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For years, canneries were segregated by upper echelon of workers and the lower echelon of workers.No one really knows why the Blue Room was called so, but as one cannery foreman suggested, because “the Blue Bloods eat there.” Furthermore, most canneries in Indeed, how, where, and what cannery workers ate not only reflects the social milieu of cannery life, but also illuminates exploitive hiring practices, the appropriation of Alaska Natives into the American system of capitalism, gender relations, and finally, racial integration—all aspects that shaped the commercial fishing industry in Alaska. Over the century, cannery workers’ diets have consisted of rice, powered milk, coffee, canned goods, doughnuts, salad bars, and prime rib. Although salmon was eaten on occasion, it was not the primary source of nutrition fueling the industry’s workers.
Five o’clock brought dinner, which often times served as a cannery workers calendar—pork chops on Mondays, steak on Tuesdays, roast beef on Wednesday, fish (usually not salmon) was served on Fridays.
He understood that the cannery workers’ trip to the messhall was “the social event of the day.” In fact, he would say that he hired (and fired) his baker depending on how well he or she made maple bars.
And indeed, my dad was not the only cannery superintendent that felt this way.
Chignik resident, August Pedersen, remembered selling bear feet and bear gall bladders to the Chinese workers in exchange for leftover food from the cannery’s messhall at the end of the summer: My old man [Marius “Pete” Pedersen] …He used to give the Chinamen the feet and the gall. As Friday notes, “Food and its preparation carry much cultural importance for all Chinese, and each dish supposedly has its own special medicinal qualities.” Thus, in the canneries, where the food varied little and was often inadequate, it is no wonder that Chinese workers went to great lengths to keep gardens, harvest local berries, fish, and clams, and trade with locals to supplement meager diets.
They used it for medicines, and in the fall, they would be pretty decent. Like the Chinese, Alaska Native workers were positioned at the bottom of the cannery’s social ladder.