V: Tench

On society's reaction of revulsion to difference.

quintidi, the 25th of Prairial, Year CCXXXI
A tench just swimming around. Photo courtesy Svět Medúz aquarium, Prague.

Good morning. Today is quintidi, the 25th of Prairial, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la tanche, a European freshwater fish that people don't really eat anymore.

Tench are their own, one-species offshoot of the carp family, and they fill the exact same ecological niche: bottom-feeding, shoaling in still and opaque waters, hibernating beneath ice, even breeding occasional golden-scaled offspring that are highly prized for ornamental ponds. While they used to also fill the same dietary niche, the availability of larger, slower carp has relegated tench mostly to sport fishing and obscurity outside their native areas of Europe.

Tench are gross, the very definition of slimy fish. Their thick scaled skin is literally covered in a mucus that makes them unpleasant to predators like pike, and the Germans had such a distaste for them that they named them "shoemaker fish," fit only for making shoes out of. In England, they're called "doctor fish" because of the old belief that their mucus was fish medicine, and sick or injured fish would rub against the sides of a tench to heal themselves. This adorable image speaks to how slimy most British sea creatures are. (Remember, until recently, eel was a ubiquitous dish.)