Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

fish —and seafood generally—represent the planet’s largest stock of ‘wild’ food. Indeed, the term ‘wild’ applies to all seafoods except for the small (but growing) proportion which are ‘farmed’. Yet the term is rarely so used. This might be because ‘wild’ may mean ferocious as well as non-domesticated, and many fish are perceived as gentle of habit. The Roman poet Ovid praised the grey mullet for its blameless life, browsing on vegetation and never partaking of flesh. But most fish gobble up other fish relentlessly, as the dialogue between the Third Fisherman and the First Fisherman in Shakespeare’s Pericles makes clear:

Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.

Why, as men do on land; the great ones eat up the little ones.