While there are no precise records as to when humanity started consuming fish as a viable food source there are various instances throughout history which do show how important a resource it was and how early humans actually founded their settlements near rivers and tributaries to take advantage of both the fresh water and the abundant marine life in such locations.
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As early settlements continued to grow as seen in the case of China, Egypt and the Indus valley civilization it became increasingly necessary to develop some means of mass production of staple food sources.
This resulted in the creation of the earliest agriculture and farming practices which included various means of animal domestication, in the case of fish this came in the form of the first known instances of aquaculture in the Egyptian and Chinese civilizations in 2500 BC (Maybank, 2007).
Since there are no known records which precisely indicate when this particular practice began in Egypt and China it has been theorized that the practice began when large concentrations of fish began accumulating in rice/grain fields, small lakes and various other closed sources of water during the monsoon season which regularly submerged large tracts of land and caused isolated bodies of water to form when the flood receded (Maybank, 2007).
The practice of aquaculture didn’t truly gain mainstream acceptance till the Middle Ages in Europe and the late 20th century in North America however once it did it became a veritable modern phenomena with current estimates stating that 16% of the world’s current animal protein consumption is derived from fish and that well over a billion people are actually dependent on fish as one of their primary sources of protein (Maybank, 2007).
Of particular interest is the fact that large scale aquaculture production of fish (hundred thousand to million ton ranges) didn’t truly begin till the late 1800s when methods of artificial fertilization were developed in France. It was only after such an innovation was created that large scale aquaculture practices were able to ramp up their means of production which resulted in their current state today.
Value for Humans
For a large percentage of the current global population fish represents a readily available and above all affordable means of sustenance when compared to other food types. Based on comparative global prices it can be seen that certain species of domesticated fish such as milkfish, cod, and dory are actually consumed by the metric ton on an almost daily basis due to their relatively low prices.
While it may be true that beef, chicken and pork have a relatively higher rate of consumption the fact still remains that in most markets fish that are either caught on the open sea or produced through aquaculture have a relatively lower price as compared to most cuts of beef, chicken or pork.
In some cultures, particularly those in East Asia and South East Asia, fish is actually consumed more than beef, chicken or pork due to their geography which places them near larger sources of fish as compared to cultures located in Central Europe or the central states in the U.S.
Taking this into consideration it can be seen that fish has a different value depending on the geographic location of the culture that consumes it. For some cultures various dishes based on fish can be considered an integral part of their cultural tradition while for others fish can be considered nothing more than a miscellaneous option between chicken, beef, pork or vegetables.
Start of Fish Consumption among Ancestral Humans
Dr. Cunnae, from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec posits the theory that the evolutionary growth of the human brain which created modern day humans was actually a direct result of our ancestors consuming fish and clams from various shorelines (Cunnane, 2006).
His theory posits that our evolutionary brain development was influenced by the nutrients and fats evident from various aquatic species located near shorelines, particularly fish. He goes on to explain that the average human baby brain actually consumes 75 cent of a baby’s daily energy needs and as such requires large reserves of nutrients in the form of fat which constitutes 14 percent of a baby’s body weight (Cunnane, 2006).
Taking this into consideration Dr. Cunnae further explains that the evolution of the human mind was thus based on the amount of essential fats ingested early on by pregnant mothers and as a result it was our earliest ancestors that consumed such fats from fish and clams that eventually led to the development of the human mind today (Cunnane, 2006).
As such it can be assumed that the start of fish consumption for early humans can be connected to the start of the rapid evolutionary brain development of our species several million years ago.
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Distribution and Variety of Fish around the World
There are actually hundreds of thousands of known species of fish distributed around the world which have been noted as being viable sources of food for humans.
In fact, it actually isn’t clearly known what sort of species may turn up in a market in the Philippines or one in Japan and as such there isn’t a clear way of knowing the precise distribution of fish, what species will be caught more or harvested on a particular day and where they go for export. It is known though that when examining the rate of global consumption of fish nearly 60% or more is consumed within Asia.
While it may be true that the Asian continent is the largest in the world and thus has more people the fact remains that due to its geographic position and the relevance of fish to the diets of many cultures within the region it isn’t surprising that this area accounts for the largest percentage of fish consumption.
As for the variety of this particular food type in term of ways it is cooked there are quite literally millions of recipes spanning thousands of years from places such as China, Malaysia and the Philippines to France, Italy, Spain and South America.
Fish has been cooked, grilled, diced, minced and eaten raw in so many ways that any attempt to compartmentalize the sheer amount of recipes into any discernable hardcopy would result in several volumes spanning several series and iterations due to the vastness of the ways in which the myriad cultures of humanity have attempted to add flavor to this particular means of sustenance.
Symbolism in Different Cultures
It is actually rather interesting to note that fish have come to develop distinct symbolical underpinning in various cultures throughout history. For example, the Celts developed a symbol based on fish (salmon in this particular case) which came to be associated with wisdom, inspiration and knowledge.
In fact in Celtic mythology salmon actually attained their wisdom from consuming sacred hazelnuts that came from Segais (their version of the well of knowledge) (Whats your sign, N.I). It must be noted though that salmon does contain large amounts of omega 3 which has been associated with developing better memory and mental health and as such there is a certain degree of truth behind the Celtic mythology.
Another interesting interpretation is one originating from ancient China in which fish are considered symbolic of unity and fidelity which is derived from their observation of Koi which swim together in pairs (Whats your sign, N.I).
In fact based on the Chinese and Celtic examples it can be seen that their interpretation of fish and their associated qualities is largely derived from observation and experience and as such it can actually be theorized that a particular culture’s interpretation of fish can be derived from the type of fish within their particular region.
Evidence of this is seen in the symbolism attached by the Norse culture to fish wherein they became symbols of adaptability and determination which they saw through the actions of salmon and their return to their ancient spawning grounds (Whats your sign, N.I).
Recipes for Fish
Tuna in Oyster Sauce
Tuna in oyster sauce is actually quite a simple dish to make and tastes quite good. First and foremost you start with several slices of tuna that have been lightly salted. You fry these slices lightly on both sides and set it aside to be added later on.
In another pan heat up some oil then add in some sliced garlic, then some diced onions after which you slowly add in the fried tuna slices. At this point oyster sauce is poured on the top along with a little bit of soy sauce and water. Let the mixture sit for a while under low heat after which you can put it on a plate and serve.
Stuffed Grilled Milk Fish
This particular recipe starts out with a large milk fish with the scales already removed on all sides. After which a cut is made on the top part of the fish along the spine in order to create an opening in which stuffing can be added inside. The stuffing will consist of a few pieces of crush ginger, half a slice of onion that has been cubed, various peppers, sliced tomatoes and lastly some lime juice on the inside.
Before all these ingredients are put in though it is important to thoroughly salt the inside of the fish in order to add flavor to it. Once all ingredients are inside it becomes necessary to place the fish on top of a grill that has had several coals beneath it warming for the past 10 minutes.
Once one side of the fish becomes slightly charred you can then flip it over and let the other side cook as well. This entire process shouldn’t take more than 30 to 40 minutes. Once both sides are cooked the fish can be taken off the grill, cut open then subsequently served.
This particular recipe involves creating a healthy and above all delicious tuna spread recipe that can be used with most kinds of breads that can be bought at any grocery or supermarket. This recipe involves one can of tuna that has been drained with the contents placed in a small bowl. Afterwards 3 pinches of salt, two pinches of sugar and 2 pinches of pepper are added on top of the tuna.
Then half a white onion is diced and included with the tuna mixture along with 1 1/2 cup of mayonnaise. The entire contents of the bowl is then subsequent mixed and chilled and can be used for nice and delicious sandwiches within an hour of cooling.
Overall Chemical Makeup
The overall chemical makeup of fish is pure protein with some vitamins and nutrients such as Omega 3 varying from specie to specie.
Cunnane, S. (2006). Human brain evolution and eating fish from shoreline environments. Web.
Maybank, M. (2007). A short history of fish domestication. Web.
Whats your sign. (N.I.). Symbolic meanings of fish. Web.