Attention Sushi Lovers

A reporter I worked with once complained
that, whenever he did a story about food, there was always something “new” he
wasn’t supposed to eat. With the launch of sustainable sushi pocket guides this month, sushi is now coming under serious scrutiny. Suddenly, there
are “new” items on the conscientious eater’s list to avoid.

The problem with sushi is that most,
by volume, is limited to shrimp, tuna, salmon and eel. You might think twice
about eating salmon sushi if you know there’s no such thing as sustainably-raised
farmed salmon (most salmon, sake, and
its roe, ikura, is farmed salmon). And
rare is a sushi meal without tuna of some kind. Half of the sushi vendors we
surveyed recently were using a sustainable form of tuna; the other fifty
percent were not. If you use the sushi guides, they can help decipher which
items to avoid. 

I attended a sustainable sushi event
recently. Glazed black cod was substituted for freshwater eel,
responsibly-farmed Arctic char stood in for salmon, and black mussels were in
abundance. It was a delicious showcase of what’s possible. To the
restaurateur’s credit, there was an abundant selection of vegetable options as

I couldn’t
help but think, however, that something was missing. Even with sustainable
standards, sushi is the ultimate global meal. About 70% of U.S. seafood
supplies are imported because we eat only a narrow list of species that are
grown or cultivated far from our sushi restaurants. I visited a farm in North
Carolina recently that responsibly produces extremely flavorful prawns. Without
a high end market nearby, however, the farm’s product is air-freighted daily to
New York.

The guides are a good start, but
they miss a key criterion of sustainability. Why not re-regionalize our seafood
habits so we’re not flying fish around the world, and eat more species that are
lower on the food chain? Supporting ecosystem biodiversity through our food
choices simply hasn’t taken hold as a priority for seafood as it has with
produce. Isn't it time to change that?  What are your thoughts?

-Helene York, Director of the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation