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Lye Down in Hunger

Smithsonian magazine recently ran an article about the enduring popularity of lutefisk, a traditional Scandinavian fish dish that consists of dried cod that's been soaked in lye (yes, the stuff that's the active ingredient in Drano…) and then boiled and served drenched with melted butter. Apparently, lutefisk dinners are quite the rage during the holiday season in the upper Midwest, especially in states like Minnesota where Scandinavian immigrants tended to settle a century or more ago and where their descendants now flock to the lutefisk nostalgia tour. The dinners are generally held communally in churches and lodges, though raw lutefisk is available from specialty retailers for those who prefer to impress dinner guests in the privacy of their own homes.

In its traditional form, lutefisk is a nasty smelling piece of business, no surprise given that it's basically dried fish that's been partially melted down in a caustic bath. Yum!

Unfortunately for lutefisk afficianados, the demographic signs are ominous. As fewer kids are force-fed the stuff, fewer young adults want anything to do with it. Even though lutefisk dinners continue to draw crowds, they tend to be older (younger participants settle for the side dishes and alternate proteins prepared more conventionally).

About a decade ago, the Norwegian Fish Information Board (no, seriously…) tried to head this off with an ad campaign that basically positioned lutefisk as an aphrodisiac. Astonishingly, it failed as people resisted associating romance with the smell of rotting fish.

May we suggest a new campaign positioning it as a diet aid?

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