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A Brief History on the Other Kind of Sea Food

Many of us stand in front of our open refrigerator contemplating the most delicious option to slake our snack craving, completely indifferent to the technology at work preserving the food contained within. And while nearly everyone in human history has felt the effects of spoiled, non-nutritious, or just plain nasty food, no group has felt those effects more acutely as sailors.

According to 17th century English Navy Administrator Samuel Pepys, “...seamen love their bellies above anything else.” Out at sea, a sailor’s happiness, health, and longevity is dependent upon a ship’s food supplies—when rations are depleted, so is the mood of the voyage. In these calamitous cases, unfortunate seafarers have been forced to survive on what we landlubbers wouldn’t dream of touching with a stick. Let’s explore the sometimes nauseating history of the other kind of sea food.

Preserving foods stretches back to antiquity, and rations like dried meat and salted fish have fed seafaring crews, such as those led by Christopher Columbus, on extended voyages throughout the ages. These preserved provisions would provide for sailors until making landfall where indigenous fruits and animals were either known to be, or hoped to be, plentiful. In fact, Columbus’ discovery of the Americas opened up the known world’s menu by introducing such culinary delights as the tomato, sweet potato, corn, chocolate, and more. But because delicacies such as these didn’t keep well on long journeys, hardtack continued to dominate the sailor’s menu for many generations.