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Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
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Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy

A-The Sushi EconomySushi, once an obscure Japanese delicacy, has become the trendiest food in the modern world. The Sushi Economy posits that bluefin tuna led to this sushi explosion and that an individual named Akira Okazaki single-handedly lit the fuse. An employee of Japan Airlines, Okazaki realized that empty cargo aircraft returning to Japan could be filled with Atlantic bluefin. As fresh fish became available by airfreight anywhere on earth, sushi restaurants proliferated outside of Japan. The arrival of sushi in a developing country, Sasha Issenberg claims, signals "an access to advanced trade networks, of full engagement in world commerce." But the unfortunate consequence of sushi’s popularity has been the decline of bluefin populations throughout the world’s oceans.
Gotham. 351 pages. $26. ISBN: 1592402941

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] fascinating and highly readable book about the world’s relatively recent appreciation for raw fish and fermented rice. … [H]is descriptions of robot-created, assembly-line-built sushi make it difficult to ignore how our appetites have plundered the seas." Lenora Inez Brown

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]clear, engaging account of the business behind one of the world’s most popular foods. … The Sushi Economy is not a foodie romp detailing delicious meals at rarified sushi bars. Rather, it delves into the global seafood commerce that has developed over 30 years to accommodate the ever-growing demands for high-quality raw fish." Bill Addison

Newsweek 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]s freelance journalist Issenberg shows, sushi’s improbable rise to ubiquity is 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

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[H]is splendid account of the delicacy could be said to resemble his subject matter: tasty, textured and aesthetically pleasing. … The Sushi Economy is a fascinating read that enlightens as much as it whets the appetite." David Takami

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is eminently readable and more anecdote-rich and quirky than its subtitle … might suggest." Henny Sender

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An authoritative, expertly reported account of this increasingly global business, with the smart elegance of a dinner at Nobu." Wook Kim

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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. … Environmentalists might take exception to this sunny characterization; wild bluefin stocks are not likely to survive our appetite for maguro, and the jets that transport their carcasses from Boston to Tokyo aren’t doing the ozone any good." Jay McInerney

Critical Summary

Sasha Issenberg, an investigative reporter at Philadelphia magazine, gained national notoriety a few years ago when he fact-checked David Brooks’s article in the Atlantic Monthly, "One Nation, Slightly Divisable." He found plenty of errors and generalizations. With The Sushi Economy, he impressed critics with his thoughtful and well-written account of how sushi became the world’s favorite luxury cuisine. Filled with interesting detail, the book also contains surprising facts and anecdotes that critics were quick to quote. The New York Times felt the narrative sometimes dragged, with one passage that describes a fish being transferred from boat to dock feeling "longer than the flight to Japan." Other critics thought Issenberg strained too much on occasion, for example by comparing sushi chefs with samurai. Despite these minor criticisms, reviewers overall recommended this book as a fascinating view of the global economy.

Also Recommended

The Zen of Fish The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket | Trevor Corson (2007): In this history of the origin and spread of sushi, Corson focuses on a master Japanese sushi chef and his American students.