Saturday, January 26, 2008

Death by Tuna

I think there's a plot afoot.  Someone hates sushi.  And it ain't me.

It's rather strange how much I love sushi, well, actually sashimi more than sushi, as the first time I had it I spat it out.  For various reasons, I did not try Japanese food till I was around 20.  At a work event, there had been a buffet spread featuring sushi.  A colleague encouraged me to try the sushi but I think the buffet had been sitting there for some hours and the sushi had started to turn and was more slushy than sushi.

So my first encounter with sushi was not an auspicious one.  I avoided the stuff for years till I met with a boyfriend who absolutely adored the stuff, and bugged me to give it another chance until I did.  And this time, we had proper, high quality sushi and sashimi.  And suddenly I was a convert.

Recently, an article in the claimed sushi is dangerous.  Or at least bluefin tuna sushi is bad for you.  It stated a New York Times study found surprisingly high quantities of mercury in tuna sushi.  In 20 restaurants and supermarkets in Manhattan.  Obviously this study is very ethno-, even borough-centric as the survey sample size is so limited and small.

The writer of the komotv article, Herb Weisbaum, clarified that these mercury quantities are higher than federal sanctioned amounts.  He continued by adding that this does not mean that we should stop consuming sushi (well, thank God as I would have to start gnawing on his bones instead) but simply avoid tuna sushi.

It's called maguro sushi, mate.  And he claimed -

"Sushi is general considered a healthy food -- a good source of omega-3 fats, protein, and a variety of nutrients. Plus it's relatively low in calories." 

Well, that depends on what kind of sushi it is.  There are many types and not all of them made with raw fish.  So that statement is erroneous since, if was made with fried bacon and mayo, there will not be any omega-3 fats and would be highly high in calories.  Do not barf as there are such concoctions nowadays under the guise of sushi.

This well-researched article continued to dazzle with a statement that the writer had done his homework by bringing in expert opinion.  Weisbaum wrote that bluefin tuna should generally be consumed in limited amounts because the New York Times study says so.  And - 

" "That's because you'd likely get the same results if you tested tuna anywhere in the country, says Joanna Burger, a professor at Rutgers University who analyzed the sushi. "

The last I heard, Rutgers University is the state university of New Jersey.  I did not know it represented the whole of the USA or the world.  And I did not realise it had such extensive research facilities as to study all the bluefin tuna samples from all over the world.  

Because, in case Weisbaum and his learned colleague, Prof Burger, do not realise, a lot of sashimi-grade tuna is actually imported.  From Japan.  Yes, yes, you ask, what's wrong with good ole American bluefin tuna?  Well, obviously as you Americans (I am assuming Weisbaum & Burger are Americans) just claimed ... yours ain't safe.

So there is quite a bit of bluefin tuna swimming around in your sushi bars that are not local.  The 20 restaurants and supermarkets might not have these higher-grade raw materials out for easy access as frankly, they cost a lot more than their local counterparts.  And certainly out of the reach of university research.

Weisbaum penned that the mercury level in the bluefin tuna found in 5 out of the 20 samples is about 1 part per million, which is so high that the FDA could ban it from being sold.   20%!  Wow, that's a lot.  But 20 sample out of how many restaurants and supermarkets in the US?  And extrapolate that to the world?  How many percent would that be?

Prof Burger claims, "That's really risky because if you are pregnant you don't know if you're going to happen to get the sushi that happens to be made from the tuna that's quite high in mercury," she said.

I'm sorry, Prof Burger, but have you ever been pregnant or been around a pregnant woman before?  Very few of them want to eat sushi when they have morning sickness.  And the live bacteria in raw food is not advisable for them.  So it does not matter what kind of raw fish they eat, it's going to be bad for them.  

She continued her astute commentary by adding, "If I were pregnant or if I had a small child, I would not eat sushi made with tuna, nor would I give it to my young child."

Again I ask, do you have children or hang around any?  If you offer a kid sushi, they usually go "eeeuuwww" and/or spit it out.  At you.  Usually on your brand new Jimmy Choos.

The report advocated the limited and careful consumption of other high-mercury leveled fish such as mackerel, swordfish, tuna and shark.  Burger enforced that this means the fish is unsafe in any form, including sushi.  The only safe fish apparently is salmon.

Weisbaum ended his insightful article with an admonishment that bluefin tuna is being over-fished anyway.

Let's take it back a little, shall we?  The entire article, from title till end, implies that it is tuna sushi that has high mercury content.   If it is the bluefin tuna that is the culprit, why not state that it is the fish and not the culinary form that it comes in?  By stating that it is sushi that is dangerous, it casts negative shadows on the culinary style and technique, not the raw ingredient.

Why did the article not say that tuna steaks or sandwiches made from bluefin tuna is bad for you?

OK, let's take the statement that other fishes are bad for us too.  Shark.  Hello, environmentalists and ecologists might have more to say to you than "eating shark is bad 'cos it's high in mercury".
And about over-fishing.  You think salmon is not over-fished?

I have so many issues with this article that is not even funny.  I deplore such irresponsible journalism with a blatant ulterior motive and not-so-hidden agenda.  Such small (literally) minded and borough-centric perspective is not only an insult to the readers but more importantly, an insult to your country.  

It makes Americans look ill conceived and insular.  Get over it.  Go eat some tuna sushi.