Extra Credit: The Impact of the Sushi Economy

Food is no longer as simple as it used to be. Behind a sushi chief is an “invisible world” of sellers, distributors, agents, brokers, and dealers. In The Sushi Economy, the system of sushi production is portrayed as a global structure based on trust and reliability, unlike the capitalist worlds of companies, Wal-Mart or Microsoft. Sash Issenberg talks about the wide distinction between the sushi economy and fast-food industries. Unlike the fast food chain industry, the sushi industry is full of uncertainty, where no one monopolizes all the information.

Each chapter in The Sushi Economy delves into the history of the complex globalization of the sushi industry. It all began with one man, Azira Okazaki, deciding to fill empty aircraft with fish, establishing the beginning of the sushi phenomenon. With the invention of airlines and freighters, Japan Airlines established the international trading system of yellowfin, bluefin fresh bigeye, tuna, and a variety of other fish in 1984. Narita Airport became the busiest harbor of “about one hundred fifty tuna there, hailing from every major body of war in the world”. Issenberg lets the audience view the different steps that take place in the fish business through detailed behind-the-scenes of ports, auctions, and restaurants. It was Hanaya Yohei who formed the first successful business made up of Edo-mae nigiri, the fresh fish and rice we know today as sushi. Sushi began as a casual snack food made up of convenient raw ingredients preserved in iceboxes. After 1939, however, many snack street stalls were shut down for hygienic reasons. The sushi experience later transformed into what Americans see today, modern sushi bars with counters, tall chairs, and a chief, replacing street stalls.

As American food trended toward fatty fast food, so did sushi. When global fast food chains like McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and Pizza Hut integrated into Japan, Japanese people took a liking to fatty foods. Such American influence altered traditional sushi to what it is today, where fattier sushi becomes the most expensive.

The question is how did sushi become a part of the American mainstream cuisine? In 1949, a traditional Japanese “lunchtime sushi ritual” could be found in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, and soon in Japanese Towns in San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Portland, Settle, Tacoma, and Salt Lake City. Japanese food was attractive to Americans for its sophisticated, cosmopolitan, low calorie nature.

Due to globalization, the demand for fish has increased dramatically. Interestingly, in order to meet that demand, there is even a black market for seafood. According to Issenberg, the sushi economy will eventually face a shortage disaster. History has shown a devastating “cycle of fishery: discovery, exploitation, depletion, and collapse” such as the massive shortage of sardines and cod. Due to this problem, international organizations are forced to implement highly restrictive quota policies.

The Sushi Economy thoroughly depicts every component of the production and consumption cycle, from fishing to auctioning to distributing to consuming. Issenberg provides the reader an insider look into the complex world of sushi. The impact of the sushi economy is both positive and negative. While people throughout America are able to experience traditional sushi from across the world, the supply of fish are depleting dramatically.  With advances in technology and transportation, everyone has the capability to experience foods all over the world. Through explicit detail and perspectives of different types of people, The Sushi Economy demonstrates that sushi is more than just raw fish, but a food with a complex history and background.

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