Walt Whitman once wrote, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Despite its origins in 1855 — a full 125 years before anyone who could be classified as 'millennial' was even in the womb — I can't help but feel the line is strangely applicable to my personal feelings on the new Millennials, Tuna, and Can Openers Debacle. Haven't heard that one yet? The rub is this: According to the Wall Street Journal, canned tuna is the latest thing the millennial generation has kicked to the curb, right along with genetically modified turkeys, American cheese, and sex. Canned tuna purveyors are struggling, and it's all our fault.
"Per capita consumption of canned tuna has dropped 42% in the three decades through 2016, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture," report Jesse Newman and Annie Gasparro. "And the downturn has continued, with sales of the fish slumping 4% by volume from 2013 to October 2018, data from market-research firm IRI show."
According to millennial market research firm Mintel, 32% of consumers aged 18 to 34 recently bought canned fish or shellfish, compared with 45% of those 55 years old and older. The article posits a number of potential reasons for the lack of canned tuna consumption among young people, including a preference for fresh, non-processed foods, a desire for convenience, and of course, canned tuna's famously off-putting smell. Oh, and then there's this gem: "A lot of millennials don’t even own can openers,” said Andy Mecs, vice president of marketing and innovation for StarKist.
Yes, a lack of can openers may be at the root of this problem. I want to laugh at this assertion, but unfortunately, it rings pretty true for me. Like Walt Whitman, I too contain multitudes: I'm a millennial. I think canned tuna is great. And I also don't own a can opener. Or actually, I might, but I haven't used it in so long that I have no idea where it is or if it exists.
On the whole, other things my age group has been accused of killing do not disturb me. Not to be callous, but for the most part, I think they deserve to die. Mayonnaise? Fine when it's part of a recipe for a Fourth of July barbecue side dish, but as an entity, decidedly icky. American cheese? There's so much actual, good cheese to be had out there. Take it away! Laugh-track sitcoms? Don't get me started. Sex is fine by me, but that's really not the point of this article.
I don't, however, want to be responsible for killing canned tuna, even if it is only in a roundabout, clickbait headline-y kind of way. Canned tuna is like that old friend who you never see — maybe they have a weird work schedule, maybe they have some bizarre hobby that monopolizes their time — but whenever you do get together with them, you remember how cool and low-key they are. I don't eat a lot of tuna, but whenever I do, it exceeds my expectations.
Coincidentally, I had a tuna salad sandwich last week, on whole wheat bread with carrot, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, and Dijon mustard. It was my first tuna sandwich in months, and it was simple but satisfying — a welcome break from the endless parade of salads and sushi rolls that tend to make up my weekday lunches.
Tuna also feels a little dangerous. Like, whoa, you're going to eat tuna for lunch? You must have all the confidence of a mediocre white man. Eating canned tuna is taboo. For this reason, it may be one of the only meals that can actually get overworked, over-screened millennials up and away from our desks at lunchtime — when I ate my tuna sandwich, I did so at a table in the sandwich shop where it was prepared, a rare indulgence for me. I didn't want to be that girl who inflicted tuna smell upon my office, and this desire inadvertently gave me the gift of a lunch away from the glare of my laptop. Working millennials need tuna, you see.
So what's a canned tuna-appreciator to do? Well, I guess I could find a can opener and double down on my commitment to tuna salad sandwiches. But honestly, I'm happy with my casual relationship to canned tuna. I don't want it to go anywhere, but I'm not sure what lengths I'm willing to go to in order to save it.
Thankfully, it would seem Big Tuna is doing what it can to mitigate some of our problems with its product. According to WSJ, innovations like plastic pouches — no can opener needed! — and those little snack packages of tuna and crackers may help buoy the industry. Also: trendy tuna flavors, like Sriracha and Spicy Korean Style, placements in meal prep kits, and even an investment in offering better quality fish. Clearly, someone high up at these companies has a young person in their life!
Millennial stereotypes notwithstanding, these innovations make me think that maybe our supposed aversion to this stinky canned fish is ultimately a good thing. Perhaps we're just helping canned tuna be all that it can be — which, for my money, is the makings of an excellent sandwich. I would even say that I hope maybe the tuna of tomorrow might smell inoffensive enough to enter my office (hey, if we can cure diseases and explore space and stuff, we can probably de-stink a fish), but to be honest, that might just ruin all the clandestine tuna-eating fun for me.