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The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy Kindle Edition
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The seafood infrastructure, however, was only one part of the sushi explosion, as innovative sushi chefs became entrepreneurs, initially marketing sushi as a chic, upscale delicacy but then broadening its appeal by adapting to local flavors and cuisine.
Despite its specific origins from a small, island nation, sushi has become a global cuisine and the economy that supports it a global one as well. "The Sushi Economy" may be one of the best examples of this new, global economy at work as Issenberg traces the origins of the sushi on our plate, formerly an exotic delicacy but now almost as common as hamburgers, through the numerous retailers, distributors and suppliers back to the fishing grounds themselves, which may be half a world away. Yet despite this distance the innovations of the decentralized economy are able to bring you your fish within the small window of freshness that keeps a hundred-dollar-a-pound commodity from becoming cat food.
The sushi story is the story of tuna, and Issenberg follows the fish backward from market to its origin in the sea. The main market is the Tsukiji which takes up 57 acres in Tokyo, where a few hundred buyers gather to take a look at tuna brought in from all over the world. This is a huge market of $6 billion a year, and one fish alone might routinely go for $30,000. The great change in the market came starting in 1972 when there was a first Tokyo auction of Canadian bluefin tuna, brought by plane from a region where the fish were considered worthless. The tuna, rice, and seaweed delicacy with which we are familiar, Issenberg says, "served by a sushi chef to a customer seated before him - is in fact no older than the California roll," which was itself an American invention of the 1960s. "Sushi had started as a form of preservation," Issenberg writes, "but it was becoming precisely the opposite: a way of using the infrastructure of modernity to chaperone a delicate dish around the world." This has resulted in overfishing, and attempts to farm tuna, "moving the ocean's biggest, fastest, toughest fish into a cage and keeping it there for months or years." Of course aficionados sniff at the quality of farmed tuna meat, but that doesn't matter to those who, say, like a cheap tray of tasty sushi from the supermarket.
There are wonderful profiles in this book, like the Caucasian tuna chef who successfully brought sushi to Austin, Texas, or the self-appointed sheriff of Libyan tuna poaching who uses Google maps to monitor illegal fishing, or the disciples of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon who entered the market in Gloucester, Massachusetts, or the champion tuna tosser at the Port Lincoln Tunarama Festival, or the star of _Iron Chef_ who is opening a sushi restaurant in Mumbai, or many more. Each profile shows how global an enterprise sushi is. Issenberg reflects: "To eat sushi is to display an access to advanced trade networks, of full engagement in world commerce." Sushi is now so prevalent as to be taken for granted; it is good to be reminded of how complex and how modern a story it really is.
Having grown up at a time and in a place where sushi was unheard of, Issenberg rightly begins and ends his book in Japan. From the vast Tokyo fish market known as "Tsukiji" the reader is transported to Canada, Los Angeles, Gloucester, Spain, Australia, China and more. How did this once lowly fish attain such a high status? Sasha Issenberg tells us in a narrative style that is low-key but fascinating.
Economy is indeed a central part of this book and it is intriguing to read about the rise and fall of tuna as a commodity. But the personal testimonies, included here, make the book shine. Each chapter stands on its own but I was particularly drawn to the beginnings of shipping tuna from Canada to Japan in the early 1970s. These people were real pioneers in the industry and to think this has all occurred in my lifetime is equally admirable and impressive.
I highly recommend "The Sushi Economy". Sasha Issenberg has compiled a broad-based look at sushi...where it all began, where it is now and where it might be headed. It's a compelling work and a book not to be missed.
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