April 25, 2010

Hey, We’re Packed In Like Sardines

Good morning and greetings, nuclear disarmament fans. Well, spring is in full bloom, and for allergy sufferers, April flowers bring congestion, sneezing, runny noses and the urge to rip out the back of your throat. Fortunately for me, all I’m allergic to is penicillin and Fox News, so I’m on a sinus roll.

So while a good segment of the population is experiencing that postnasal drip, headachey, watery eye type of feeling, my wandering eye was elsewhere. For today’s story, we head to the far northeastern corner of our nation, a place where the sun rises first. It was filed by CLARKE CANFIELD of the Associated Press. And as you know, four of out five dentists recommend the Associated Press for their patients who are looking for material to entertain their blog readers with.

For the past 135 years, sardine canneries have been as much a part of Maine’s small coastal villages as clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl on the Santa Cruz wharf. It’s been estimated that more than 400 canneries have come and gone as the lone survivor, the Stinson Seafood plant, shut down last week after a century in operation. It is the last sardine cannery not just in Maine, but in the United States. In the words of Don McLean, “bye, bye, Miss American Sardine Pie.”

Like english muffins, french toast and Penelope Cruz, sardines were once considered an imported delicacy. They are any of dozens of small, oily, cold-water fish that are part of the herring family that are sold in tightly packed cans. They are very familiar to me as I once had a ballroom dance instructor who was a very cold fish.

The first U.S. sardine cannery opened in Maine in 1875. Dozens of plants soon popped up, sounding whistles, loud horns, and a medly of Bee Gees’ greatest hits to alert local workers when a boat came in with its catch. By 1900 there were 75 canneries, where knife-wielding men, women, robbers and young children expertly sliced off heads and tails and removed innards before packing them tight into sardine tins, like riders on a New York subway train at rush hour.

Production at Maine canneries has been sliding since peaking at 384 million cans in 1950. Last year, Stinson produced 30 million cans. As Robert Plant used to ask in the middle of Stairway to Heaven, “does anyone remember sardines?”

Still, it came as a surprise to employees when Bumble Bee Foods LLC announced in February that the plant would close. The plant was under pressure from shrinking consumer demand, increased foreign competition and the that fact that diners could never get that intense fishy smell off their fingers.

Sardines at one time were an inexpensive staple for many Americans who packed them into their lunchboxes and shirt pockets. Ronnie Peabody, who runs the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum and a Popeye’s Chicken in the town of Jonesport, has a cookbook published in 1950 called “58 Ways to Serve Sardines.” It includes recipes for sardine soup, casserole, parmesan, creamed sardines and spinach and my personal favorite, spaghetti and sardine balls.

Sardine consumption began falling decades ago, he said, after canned tuna came on the market and Americans’ tastes changed. In Monterey, California, a group of self-described “sardinistas,” who deny ever trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, have taken on the task of trying to get Americans to eat more sardines. The group is formulating a business plan in hopes of returning “the lowly sardine to the American palate and bring and NFL team to Los Angeles,” said Mike Sutton, a vice president at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

But not canned sardines. That’s over, Johnny. Sutton’s group wants to promote fresh sardines sold at fine dining establishments like Wienerschnitzel or in prepared foods at retail stores, much the way tuna, salmon and Pepperidge Farm goldfish are now sold.

“We recognize the American public turns their noses up at sardines,” Sutton said. “It may be a challenge and it may be insurmountable, but our motto is ‘It’s not your grandfather’s sardine.’”

Well, my grandfather, who loved the New York Yankees and break dancing, never showed any fondness for sardines. I’ve never had a bite of sardines in my life. But I remember when I was a youngster, we’d grab our fishing poles and head down to the river to catch catfish, crayfish and my grandpa’s favorite, gefilte fish. We’d come home, fry them up and then just text each other all night. Ah, life along the Mississippi.

But wait, there’s more. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have written a letter to Maine Governor John Baldacci encouraging him to press for something other than seafood processing at the site of the recently closed Stinson plant. PETA official Tracy Reiman says “lobsters and fish are smart, sensitive and unique individuals who should be respected, not killed and canned.” Reiman suggests using the plant to package blueberries instead of seafood. I think she may have a point. Fish are considered brain food, they swim in schools, and when was the last time you heard someone say, “look, you stupid trout.”

So let’s move on to today’s photo fantasy tour. For you Alex Trebek fans, this is what is known as the daily double, the sunrise and sunset from the same day. We’re heading back to early January, when this amazing color filled the morning sky down at Lighthouse Point. Later that day, after watching a little Jeopardy, I came back down to the cliff as returning champion to finish my task, and you can see the the results. The final shot was taken after the sun had set and featured some really unusual colors-I hadn’t see those kind of hues since I wandered into the Rainbow Family’s meditation circle at Woodstock.

Let’s bring on the late night fun. “As you probably know, the volcano on the tiny island of Iceland has shut down air traffic. President Obama had to cancel his trip to Poland. President Obama said he hopes the volcano will stop smoking soon and the volcano said the same thing about him.” –Jimmy Kimmel “The volcanic ash from Iceland disrupted air travel all over Europe. Everything’s grounded. Commercial flights. Private jets. The only thing still flying — Toyotas. “President Obama and some prominent Democrats proposed a solution to the erupting volcano — they want to pour money into it. “According to a top Iranian cleric, earthquakes and volcanoes are caused by women wearing immodest clothing. Or as most guys would call it: a fair trade-off.” –Jay Leno

“The British government sent a warship to France to bring home stranded Britons. There was an embarrassing moment — when the ship pulled up to the port, the French immediately surrendered.” –Jay Leno “The volcano cloud is gritty ash and it’s making its way toward Russia. In fact, Sarah Palin can see it from her house.” –David Letterman “Sarah Palin got an iPad and she was complaining that it’s not really that absorbent.” –Bill Maher “Everyone knows if a Republican comes out of the closet and sees a gay shadow, it means six more years of a Democratic administration.” –Jon Stewart

“Well, the government said today Somali pirates being held in U.S. custody will be brought to the United States for prosecution, and they will be tried by a jury of their peers. So I’m guessing that’s what, Goldman Sachs? Well, just four days after Goldman Sachs cost investors $12 billion by failing to tell them that they’re being investigated for fraud, they gave out another $5.4 billion in bonuses. Huh? Even Somali pirates are going, ‘Come on! This is rather disturbing. A government panel made up of all retired military personnel says that the school lunches are a threat to our national security because they make our kids too fat to serve the country. It’s unbelievable. Remember the old days, when the Army wanted the best and the brightest? Now they’re stuck with the biggest and the widest.” –Jay Leno

So that’s our final blast for April. The NBA playoffs are going full tilt and the action was hot and heavy last week. Laker fans are sweating like Bernie Madoff waiting in the shower line. So enjoy the warm days, sunny skies and we’ll catch you at the scorer’s table. Aloha, mahalo and later, Kevin Durant fans.


  1. Another chock full of chuckles post this fine Monday morning. Lots of great lines but I’ll have to go with the “Laker fans sweating like Bernie Madoff waiting in the shower line” as my personal favorite. Not bad pix either – have you thought about doing this for a living…

    Comment by Deron Williams — April 26, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  2. Honestly, I have never read more about Sardines than I did, today.
    I hung with it, too.
    The one liners and humor abounded!
    oh, and the first two photos were breathtaking.

    Comment by Wendi — April 26, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  3. and I thought I was sweating like Charles Barkley during the half time show.
    I love those first two pictures!

    Comment by former stats girl — April 26, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  4. There goes the Krabby Patty Sardine McSandwich. I thought that volcano was part of the special effects in the car scene from the Up in Smoke sequel. Good line about Sarah Palin and the iPad.

    Comment by Sponge Bob — April 26, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

  5. I really like the texture in the last picture. Very funny blog…fortunately I am one of the few who do not want to rip their throats out. :)

    Comment by aimee — April 27, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

  6. wow…you topped last weeks colors….

    Comment by Babs — April 28, 2010 @ 10:44 am

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