Photo: tobo, Flickr
Catfish growers say a recent USDA purchase of $5 million worth of their product could help put catfish on more school cafeteria menus.
The purchase, announced this month by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will benefit federal nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch Program.
Roger Barlow, president of The Catfish Institute, calls school lunchrooms "the perfect venue for our product." While frozen breaded catfish strips are already a staple of many school kitchens, Barlow suggests catfish could be as prevalent as square-cut pepperoni pizza if administrators realized the advantages posed by the whiskered fish. "It's very nutritious, very versatile," he says. "I think there is room in schools for additional product." A surge in demand for domestically-raised catfish would be a boon for U.S. producers, who've watched their industry falter as more consumers have gravitated toward low-priced Asian imports. According to a recent report in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, U.S. catfish pond acreage has plummeted by 42 percent since 2002. But by turning schoolchildren on to catfish, growers could help create a next generation of U.S. farm-raised catfish fans.
Barlow is sure catfish will find a receptive audience in the nation's schools. "I think kids like it," he said. "My kids like it. Many children already appreciate and love catfish, but there's always room for the first-time catfish user."