang bang" shrimp.
And then there's the packaging. Apparently skin packs -- an invention that has long been used in the UK market -- are a revolution on par with the discovery of the wheel. They are still being spoken about in the US industry in the kind of hushed whispers generally withheld for news of an affair amongst your colleagues.
And this brings me onto the sneaking. Market seafood for what it is? A healthy, tasty, delicate protein that is quick to cook but beautiful to present? No, just find the blandest, most tasteless fish you can and sell it on the basis that it can be covered with breading, or with a sauce (hello, pangasius, tilapia and pollock). It should be noted that the fish showing the most growth in the US market right now, farmed salmon, isn't bland at all.
The obsession with Lent is also confusing. Yes, Europe understands the concept of Lent, and I suppose we still occasionally chow down on a few pancakes the day before, but this apparently heavy reliance on such a tenuous and socially fragile construct seems pretty risky.
A story in Christianity Daily, of all outlets, notes that Lent is a fading custom, and speculates that the fact "the Lenten season has to do with giving up pleasures might have to do with its lack of popularity among Americans."
So while Europeans are vilified as secular heathens, the notoriously religious American populace is fast moving away from it. So much attention on a six-week-long holiday seems like an anachronism. Also: THIS.
My Nan used to say "Friday Fish Day." But my Nan is now 97, has no teeth and no longer eats anything beyond boiled eggs.
Fish Friday also came up: another bizarrely antiquated notion. My Nan used to say "Friday Fish Day." But my Nan is now 97, has no teeth and no longer eats anything beyond boiled eggs.
Wondering how to battle the growth in seafood consumption in the US? Accept some truths: The world has shifted. Millennials and Gen Zers aren't looking for Lent, fish sticks or popcorn shrimp. They want plant-based foods, they want low carbon footprints and they want exotic flavors.
For a market with such huge buying power and an extensive seafood tradition, more imagination needs to be going into bringing the protein back to the fore.