I was probably in my twenties when I discovered the pleasure of sushi. My favorite track quickly became unagino doubt overcoming strong inhibitions at the mere idea of eating – could it be? – eel.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was a tiny part of a vast transformation of American dining. Beginning in the 1980s, sushi evolved from an expensive culinary obscurity into a dinner plan B that American consumers are now grabbing right from their favorite supermarkets. In the past decade alone, the sushi market has doubled to become a $27 billion industry.
What is good news for sushi restaurants and sushi lovers, however, is not so good news for creation. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that a sushi staple, Pacific bluefin tuna, after enduring decades of overfishing and rising demand, has been reduced to just 2.6% of its level. of historical population. And another staple, wild Pacific salmon, is increasingly under threat, according to the WWF, due to habitat destruction, overexploitation and mining. My beloved unagi has its own problems. Sushi-induced demand has placed wild Japanese and European eel on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of endangered species.
And eating sushi isn’t just hard on fishing; its emphasis on freshness means that vast distances must be conquered to bring that piece of fresh fish to your table. Overnight airfreight with a dramatic carbon footprint remains the only option for many restaurateurs.
Other ingredients can be just as hard on the creation. Avocados have exploded in popularity in recent years, thanks in part to their use in sushi rolls. But it’s a particularly thirsty crop — it doesn’t help that most avocados marketed in the United States are grown in California, where the climate has become increasingly arid. Most of the rice, another water-intensive crop, used for sushi is also grown in California, where drought conditions persist.
So in the interest of caring for creation, should sushi be banned from my table? While that would surely help make a sushi platter a much less frequent guest, other options are emerging. Sushi chefs are revising menus with alternative sushi that promotes the overall sustainability of sushi culture, while websites that trade strategies for “sustainable sushi” are proliferating. This can mean something as simple as replacing Pacific salmon with its farmed cousin from Alaska or the Atlantic or finding sustainable local sources that mimic the taste and texture of sushi staples. . Some vegan entrepreneurs are even experimenting with plant-based sushi.
The Church constantly reminds us, most recently in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), of our duty to take care of the oceans. The Church strongly supports multilateral institutions that take on this burden. But from the sushi consumer to the UN fisheries bureaucrat, we all must share responsibility for protecting the dynamic expression of creation that the oceans and the species that live there represent.
In 1974, only about 10 percent of the world’s fish resources were exploited at biologically unsustainable rates. Today, as global fish consumption increases dramatically, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that around 35% of the world’s fish are being caught at unsustainable rates, even as Other pressures from litter and plastic pollution disrupt ocean ecology.
Sushi consumption is only a growing threat to global fisheries. It’s a red flag for conscientious consumers, warning that a rapacious status quo, whether it’s sushi or more broadly how we exploit the Earth’s oceans, can’t last. Unless we are much wiser in our stewardship of the living resources of the global ocean, our nets will empty no matter which way we cast them.
This article also appears in the July 2022 issue of US Catholic (vol. 87, no. 7, page 42). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Unsplash/Mahmoud Fawzy