THE SUSHI ECONOMY
THE GLOBALIZATION AND
THE MAKING OF A MODERN DELICACY
One generation ago, sushi’s narrow reach ensured that sports fishermen who caught tuna in most of the world sold the meat for pennies as cat food. Today, the fatty cuts of tuna known as toro are among the planet’s most coveted luxury foods, worth hundreds of dollars a pound and capable of losing value more quickly than any other product on earth. So how has one of the world’s most popular foods gone from being practically unknown in the U.S. to being served in towns all across America, and in such a short span of time? Sushi aficionados and newcomers alike will be surprised to learn the true history, intricate business, and international allure behind this fascinating food.
A riveting combination of culinary biography, behind-the-scenes restaurant detail, and a unique exploration of globalization’s dynamics, journalist Sasha Issenberg traces sushi’s journey from Japanese street snack to global delicacy. The Sushi Economy takes you through the stalls of Tokyo’s massive Tsukiji market, where the auctioneers sell millions of dollars of fish each day, and to the birthplace of modern sushi — in Canada. He then follows sushi’s evolution in America, exploring how it became LA’s favorite food.
You’re taken behind the sushi bar with the chef Nobu Matsuhisa, whose distinctive travels helped to define the flavors of global cuisine, and with a unique sushi chef blazing a path in Texas. Issenberg also delves into the complex economics of the fish trade, following the ups and downs of the hunt for bluefin off New England, the tuna cowboys on the southern coast of Australia who invented the art of tuna ranching, and uncovering the mysterious underworld of pirates, smugglers, and the tuna black market. Few businesses reveal the complex dynamics of globalization as acutely as the tuna’s journey from the sea to the sushi bar. After traversing the pages of The Sushi Economy, you’ll never see the food on your plate — or the world around you — quite the same way again.
“Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy is a perfectly timed book about two important topics. Like a good piece of sushi, it's simple, complex, and full of delicious surprises."
—Mark Bittman, New York Times columnist and author of How to Cook Everything
“Everywhere I travel in the world there seems to be a sushi bar awaiting me. Now, for the first time, I understand the culinary phenomenon with informed eyes and stomach. Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy is a riveting and witty inquiry into the raw fish explosion. As a non-fiction stylist, he's first-rate. A must read!"
—Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History
at Rice University, author of Cronkite
“This is one of those rare books that reveals a vast and fascinating system behind something you've entirely taken for granted. The Sushi Economy is not just a book about our growing appetite for raw fish — it's a brilliant look at globalization in practice."
—Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map and Everything Bad is Good for You
“Sasha Issenberg has produced an exquisite specimen of culinary anthropology — and literary journalism and political economy. He reveals fascinating wrinkles in the global economy with wit and color. "
—Franklin Foer, author of
How Soccer Explains the World
“In this intriguing first book, Philadelphia-based journalist Issenberg roams the globe in search of sushi and takes the reader on a cultural, historical and economic journey through the raw-fish trade that reads less like economics and more like an entertaining culinary travelogue...Issenberg follows every possible strand in this worldwide web of history, economics and cuisine—an approach that keeps the book lively with colorful places and characters, from the Tokyo fish market to the boats of North Atlantic fishermen, from tuna ranches off the coast of Australia to the sushi bars in Austin, Tex. He weaves the history of the art and cuisine of sushi throughout, and his smart, lively voice makes the most arcane information fascinating."
—Publisher’s Weekly, starred review, February 19, 2007
“Issenberg pursues the blue-fin tuna around the world—from sea to ship to freezer to airplane to restaurant to plate to palate—and returns with a superb fish story. In that pursuit, the author ate sushi in 14 countries on five different continents over the course of two years… In scenes that prove him a worthy successor to John McPhee, Issenberg has revelatory chats with a wide range of people: Canadian fishermen, Japanese entrepreneurs, Los Angeles restaurateurs, Australian tuna-tossers (there’s actually an annual contest) and Spanish pirate-chasers— yes, piracy is a problem in the sushi industry. The words and experiences of these diverse folks animate nearly every page...Superior literary journalism."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review, March 1, 2007
“Beautifully written…Sprinkled throughout with fascinating character studies of the many buyers, importers, sushi chefs, restaurateurs, critics, and diners who make the wheels turn, this work is solidly rooted in place—allowing one to tour four continents slowly. It makes enjoying sushi not only a delight for the palate but also a thought-provoking repast for the mind.
—Library Journal, May 1, 2007
—Nick Tosches, Vanity Fair, June 2007
“It wasn’t until the other day, when I had sushi with Sasha Issenberg, that I realized I had been happily chowing down all these years on an unsung symbol of global commerce...It’s a great story, and it’s instructive even if you’re one of those people who wouldn’t eat sushi on a bet."
—Andrew Cassel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 2007
“To chart a global culinary craze, the author follows maguro—the deep red tuna that’s a fixture on every sushi menu—from Australian fish ranches to Texan tables and beyond. Will satisfy picky eaters (and readers)."
—Wired, May 2007
“From grizzled tuna fishers off Prince Edward Island to the 57-acre Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Issenberg’s economic history leaves no nigiri unturned, examining the Revered Sun Myung Moon’s investments in Massachusetts seafood and the apprenticeship of the first great sushi chef from Texas. Kanpai!"
—Details, May 2007
“A textbook case study of globalization…Issenberg’s examination serves up enough tasty morsels to stand on its own...it’s a stern reminder to take a second look at what comes next to your wasabi and ginger."
—Lauren Sommer, Boldtype, May 2007
“For a sushi maniac like me, delving into Sasha Issenberg’s historic look at the sushi trade is as enthralling as omakase at Masa."
—Nancy Leson, restaurant critic, Seattle Times, May 6, 2007
“A clear, engaging account of the business behind one of the world’s most popular foods...Whatever political, economic and cultural insights the book offers, each page seems to resonate with a bottom line missive: Those rectangular slabs of ruby tuna served in sushi bars come with a lot more history than most of us suspect."
—Bill Addison, restaurant critic, Dallas Morning News, May 13, 2007
“Eloquent, intelligent and definitive."
—Steve Volk, Philadelphia Weekly, May 2, 2007
—Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, Marginal Revolution
“An insider’s look at a piece of fish as it moves from the ocean to your table and the many, many people who make that not-so-simple transaction happen. If someone or something touched a fish on the way to it becoming sushi—from a 82-kilo Spanish bluefin arriving at Narita Airport in Japan to a busy Austin restaurant on a busy Friday night—Issenberg was there...Throughout his travels and findings, Issenberg discloses interesting factoids about sushi myths."
—Dorothy Robinson, Metro (New York/Philadelphia/Boston), May 10, 2007
“A captivating study of the characters who make up the hidden network of global fish commerce."
—Denise B. Martin, Fast Company, June 2007
“An authoritative, expertly reported account of this increasingly global business, with the smart elegance of a dinner at Nobu. B+."
—Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly, May 25, 2007
“If your image of globalization features Third World sweatshop workers toiling over goods ultimately purveyed in glossy American mail-order catalogues, Sasha Issenberg’s The Sushi Economy says, in effect, ‘Not necessarily.’"
—Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World,
May 20, 2007
“A prismatic approach to the topic."
—Gary M. Kramer, Philadelphia City Paper, May 3, 2007
“Sushi and the people who trade it have become a textbook illustration of the benefits and perils of globalization—or so argues Sasha Issenberg convincingly in his engaging book… Issenberg gives life to the trade... Issenberg’s enthusiasm—this is mostly a celebration of globalization—propels the story forward."
—David LaGesse, U.S. News & World Report, May 28, 2007
“A remarkable tale of how powerfully and unpredictably globalization has transformed gastronomy, just as it has economics and politics. Equal parts foodie narrative, political history and big-think economic tome, Issenberg’s fish tale makes for a tasty combo roll in its own right."
—John David Sparks, Newsweek, May 28, 2007
“Tracing the development of the global supply chain and the global demand for the tuna that goes into sushi, Mr. Issenberg focuses on the often anonymous individuals who have contributed to the process, from Mr. Okazaki to brokers in Tsukiji, from chefs in Austin, Texas, to the fish ‘launderers’ in the Mediterranean who serve, as Mr. Issenberg puts it, a ‘new black-market seafood commerce—illegal, unregulated and unreported catches.’ The book is eminently readable and more anecdote-rich and quirky than its subtitle (’Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy’) might suggest."
—Henny Sender, Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2007
“In one of The Sushi Economy’s best chapters, Issenberg heads to Port Lincoln, home to Australia’s so-called tuna barons, who raise the prized fish in pens. Keeping the world awash in sushi has made the barons exorbitantly wealthy: I don’t think I’ll ever have another piece of toro without thinking of Sam Sarin, a baron who styled his garish estate after Southfork Ranch, home to the Ewing clan on the 1980s soap opera Dallas... Issenberg never wallows in foodie nostalgia. Instead, he celebrates sushi’s emergence as a case of globalization at its best, with consumers and producers working in relative harmony despite rarely encountering one another face-to-face. At its best, The Sushi Economy reads like the giddiest, geekiest Food Network special ever made, a paean to man’s endless innovation in the name of gluttony. It’s certainly tough not to enjoy a book that includes a step-by-step guide to winning Port Lincoln’s annual tuna-tossing competition (’Stand with your back to the intended destination and spin two rotations counterclockwise...’)."
—Brendan L. Koerner, The Washington Monthly, June 2007
“Issenberg argues that ‘in few places are the complex dynamics of globalization revealed as visibly as in the tuna’s journey from the sea to the sushi bar.’ He traces not only the journey of individual tuna from fisheries in the North Atlantic and farms in Australia, but also how the bluefin went from a trash fish to a prized delicacy in a few decades starting in the late 1960s."
—Charles Solomon, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2007
“An inside look at sushi, with such juicy fun facts punctuating the story of this unique global business...The Sushi Economy is part culinary history (wasabi was originally dabbed under gizzard shad in an effort to kill poisonous toxins) and part business text (a tuna regularly sells for $30,000 at Tsukiji, Tokyo’s 57-acre fish market). Issenberg breaks down the complicated fiscal web into character profiles."
—Nina Lalli, The Village Voice, May 29, 2007
—Kate Lowenstein and Jordana Rothman, Time Out New York, May 31, 2007
“‘Globalization’ is one of those fashionable buzzwords that can mean everything or nothing, depending on its use and context. In The Sushi Economy, Sasha Issenberg gives clear meaning to the term with a focus on tuna how it is caught, shipped, bought and prepared and his splendid account of the delicacy could be said to resemble his subject matter: tasty, textured and aesthetically pleasing...I most enjoyed the smaller morsels of sushi lore and history, such as the speculation that wasabi was first introduced to dilute fish toxins, and how tuna was considered next to worthless a generation ago in New England and was used for pet food."
—David Takami, Seattle Times, May 31, 2007
“A fascinating book for readers who want to know how globalization works in a particular case...Among my favorite books about globalization in action."
—Prof. Michael Veseth, author of
Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization, June 4, 2007
“Issenberg posits the bluefin tuna market and the sushi economy in general as an instance of good globalization, a theoretical counterpoint to the Slow Food movement, founded in 1986 to protest the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome…But the global sushi trade, as Issenberg portrays it, is a curiously old-fashioned market subject to the vagaries of nature and a complex network of personal relationships...He’s got a good story to tell...Often entertaining."
—Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book Review,
June 9, 2007
“Fish-loving optimists will enjoy Issenberg’s work...[his] exuberance rings true."
—Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe, June 24, 2007
“Issenberg’s training as a journalist explains his palatable writing style, and his analysis of market relationships and asymmetries will satisfy devote globalization junkies of the sort who display Thomas Friedman prominently on their bookshelves. He sprinkles the book with witticisms and colorful metaphors...the book transforms into a whimsical travelogue."
—Bina Venkataraman, The Christian Science Monitor,
July 24, 2007
“A lot of guys have fish stories, but Wayne MacAlpine’s is a doozy. It’s a tale of how a young Canadian launched what the Japanese call “the day of the flying fish—the day in 1972 when a 325-kilogram bluefin tuna was flown halfway around the world to give birth to the global sushi business...Mr. MacAlpine’s story was all but forgotten on this side of the ocean, until he was tracked down by U.S. journalist Sasha Issenberg while researching his recently published book."
—David Parkinson, The Globe and Mail,
July 12, 2007
“Sushi has become serious business...The spectacular globalization of the multi-billion dollar sushi industry, from Nebraska to Mumbai, is thoroughly described in The Sushi Economy, by Sasha Issenberg."
—Doug Maloney, Marin Independent Journal,
July 7, 2007
“Sasha Issenberg…focuses on how sushi as we know it—and in particular, the coveted, fatty flesh of the bluefin tuna—is the product of a very sophisticated (and sometimes clandestine) global economy...an interview on sushi: its history, its cultural status, its environmental impact, and its future."
—Sara Dickerman, Slate, July 6, 2007
“A wide-angle-lens view of the craze…In sections that read almost as if they were each separate books, Issenberg, a magazine writer who lives in Philadelphia, explores how tuna became the prized sushi ingredient, the rise of air shipping, and how a neighborhood snack became a worldwide obsession."
—Allison Arnett, The Boston Globe, June 27, 2007
“The way Sasha Issenberg describes it, globalization sounds almost quaint. Research for his book, The Sushi Economy, consisted of a culinary quest that brought him to 14 countries on five continents. In addition to tasting sushi that ranged from sublime to stomach-churning, Issenberg discovered a softer side of globalization—one that relies on human interaction and judgment rather than faceless corporate giants."
—Marie Doezema, Asahi Shimbun, July 7, 2007
May 3, 2007