A TikTok by creator Maddy Davis is reminding viewers of a strange trend in U.S. culinary history: the tilapia boom. Davis made a video recalling her mother's obsession with tilapia in the 2000s, and when she asked if her viewers suffered similar dinner woes, one user responded that the fish appeared on their dinner table at least three times a week for a year.
Davis's TikTok generated lots of lighthearted discussion about America's tilapia craze, but netizens may not know that the fish's popularity had a dark truth behind it. At the time, parents told their unenthused children that "Fish is good for you," but the main allure of buying tilapia was its cheap pricing, the result of some unsavory business practices in the fishing industry.
In 2001, a prominent fish farming company in Colorado partnered with Colorado's Correctional Industries (CCI), which supplied a workforce of low-paid inmates that greatly increased the tilapia industry's profit margins. According to Vice, the CCI paid inmates between 74 cents and $4 per day, resulting in tilapia being very cheap for consumers and very lucrative for the CCI.
The CCI's new business dealings meshed with the recession of the 2000's, and tilapia became immensely popular as a cheap source of protein for cash-strapped families. Kids of the era may have loathed the fish, but their parents had to place financial stability over personal tastes and preference — so, TikTok users, that's why moms just could not stop feeding their kids tilapia.