Anyone who has listened to the radio, watched television, read a newspaper, surfed the internet, or chased after celebrity gossip in the past couple of weeks has likely heard about something about a particular sushi chain getting called out for a history of nefarious behavior.
The chain in question in Nobu, the fantastically successful joint venture of renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the Raging Bull himself Robert De Niro, and three other partners. Nobu is a sushi giant, with twenty-four locations that dot the most chic neighboorhoods of many of the world’s most glamourous cities, and a menu replete with dozens of price tags that would make the average recession-choked American both green with envy and red with rage.
Nobu is under siege from all sides for its continual disregard for the health of our planet. The high-end chain sells a tremendous amount of bluefin tuna, much of which is critically endangered Northern bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) from the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Despite repeated warnings about the looming commercial extinction of this majestic fish from a vast international amalgamation of scientists, actors, conservation organizations, foodies, bloggers, aquaria, filmmakers, and even a European Prince, Nobu resolutely presses forward, offering no comment and refusing to alter its menu in the slightest. The restaurant’s response is akin to a tantrum-throwing child clapping his hands over his ears while stomping his feet, or perhaps to a yoked horse charging towards a cliff regardless of its own life or the lives of those in the stagecoach attached to it. Nobu’s arrogant denial of the reality of our mutual challenge — the continual decline of the health of our oceans — is a serious problem.
But this is not about just one restaurant. Nobu is a symbol; it represents the old guard of restaurateurs whose lofty perches often distance them from the plebeian masses. Moreover, Nobu is a rallying point — as an endangered species-slinging, celebrity-owned, stratospherically-priced haunt for the upper crust, it’s a perfect target for those who are itching for a greater level of corporate responsibility within the restaurant industry.
For those of you who are not yet aware, I have recently accepted the position of Senior Markets Campaigner for one of my favorite conservation organizations, Greenpeace. This does not indicate the convergence of Greenpeace and www.sustainablesushi.net, which remains an independent forum – but the arrangement allows me to work with a large group of passionate individuals towards the greater goal of a healthy planet. One of the ways that we can reach this goal is through the reformation of the sushi industry, and there’s no better way to accomplish this than to get some high-level trendsetters on board. Enter Nobu.
Nobu has already been “outed” on their unsustainable practices (this interaction is featured in the forthcoming documentary The End of the Line, based on the excellent book by Charles Clover). Nobu promised to label bluefin as an endangered species on all of their menus, but subsequently changed tactics and cut off communications. The one menu that reflects any change whatsoever is at the London branch, which uses a microscopic footnote to indicate that bluefin is “environmentally challenged.” This thunderous understatement aside, Nobu has done absolutely nothing to protect that very fish which has so heavily contributed to the jingling pockets of the restaurant’s owners. Our oceans cannot endure this situation any longer. Enter Greenpeace.
I am not a fan of direct confrontation. I view it as an avenue of last resort, only to be used when all other tactics have been exhausted. In this case, Nobu has been stonewalling environmental entreaty for over a year while the chain contiunues to plunder the ocean for its own insatiable greed. To expose and spotlight this edacious behavior, John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign Director, developed a mock Nobu menu — a Swiftian satire of Nobu’s reckless quest for profit at all costs. What is the difference, the menu suggests, between Northern bluefin and mountain gorilla, Iberian lynx, or California Condor? All of these animals are critically endangered. Why is it acceptable to serve the former, when the presence of any of the latter three on a restaurant menu would no doubt solicit a restaurant critic’s verbal equivalent of a molotov cocktail through the front window?
Over the past week, Greenpeace activists in both New York and Los Angeles have staged “dine-ins” at Nobu’s TriBeCa and West Hollywood locations, festooning the restaurant with mock menus, taking up table space, and demanding to speak to the manager about Nobu’s egregious disregard for our planet’s welfare.
The actions were conducted in a precise manner that was aimed at sending a message to upper management without undue disruption of other restaurant patrons. Nobu servers were generously tipped by Greenpeace activists; after all, the restaurant ownership’s head-in-the-sand mentality does not justify behavior that would send the waitresses and waiters, who have no decision-making power but who do have families and livelihoods, home without the tips on which they depend. We are, after all, in a recession.
The point of all this is to take the issue to Nobu on the restaurant’s home turf. In addition to being lambasted in the press, demonized in a documentary, and boycotted by celebrities, Nobu now must contend with activists that march directly into the restaurant to speak their minds.