Fish have constituencies. Take cod, for instance. Bodybuilders love cod.
They eat it by the plateful because they think it will help them display their muscles. It seems that when you are building your body, you want to eat food like cod, with a lot of protein but not much sodium. Sodium retains water, and the retained water sort of "clouds" your skin and blurs the best possible view of major muscles. And so, among the muscle-popping crowd, cod is a favorite fish.
This insight came from Charles W. Parks Jr., manager of the Southern Seafood store in Dundalk. Parks told me that about two months before any bodybuilding contest, guys from a nearby gym start showing up at his store asking for bags of frozen cod.
"I got one guy who bought five bags every Monday," said Parks. "That's about 15-18 pounds of cod, but these guys tell me when they train they eat five to six meals a day."
The fondness of guys with big biceps for big servings of cod was among the bits of wisdom I came across recently when I talked to Parks and others in the seafood business and tried to link different kinds of fish with their favorite eaters.
I have always wanted to know, for example, who ate orange roughy. To me orange roughy is the white bread of seafood. It doesn't taste like it ever spent any time swimming in the sea. It turns out that its mild manner was the precise reason some folks found orange roughy appealing. "It is the fish for people who don't like fish," said Bob Millerhauser, head of Southern Seafood, a Baltimore business that has been selling seafood for 70 years.
"Orange roughy has meaty flavor, good texture and no odor," Millerhauser said. I took this to mean orange roughy is the favorite among folks who have to eat fish for dietary reasons but wish they could eat a steak.
Another fish with faint flavor, tilapia, seemed to be favored by the curious. Last year when Americans wanted to taste a new fish, tilapia was the one they tried most often.
Simply Seafood, a Seattle-based trade magazine, conducted the survey that came up with these results. The magazine took this finding as an indication that Americans were becoming more adventurous seafood eaters.
I disagree. I don't think anybody who ate tilapia should be considered adventurous. This is a low-taste, low-risk fish. Eating it is about as daring as eating lettuce, which incidentally is pretty much what the tilapia like to munch. The fish live in farm ponds and eat plants.
I found out that people with a taste for the full-flavored fish such as tuna, salmon and swordfish also have a taste for the good life. These fish appeal more to the "upscale" crowd, said Millerhauser, which means people willing to spend anywhere from $5 to $9 a pound for their pleasure. These fish are big sellers during the holidays, when people tend to give themselves a treat.
Meanwhile, "value-oriented" eaters migrate to the whiting at $1.65 a pound, a fish for every day, Millerhauser said.
Flounder and haddock attract an older, seasoned crowd. "People who buy flounder are traditional seafood eaters," said Parks in Dundalk. "They know haddock, cod and flounder. They aren't afraid of that seafood flavor."
Catfish attracts the Southern contingent. "It is a Southern fish," Millerhauser said, and people who buy it regularly usually grew up eating it.
Southerners, it turns out, also have the biggest appetite for breaded seafood. Folks living in the South eat breaded seafood two to three times a month, more often than eaters in any other part of the nation.
This information came from a 1993 telephone poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J. The folks who paid for the poll, Fisher Boy, make fish sticks.
Not surprisingly, once the poll-takers got the 1,026 adults over 18 years old on the telephone, they asked them questions about fish sticks.
The questioners found out that the younger the adult, the more the sticks they ate. Adults ages 18-24 said they wouldn't be satisfied until they ate an average 9 1/2 fish sticks at a sitting.
They also found that the older the adult, the fewer the sticks. Folks over age 65 said that four fish sticks per sitting was enough already.
And the questioners found that women said they could eat 5 1/2 fish sticks in a single sitting and men said they could eat almost 8 sticks. Which proves that gender matters, at least in fish sticks.