Creative Conservation: Can Inventive American Sushi Save Bluefin Tuna?
Do you prefer your sushi traditional or more on the creative side?
When talking with sushi lovers, the subject of creative license versus “stick to the basics” is polarizing and often a topic of great debate. If you tend to fall on the “stick to the basics” end, then you may become quite disappointed with sushi over the next few years as global seafood sustainability issues become more of a concern. The sushi industry is a major contributor to issues of seafood sustainability. Environmentalists warn that sushi lovers may soon live to see the extinction of the bluefin tuna, sushi’s trophy fish.
Before imagining a sushi bar without bluefin tuna, let’s think back to the creation of the California roll. Though we may think of the California roll as a roll to satisfy beginning sushi palates, it didn’t begin that way. According to Trevor Corson’s The Story of Sushi, the California roll was created to please the palates of Japanese businessmen at the restaurant Tokyo Kaiken in the late 1960’s. Chef Ichiro Mashita was having difficulties obtaining toro and needed a way to satisfy the rich taste and creamy texture of the fatty tuna belly. He resourcefully used avocados, which were plentiful, combined with crab to create the sensation of toro on the tongue. His creation later became one of the most important developments in sushi history – a development that was heralded because toro was unavailable.
Over the years, the California roll has became quite popular and has landed a permanent spot on sushi bar menus across America. But for all its popularity and ingenuity, the creative precedence it has set often gains mixed reviews for other would be classics. The idea of sushi being a creative endeavor rather than a strict regimen to be followed has worldwide critics suggesting that creative sushi isn’t sushi at all. These critics insist that sushi ingredients remain the same, no matter what.
And that brings us back to bluefin tuna (and many of the other seafood species we should avoid). If in fact what environmentalists and scientists suggest about bluefin tuna being on the verge of extinction is true, what will sushi lovers do when the supply is exhausted? What will we eat this time when toro, which incidentally comes from the fatty belly of the bluefin tuna, is unavailable? Will we embrace the world of sushi creativity and allow our sushi chefs to apply Mashita’s ingenuity? Or will we abandon sushi altogether?
Or will we embrace the world of creative sushi now while there is still a chance for the bluefin? If we could learn to eat less bluefin and allow our palates to be tantalized by some of the other fish in the sea, perhaps the bluefin population may stand a chance at survival and enjoyment for future generations.
Let’s embrace this new style of creative sushi. If we as sushi chefs uphold the highest standards of the cuisine while applying our creative interpretations, nothing is lost. And as diners, if we insist on knowing the origins of our seafood and avoiding those that should not be consumed, we can do our part in maintaining ocean friendliness. (And perhaps discover new favorites!)
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