Why I went to Safeway for my birthday

That's what I'm talking about

I am king for a day

In my little world, celebrations and holidays just aren’t complete without copious amounts of food. My birthday is no exception – I look forward to it every year as an excuse to throw caution (and, perhaps, responsibility) to the wind and to indulge myself. I like to get together with loved ones and either cook up a feast or dine at some up-and-coming restaurant that I’ve been salivating over for months.

I realize I talk a lot about moderation on this blog — staying away from critically endangered delicacies like bluefin tuna, not eating sushi four times a week, and all that — and I stand by it. But there’s a time and a place for celebration, and that’s important too. Not that I would eat bluefin tuna even for a holiday banquet, but I just might gorge myself a little bit (or a lot) on some sort of sustainable delight and fall asleep on the couch. My birthday is not a good day to be a crawfish, believe me.

Anyhow, my thirty-second rolled around last week, and as per my usual routine, I decided to celebrate with a feel-good dinner. This time, though, I went about things in a slightly different way.

This year, I went to Safeway for my birthday.

I know that sounds like a bit of an odd place to celebrate, but I felt it was important to pay Safeway a visit. See, the company had just done something very special – something that deserved celebration far more than me surviving another trip around the sun. But by a fun coincidence, both events happened to occur on the same day.

Out of sight, but no longer out of mind

Out of sight, but no longer out of mind

On April 7, 2011, Safeway went public with a commitment to avoid purchasing seafood from the imperiled Ross Sea – the world’s last remaining relatively pristine ocean ecosystem. The company then took a second step by publicly encouraging all countries involved in Antarctic fishery governance (this takes place within under the aegis of a management authority known as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine and Living Resources, abbreviated CCAMLR and confusingly pronounced “cam-lar”) to designate the Ross Sea a marine protected area.

This is huge.

Of all the major seafood retailers in the United States, only one other company – Wegmans, a well-regarded and progressive grocery chain in the Northeastern United States – has made such a statement in support of the Ross Sea. It’s nearly unheard of for a retail operation to foray into the political sphere in the name of the conservation movement. And Safeway, with the buying power of over 1700 stores, is an extremely powerful voice – just the kind of voice we need on the side of ocean conservation if we are to have any hope of protecting and resuscitating our ailing seas.

Chilean sea bass: seal food, not people food

Chilean sea bass: seal food, not people food

I admit to being a borderline fanatic when it comes to Ross Sea conservation, but it’s of critical importance. Not only is it a unique and invaluable ecosystem for a myriad of reasons, both scientific and ecological, but sending fishing vessels to this far-flung area raises a host of red flags from a sustainability perspective. It goes beyond issues relating to discrete fishery management and into a larger philosophical realm, which is where the core battle for sustainability needs to be fought.

I know I’ve said this before, but it merits repeating: sustainable fishing simply cannot occur when the fishery in question exists only as a reaction to an out-of-balance food system. We have depleted the fish closer to our homes and cities, so we sail ever outward in search of more – but there is a limit. The Earth is finite. Industrial fishing in the Ross Sea – or anywhere so far from human habitation and so close to the “end of the world,” as it were – must end if we are to develop a balanced and healthy relationship with our food and our planet.

One small step for Antarctica

So, here’s to you, Safeway. Your public commitment to this key initiative was one of the reasons you took the top spot in Greenpeace’s most recent seafood retailer ranking, and I salute you for your drive and courage. The Ross Sea — and the entire ecosystem that depends on it, including migratory whales, krill blooms, and countless other animals — is a little closer to safety because of you.

Thanks for standing up for the planet, and thanks for such a nice birthday present.

Oh, and check it out – I got myself a present, too.

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A royal pardon

Posted by Casson in News and Announcements

In the embattled world of sustainable seafood, it’s always nice to see positive change in a major public venue.   As heartwarming as it is to hear from someone who has pledged to stop eating Chilean sea bass or unagi, it feels even better when a restaurant – or even better, an entire seafood distributor – drops it altogether in the name of environmental preservation.

In this vein, I’m thrilled to see a spark of light appear in the otherwise relentlessly dismal saga of the bluefin tuna.

Bright lights and sharp knives

Many readers of this blog are likely familiar with Food Network’s Iron Chef America, a culinary contest wherein a visiting chef races against time to prepare an assortment of gastronomic delights for a panel of judges.  At the same time, one of the resident masters – a star-spangled group known as the Iron Chefs – embarks on the same task in an effort to defend his or her title against the upstart challenger.  The dishes are linked by the requirement that they must all involve the day’s secret ingredient, which is revealed only moments before the contest begins.  The entire exercise takes place in front of dozens of cameras and a few quirky announcers in a regal arena known as “Kitchen Stadium.”

The chefs are allotted one hour to prepare their items and are subsequently judged on the relative merits of their menus.  The chef whose culinary tour de force is deemed to “reign supreme” by the panel is considered the winner of the day’s contest.

Wait -- WHAT?!?

Iron Chef America is a interesting show, to be sure, but it has historically concentrated on strict gastronomic hedonism – it seems that no ingredient is too expensive (or too endangered) to be included in the Stadium’s massive inventory.  I remember one particular episode of its forerunner, the Japanese TV cult smash Iron Chef, where a chef cooked down half a dozen lobsters with a few stalks of asparagus only to subsequently serve the lobster-infused vegetable and throw the crustaceans themselves in the trash.

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is to highlight what I consider to be a significant shift towards ocean conservation in the highest levels of the modern American foodscape.  Iron Chef America has catapulted any number of victorious challengers into the spotlight – perhaps it can now do the same for a fish.

On Monday morning, a well-known food blogger and sustainable seafood enthusiast named Richard Auffrey threw his cyber-gauntlet at the feet of culinary celebrity and TV personality Alton Brown.  Mr. Brown, the host of Iron Chef America, is known to be a vocal advocate for seafood sustainability.  He has, in fact, gone as far as publicly announcing that until sushi kingpin Nobu Matsuhisa removes bluefin tuna from the menus of his eponymous restaurants, he will not set foot in any Nobu anywhere.

Leave me out of this. I'm feeling prickly.

So why did Auffrey take aim at someone who seems to be fighting on the same side of “Battle Bluefin”? (apologies to the Chairman)

Last week, Kitchen Stadium was visited by Makoto Okuwa, the former sous chef of Iron Chef and sushi icon Masaharu Morimoto.  Over the course of the contest, Chef Makoto prepared five dishes, all containing the day’s theme ingredient (which, auspiciously for the sushi chef, happened to be sea urchin.)  One of Okuwa’s offerings was his “uni surf and turf”: urchin-kissed wagyu beef paired with a ribbon of otoro, the belly flesh of a bluefin tuna.  Brown did not raise any objections or offer any comments on the unsustainability of the dish, and Auffrey reamed him for it.

I’m proud of Auffrey for sticking up for the flagging bluefin, but that’s not why this is so interesting to me.  The fascinating thing is what happened immediately after Auffrey posted his rant: Brown responded.  Like, right away.

Brown fenced with Auffrey a bit over the aggressive and accusatory tone that the blogger had adopted, but he also admitted that the use of bluefin in Kitchen Stadium was lamentable and unnecessary.  The two traded barbs and questions for a bit, but in the end, Brown took action and the oceans got what they needed.  According to Brown, bluefin tuna is now banned from Iron Chef America.

Bluefin? Not in our house... at least, not anymore

This is fabulous.   Iron Chef America is both one of the pioneering shows behind the recent explosion of food porn in the United States as well the American rendition of a classic Japanese TV program.  To have the pseudo-traditional otoro excluded from the Kitchen Stadium arsenal is an extremely powerful statement about the reality of our ailing oceans and the need for immediate action if we are to save them.

There are so many things about this story that I like.  I like how Auffrey stood up to Brown and called him out.  I like the prompt, gentlemanly, and constructive response Brown offered in spite of his indignation.  I like the quick decisive action that Brown took to rectify the situation.  I love the fact that bluefin tuna is now pisci non grata on a major Food Network television show.  And the icing on the cake?  Chef Makoto decisively lost the battle to Iron Chef Michael Symon, who didn’t use any bluefin at all.

Score one for the oceans.

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The 4-S Rule

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by a team from CNN on sustainability issues in the sushi industry. This clip is me explaining what I call the “4-S rule” – a simple, if somewhat crude, guide to eating in a more sustainable fashion at the sushi bar (oh, and a small correction to CNN’s byline – I am a co-founder of Tataki Sushi Bar, but I don’t actually own the restaurant.)


As I discuss in the video, there are four adjectives, each starting with the letter S, that form the eponymous rule. If a sushi bar patron bears these descriptors in mind while he or she orders, it can markedly diminish the environmental footprint created by dinner. This is not a perfect system – there are exceptions to each of the four “S” words – but by and large, it does help one to order a more sustainable sushi meal overall.

Skipjack tuna served nigiri-style with gobo, scallions, and a shiso leaf. The skipjack is the smallest tuna found in the sushi industry, and has both the lowest average mercury content and the highest reproduction rate.

The first word is SMALL. Smaller fish are generally lower on the trophic scale (food chain), grow more quickly, die younger, and breed in larger numbers. These biological survival tactics are employed by many fish to help them withstand heavy predation — they play the numbers game and simply create as many offspring as possible so a few manage to escape the yawning maws of hungry predators.  In essence, these are the kind of fish that are designed to be fed upon. Their physiology and population dynamics are generally more resilient to our fishing pressure and protein demand than top-of-the-food-chain carnivores, such as large tunas, swordfish, and sharks. Moreover, smaller fish generally have less mercury accumulation in their systems than these apex predators due to their shorter life spans and less voracious appetites.

Examples: Sardines (iwashi), skipjack tuna (katsuo), horse mackerel (aji)

Wild coho salmon, sashimi-style. Alaskan coho is well managed, healthy for consumers, and seasonally available.

The next word is SEASONAL. Seasonality is key to sustainability. If we are to reduce our carbon dependency and rekindle our connection with the ocean, we need to be more aware of where we are and what time of year it is when we order our fish. A good rule of thumb is to order off the specials board rather than the laminated menu when possible – any items on a year-round menu are unlikely to be sourced on a basis of seasonal awareness. It was our demand that certain intrinsically seasonal products be available to us year-round that gave rise to environmental missteps like conventional salmon farming. This category also offers us the added opportunity to take advantage of seasonal vegetables and fruits, which innovative chefs often incorporate into their specials.

Examples: Wild salmon (sake), Dungeness crab (kani), spot prawns (ama ebi),

Pacific saury prepared over wood charcoal.  Saury are a cold-water schooling forage fish and have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Pacific saury prepared over wood charcoal. These cold-water schooling forage fish have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The third word is perhaps the most surprising – SILVER. Eat sushi that is served with a silver skin still on it. This category of fish is known as hikari mono in Japanese, and contains mackerels, halfbeaks, shads, and similar fish. These animals tend to be loaded with omega-3s as well as being low in mercury, and can be sourced from many well-managed fisheries. An added bonus is that the hikari mono are some of the most treasured fish in the repertoire of a traditional sushi chef; a menu featuring these items will often prove to be an unforgettable culinary experience.  I highly encourage all sushi-goers to explore the world of hikari mono – you just may find your new “absolute ultimate all-time favorite” sushi item.

Examples: Mackerel (saba), Pacific saury (sanma), Spanish mackerel (sawara),

Kumomoto oysters on the half-shell with momoji oroshi. Oysters are high in protein and easy to raise in low-impact farms.

The final word is SHELLFISH, and I’m speaking specifically of bivalves and mollusks. Not only are these creatures excellent sources of protein, but they are considered by many to be delicacies and aphrodisiacs. Bivalve and mollusk aquaculture has sound environmental benefits as well: it tends to involve relatively low-impact farming methods when compared to other types of fish farming, such as tuna ranches or salmon farms. As filter-feeders, animals like clams, scallops, and oysters can be grown without the use of any additional feed.  This reduces their dependence on marine resources and eliminates the kind of inefficient protein use that we find in operations like hamachi and unagi ranches.  These mollusks also grow quickly, and can be raised in cages and bags that require no dredging or other types of seabed alteration during harvest.

Examples: Oysters (kaki), mussels (muurugai), geoduck (mirugai)

That’s about the size of it. Small, seasonal, silver, and shellfish – a quick-and-dirty road map to a more eco-groovy sushi experience. There are, as I mentioned earlier, numerous exceptions to this rule, but it serves as a fairly reliable lodestone for those who are interested in shifting their sushi dining habits toward a more sustainable paradigm.

Oh, and one final quip: as it happens, the letter S occurs exactly four times in the term “sustainable sushi.” Remember that to keep the 4-S rule in mind.

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Little “s” meets the Big “O”

Quite possibly, nature's perfect fish

I love sardines.  They’re not only beautiful fish, with their gleaming scales, streamlined bodies, and astounding synchronized swimming skills, but they seem to be engineered to be dependable, nutritious food.  These little animals grow quickly, die young, breed in tremendous numbers, and contain lots of protein, omega-3s, vitamin D, and other beneficial nutrients.

Unfortunately, sardines have a scandalous reputation.  Most Americans view them as cheap, lowbrow fare that is best consumed down by the train tracks, generally accompanied by fortified wines, tall tales, harmonica music, and lots of scratching.

As such, it can be surprising to learn that the sardine has a long-standing seat in the sushi pantheon.   While we generally encounter sardines only after they have been quartered, drenched in oil or mustard sauce, and encapsulated in tin, the true potential of this diminutive fish far outstrips such an ignominious fate.

Who'd have thunk it?

Sardines and similar fish have been used in sushi for over a century, and some of the most “traditional” edomae sushi dishes involve these tiny animals.  That being said, only in the last five or so years have US sushi restaurants began to rediscover this minute delicacy.  Matters are complicated by the fact that tremendous amounts of our domestic sardines are purchased by foreign fish farms, which whisk the away to be ground up into fish meal for bluefin tuna and other penned carnivores before our local chefs even have a chance to purchase them.

Luckily, things are changing.  A loose affiliation of chefs, restaurateurs, and other stakeholders calling themselves “the Sardinistas” continues to pressure the seafood industry for access to these delicious little treasures – and it looks like the barriers may be breaking down.

No, really, it was this big!

No, really, that sardine was this big!

The sardine revolution got a major boost this week when none other than the fabulous Oprah Winfrey declared them one of her top 25 superfoodsWinfrey’s website discusses the merits of sardine consumption and urges consumers to rediscover this forgotten treasure.

When heavy hitters like Winfrey weigh in on seafood issues, they can be serious game-changers.  Sometimes it can be severely damaging (Paul Prudhome probably did more to wreck the heavily over-exploited Gulf of Mexico redfish stocks than any other single factor), but in this case, it’s very much a positive influence.  Increasing consumer interest in sardines will shift out seafood demand to away from our traditional prey species, such as tuna, down the trophic scale to a level that is better able to withstand fishing pressure.  Additionally, it will send market signals to the sardine industry, which may start to think twice before selling their entire catch to bluefin farms for a few handfuls of copper coins.

The first thing we do, let's eat all the fishies

The first thing we do, let's eat all the fishies

So, a few questions for my readership: What do you think about this?  What are your impressions of the lowly sardine?  Would you be willing to wipe the slate clean and give this little fish the opportunity to prove itself to you?

We have strong, sustainable sardine fisheries right here in North America, but sardine fishermen sell off the lion’s share of the catch as feed for aquaculture operations.  If we the consumers begin to pay more than the tuna ranchers for sardines (and even with this overbidding, we’re still talking about incredibly inexpensive seafood here), it will become more economical for our seafood markets to start stocking them.  We will start to see domestic sardines glistening on the ice in our fishmonger’s wetcase — whole, fresh, and glorious, just as nature intended. ¡Viva la sardinista!

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The Art of Sushi – Part 4: Going beyond the limit with Chris Jordan

Does size matter?  Ask Chris Jordan

Does size matter? Ask Chris Jordan

Since I am currently on a ship slowly steaming across the vast azure void of the Pacific Ocean, it seems appropriate to discuss an artist that specializes in not only environmental conservation messages, but in a medium that calls our attention to the size and scale of the challenges that have beset our planet.

Chris Jordan is a Seattle-based artist who has both an unrivaled determination and an uncanny ability to tackle some of the largest problems in the world – and I mean that quite literally.  Jordan excels at  confronting issues that threaten our very survival, but are simply too large for us to easily understand.  One of the ironic cruelties of ocean conservation is the fact that the problems facing us are so astoundingly immense that we simply lack the brain power to truly comprehend them.  When talking about pollution, overfishing, and climate change, we routinely speak in numbers so large that we are unable to construct a mental picture that reflects the truth.

For example, consider the case of the world’s largest food fishery, Alaska pollock.  For the last several years, the total landings of Alaska pollock have roughly averaged around 1.5 million tons.  1.5 million tons certainly seems like a huge number — but what does it look like?  How many fish is that, exactly?  How many freezers would that fill?  How many people does that feed?  How many football stadiums could we bury under frozen pollock fillets?  The number is simply so large that we cannot grasp the actual amount of biomass in question.  This lack of understanding stymies our ability to understand the impacts of our actions on the health of our planet.

"Gyre" (photograph)

"Gyre" (photograph)

Chris Jordan’s talent lies not just in his ability to translate the incomprehensibly large into the understandably small, but to do so in a way that actually enhances the gravitas of the subject matter.  One area in which he has seemingly achieved the impossible is in the case of the North Pacific gyre, home of the litter-strewn waters known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex.”  When we discuss the gyre and its lamentable petro-saturated state, it becomes difficult to truly grasp the dimensions of the problem for the simple reason that it is so staggeringly large.  We can say something like “twice the size of Texas,” but how does one truly visualize that expanse?  What will it take to truly drive home the gargantuan scope of the trash vortex and the looming challenge that it represents?

Close-up of "Gyre": top of Mt. Fuji

Jordan attacked the problem head on by creating his awe-inspiring “Gyre”: a mosaic of discarded, waterlogged plastic that he has painstakingly arranged to mimic Hokusai’sGreat Wave off Kanagawa,” which is unequivocally one of the most well-known seascapes in the history of mankind. Jordan’s piece measures only nine feet by twelve feet, yet somehow manages to convey the immense scale of the trash vortex, which is nearly the size of the continental United States.   The close-up shots reveal the millions of pieces of plastic that have been co-opted into this mammoth task.  His use of actual flotsam and jetsam taken from the sea itself to create such an iconic encapsulation of the ocean is a stroke of genius — the viewer cannot help but imagine the foreboding reality of a sea composed entirely of plastic.

"Shark teeth" (photograph)

"Shark teeth" (photograph)

Jordan has also weighed in on the abominable practice of shark finning and the hellacious scope of the industry’s shark-slaughtering machine.  His 2009 photograph “Shark teeth” showcases an artfully arranged collection of fossilized shark teeth ranging from off-white and beige to dusky blue and dark grey.  The original piece measures 64″ by 94″ and is based on a watercolor by artist Sarah Waller.  There are 270,000 teeth in the collage – one tooth for each shark that is killed by the global finning fleet every single day.

Jordan’s juxtaposition of stratospheric mega-imagery with close-ups of minute detail smacks the viewer with two difference senses of awe: the jaw drops upon perceiving the abyssal magnitude of the work, while the eyes squint and forehead wrinkles in disbelief at its pseudo-molecular intricacy.  He accomplishes the same task on behalf of one of the world’s most beleaguered fish with “Tuna,” a photographic marvel detailing 20,500 tuna — the average number of tuna captured from the world’s oceans every fifteen minutes.

"Tuna" (photograph)

Jordan proves through his relentless drive, his attention to detail, and his willingness to confront issues beyond the scope of human imagination that we are truly an omnipotent race.  We have created these problems for ourselves, but however massive they have become, however long they have festered, whether spiraling outward in plastic ripples across the face of the deep or tearing into it with greed-driven claws, it is within out power to understand them – and with that understanding will come one inevitable conclusion: we can, and we must, save the ocean.

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Sustainable sushi in the news, Summer 2009

A quick shout-out to all the journos and bloggers that have been covering the sustainable sushi issue in the past couple of months:

Massive gratitude to Allison and Son of Sushi Day for a trio of pieces covering the Mashiko launch in August (an overview of the event, an interview with Chef Hajime Sato, and an interview with me.)  Thank you so much for your incredibly supportive and generous sentiments.

Patrick Robinson of the West Seattle Herald did a nice write-up of Eat Local Now!, a extremely well-attended Seattle event that included Chef Hajime of Mashiko and other local entrepreneurs.

Hajime was also recently featured on the Food Network’s Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, where he lovingly prepared a local Puget Sound delicacy — sea cucumber — for a squeamish host.  I don’t yet have a link to a video clip, but will put one up as soon as I am able.

There’s little out there that excites me as much as the Japanese media’s growing interest in the sustainable sushi movement, and Dani Rippingale of the Tokyo Weekender has kick-started it with her excellent piece on the modern sushi industry and our dwindling resources.

Check out Peter Smith’s excellent article for the GOOD Blog highlighting ten people, projects, and ideas that are making a difference in the world of food — sustainable sushi is number one!  Thanks Peter!

A heartfelt thank-you goes out to Bryan Walsh for including the founders of Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar (Kin Lui, Raymond Ho, and myself) in Time Magazine‘s Heroes of the Environment 2009.  We are humbled and flattered beyond words.

The Chic Ecologist had a nice shout-out to sustainable sushi, especially to the work being done by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch program.

Chris Mikesell of the University of Hawaii has jumped into the sustainable sushi world head-first in his thorough investigation of sushi and tuna awareness in Hawaii.  Great work.

Immediately after learning of the Time Magazine award, I was interviewed mid-gush by Jacqueline Church of the Leather District Gourmet, who was her usual wonderful self.  Thanks Jackie for believing in us from the very beginning.

On the same note, one my my personal heroes, Eddie Kohan of Obamafoodorama threw us kudos as well in a congratulatory follow-up piece on her consistently poignant muck-raking website.

Fist-bumps to the newly bluefin-free Jane Black of the Washington Post for her insightful and provocative piece on sustainable sushi for Hemispheres, United Airlines’ in-flight magazine.  Interviewees include Bamboo Sushi’s Brandon Hill and the lobster sex god Trevor Corson.  I got a couple of words in as well.  Best part is: I’m going to be flying on United in about a week, and I finally have a reason to be excited about getting on a plane.

The good people at the UTNE Reader picked up John Birdsall’s article on sustainable sushi (originally for Edible San Francisco) — they even gave it a byline on the cover of their 25 anniversary issue!  UTNE’s Julie Hanus wrote an excellent supporting piece as well, with some great accolades for both Tataki and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Thanks!

Did I miss anyone?  Do you know of a journalist or blogger that’s interested in this topic?  Maybe a chef who’s pushing sustainable seafood on his or her menu?   A sushi bar or grocery store that’s considering making the switch?  Please let me know!

It’s wonderful to see all the ground that the sustainable sushi movement is gaining in the conventional media, the blogosphere, and in popular culture.  Hopefully this will lead to more entrepreneurs, chefs, and business owners taking the plunge.

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The Vanguard – Part 2: Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar

Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar was the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the United States. When it opened in February 2008, however, it was to deafening silence from the culinary scene.  Little money was available to spend on advertising and fanfare; chef/owners Kin Lui and Raymond Ho had already put themselves deep in debt merely through attending to the bare necessities that came with opening a restaurant.  Although I was lucky enough to be involved in concept and development, I certainly wasn’t able to bring any money to the table.

The vision behind the restaurant was simple – to prove that sushi and ocean conservation did not necessarily run at odds in one another, and that in fact one could do honor to the art form and hold true to the pursuit of excellence that is part and parcel of the cuisine, while at the same time respecting and nurturing the bounty of our oceans.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Not in our house

There were some major challenges right out of the gate.  The five most popular sushi items in the United States – open-containment farmed salmon, farmed shrimp, longlined yellowfin tuna, farmed Japanese amberjack, and ranched freshwater eel were all unequivocally unsustainable choices.  They all had to go, as did the biggest moneymaker of them all: bluefin tuna.

An even bigger challenge has been the lack of a full kitchen.  Tataki has had to cope with this since day one.  Frankly, though, it has only served to show how much more a hypothetical sustainable sushi chef could do with a full suite of tools.

The Tataki menu has evolved over time, but not a single one of the aforementioned products has ever blemished its pages.  This has been a struggle in some ways, but in others, it’s actually proven surprisingly easy.  An example?  Replacing farmed salmon.

I can't believe it's not eel!

I can't believe it's not eel!

Since farmed salmon was never an option for us, Tataki has always offered arctic char in its place.  We expected some degree of resistance from our customers, but it has never materialized.  The char was instantly popular among our diners and to this day remains one of the restaurant’s best sellers.  We bring in wild Alaskan salmon as well, but as this is a seasonal product, it is a delicacy that we are not able to offer on a daily basis.

Eel was replaced with faux-nagi, Chef Kin Lui’s brainchild.  This sablefish-based dish delivers the deep, dusky sweetness and fatty texture of unagi, but doesn’t rely on an overfished product.

The chefs eschew bluefin toro in favor of the sweet, supple belly flesh of local pole-and-line albacore.  Hamachi was never an option either, due to the state of stocks and the rapacity of the industry.  Instead, Tataki’s offers farmed Hawaiian kanpachi (as well as wild amberjack, depending on the season.)

Welcome back, vegans

Welcome back, vegans

Tataki also boasts a thorough vegetarian selection.  It seemed to us that vegetarians had been severely marginalized when it came to sushi — how many cucumber rolls can you eat before the experience becomes unbearably mundane?  Moreover, vegetarians are, by definition, sustainable seafood supporters insofar as they would never order bluefin, eel, farmed salmon, or other dangerous options.  Kin and Raymond put a tremendous amount of thought into designing a menu that offers both vegetarians and vegans alike a plethora of animal-free delights.

The vast majority of Tataki’s customers are thrilled about the options.  Sure, we have the odd one or two patrons that lament our lack of unagi or toro, but we’ve found that the gains vastly outweigh the losses.

While the restaurant’s popularity has continued to grow, nothing could have prepared us for a recent event that both flattered and humbled us to no end.  In its October 5th issue, Time Magazine declared Raymond, Kin and myself “Environmental Heroes of the Year” in honor of our work with sustainable sushi.

Our little corner of the industry

Our little corner of the industry

As ecstatic as we are about this award, it is actually our hope that our little operation will soon be forgotten amidst the dozens, even hundreds, of other restaurants and grocery stores that make the switch to a more responsible method of selling sushi.  A niche restaurant may command a distinct market share, but it will not change the world; it cannot save the oceans.  A vanguard restaurant, however, defines itself by the slow demise of its individuality.  We at Tataki will know that we’ve succeeded in our mission when, from an environmental perspective, there is nothing to distinguish us from any other sushi bar.

The concept of sustainability is ballooning within the public consciousness, and with each passing day, the ideals of a sustainable lifestyle penetrate further into our daily existence.  For all of us in the Tataki family, it has been and continues to be a true honor to play a role in the development of sustainable sushi.

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Thank you & vacation notice

Posted by Casson in News and Announcements
Sincerely yours

Sincerely yours

First off, thanks so much for all the input on the previous post.  I received some great direction, both in comments and via email.  I feel that we’ve been able to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of the website, and I’ve got a good idea for how I can improve it a bit and make it more interactive. I won’t give my plans away entirely, but here’s a hint: you might want to plan a visit to your favorite sushi bar sometime within the next two months or so.

I also want to let everyone know that I’m taking a little vacation and will be away from the grasping claws of the internet until September 8th.  Expect a new update (and it’s a good one) sometime around the 9th or 10th of September.

See you soon — I’ll bring you all back somethin’ nice.

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Seeking input

Posted by Casson in News and Announcements
Help a brother out?

Help a brother out?

I need to ask you all for a small favor.

For the past nine months or so, I have been working on building sustainablesushi.net into an informative website where people could obtain up-to-date scientific information on the sustainability of their favorite sushi items, as well as express their views on various phenomena growing out of the realms of sushi and ocean conservation.  I’ve been thrilled to watch the readership of this blog display slow but steady growth throughout that time.

Moreover, sustainablesushi.net has attracted individuals that represent the leadership in a number of the fields related to this subject — marine biologists, commercial fishermen, aquaculturists, and even sushi chefs have found their way to the website.  These folks represent a wealth of information that we can all benefit from.

So... how 'bout them sardines?

So... how 'bout them sardines?

That being said, I’ve been slow to foster more discussion in the form of comments.  This is a bit of a letdown as I strongly believe that the best way to grapple with the complicated issues addressed on this website is through open discussion and debate.  Unfortunately, I feel that I have largely failed to create an environment where readers feel comfortable adding their views and engaging in conversation with me and with one another.

As such, I have decided that it would be best to open the floor up to my readership.  The multiple choice question below represents some of the ideas I’ve already had.  Please feel free to suggest more than one option.

All I ask is that you bear two points in mind:

  • I maintain my own website
  • I know virtually nothing about how to maintain my own website

With that caveat, I’d love to know your thoughts on the following questions:

1) What are the best/worst parts of this website?


2) What would encourage more reader participation and discussion on this website?

  1. Enabled anonymous postings (no need to login to post a comment)
  2. Video updates (VLOG entries)
  3. Increased focus on restaurants (provide matrix for readers to conduct and submit sustainability-based reviews)
  4. Blog articles to close with question(s) designed to kickstart discussion
  5. Other (feel free to suggest something)

Thanks so much for your input.  This website is still in its formative stages, and while I’m certainly very proud of how far it has come, I have no doubt whatsoever that there is still a tremendous need for improvement.  After all, sustainability is dynamic… and websites need to be sustainable as well.

I look forward to your comments.

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Sustainable sushi in the news, Spring 2009

I want to take a few moments to acknowledge the journalists that have been doing so much to promote sustainable sushi in the past few weeks.

Some quick thank-yous:

To Clair Leschin for her wonderfully supportive piece on sustainable sushi in the Christian Science Monitor;

To the Seattle Times’ Nancy Leson for her flame-stoking article on Mashiko, the cooperative effort of chef Hajime Sato and myself to create Seattle’s first sustainable sushi restaurant;

To Katharine Mieszkowski of Salon.com for a powerful take on sushi and the current plight of the bluefin tuna;

To Laurel House for an insightful roster of ten steps we can all take to support sustainable sushi for Discovery.com’s Planet Green;

To the Seattle Weekly’s Jonathan Kauffman for his examination of sustainable sushi and consumer habits, as well as some pomp and circumstance for the Mashiko launch; and

To Sarah Barmak of NOW Magazine for her muck-raking exposé on the sushi industry and her quest to find sustainable fish in Toronto.

I, as well as the teams at Tataki Sushi Bar and Mashiko, are grateful or your time, interest, and passion.  This movement will not succeed without interest and support from the media.  Having determined and environmentally aware journalists on board with the sustainable sushi movement is absolutely imperative as we move forward.  It has been a pleasure to work with each and every one of you; thank you all so much.

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