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When did we all start eating tuna and brown rice for lunch?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL SORTINO

Words by Jordan Drummond

A deep dive into the lunchbox staple of the 21st century.

In the spirit of journalistic transparency, I feel I should start by making a disclaimer: I detest canned tuna with all my being. I cannot stand it, do not eat it, and will not tolerate it. This arguably makes me better placed to write this story as I have no ties to the subject matter whatsoever. I’m an advocate for brown rice, but get that can of glorified cat food away from me. 

The ubiquity of the canned tuna and brown rice combo is something to behold. A cultural phenomenon that has invaded our workplaces and caused many affrays during lunch hours, the divisive twosome has firmly cemented itself in our Tupperware containers. 

When it comes to the popularity of tuna and brown rice, I have many questions. Why the obsession with this arguably basic food combo? How did this duo come to be? What’s wrong with a good old chicken salad? Let’s do a deep dive. 

While it may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, nutritionist Sarah Di Lorenzo reckons the deadly duo has been doing the rounds for years.

“I personally have been guilty, historically, of a tuna and rice addiction. I don’t see it as a trend because I started doing the tuna and brown rice thing 20 years ago. I’m giving my age away now, but I’m a clinical nutritionist and it’s always been on my radar,” she tells me.

Sarah isn’t alone in her addiction. It seems to be a resounding theme among young women to enjoy (the use of that word is debatable) tuna and rice at lunchtime. So, why is the combo our go-to lunch of choice? Australia’s number one tuna and rice enthusiast and wannabe Sirena influencer, Lucinda Price AKA Froomes has a theory.

Have you heard of the Pink Tax? Many “female versions” of gender-neutral products (like razors, shampoo and birth control) cost more than products for men. We’ve gotta make up for that lost income elsewhere, and canned tuna doesn’t discriminate based on a consumer’s genitals.”

She has a point. The patriarchy may have something to answer for when it comes to our tuna and rice obsession. It can certainly seem like self-imposed punishment when our male colleagues happily dive into a burger at lunch, while we’re choosing to chow down on some mulched up saltwater fish and rice. The need to appear health-conscious and the pressure on women to ‘just have a salad’ doesn’t necessarily translate to our male counterparts. 

“The thing about brown rice is that it falls into the ‘I’m being healthy eating brown rice’ kind of basket. The psychology of eating it is that you think you’re healthy,” Sarah points out. 

So is it really all for show or is tuna and rice a cost-effective option that is actually good for you? In terms of price, it’s undeniably cheap. With a can of tuna setting you back around $2 and a kilo of brown rice for about $3 bucks, you’re essentially printing money. And in these *unprecedented times* we need all the cash we can get for therapy, vino and designer sweats. 

From a nutritional standpoint, Sarah couldn’t be a bigger advocate for TBR.

“There’s bucket loads of health benefits. First of all, tuna is high in protein, it’s got the healthy fats in Omega-3s and it’s great for heart vessels. It’s also super high in potassium, which is great for regulating our blood pressure and then, of course, it keeps you fuller for longer because it’s primarily protein.”

Brown rice is also particularly good for women, as the complex carbohydrates it contains lowers cholesterol, which helps to regulate our hormones. 

“Our bodies can produce too many hormones which causes estrogen dominance and we can end up with hormone dominant conditions, like COX and endometriosis. So, when we have healthy fibre, the complex carbohydrates regulate our blood cholesterol and help us to eliminate those excess hormones,” Sarah says.

Whodathunk it? You can make friends with carbs. If you’re feeling adventurous this lunchtime, there are some jazzy ways can you spice up your TBR combo. It hurts me to write that, so I’ll throw to our resident expert Froomes on this one. 

I’m polishing off a bowl of Sirena Basil In Oil atop pea, corn, capsicum mix and brown rice as we speak! Sweet Corn And Mayonnaise is a hate crime though. Do less!” (Yuck.)

Sarah also enjoys making some additions to her tuna and brown rice for maximum effect. “Throw some leafy greens in there, some broccoli, LSA (linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) on top and a splash of beautiful olive oil, and you’ve got a fantastic meal. I really think the tuna and brown rice deserves its reputation. I might even have it for lunch today!”

I personally can’t say I’ll be jumping ship from my boiled egg salad anytime soon, but it seems there is a method behind this fishy madness, patriarchy or no patriarchy. So save your coin, get your protein and choon on y’all… but if you want that burger, don’t be afraid to ditch the Tupperware.

If you’re real keen on you tuna, I’ll leave you with Froomes’ top five canned varieties. (Note: this was not sponsored by Sirena).

  1. Sirena In Oil Italian Style takes out the top spot. This is a truly versatile tuna. It’s flavoursome enough to have on its own. It’s great in a salad, the oil a built-in dressing. The subtle taste makes it a favourable option for adding protein to a pasta dish. This is not to be confused with Sirena in Springwater… that is not the vibe.
  2. Second on my list is Sirena Chilli In Oil. I have been eating tuna for lunch for over 24 months straight and at least 50 per cent of the time, it’s Chilli In Oil. Very similar flavour profile to the Italian Style, but with a fiery twist. The mini chilli in the can is an authentic touch.
  3. Number three is a wild card. It’s Sirena Garlic Infused Tuna In Oil. This is a relatively new product, having hit the shelves around 12 months ago along with Savoury Onion. I distinctly remember the moment I first saw it. I was excited, if not a little nervous. I knew my tuna habit was upsetting certain colleagues and introducing garlic to the mix was sure to ruffle feathers. It did, and it was delicious. On the contrary, I really do not fuck with the Savoury Onion. Tuna with onion is too strong a flavour. It’s doing too much in a very John West way.
  4. Fourth favourite is Sirena Basil Infused Oil. This tastes expensive. And that’s not just because it is. The basil tastes like real basil and it leaves your mouth feeling fresh.
  5. I’m going with Aldi Ocean Rise Yellowfin Chunk Italian Style In Oil Tuna for number five. It’s very similar to Sirena in flavour and texture, but far cheaper. Given we’re heading into a recession and Sirena has shown no sign of sponsoring me, I predict Aldi’s version may rise on this list. It ranks higher in terms of sustainability, too.
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