Monday, June 4, 2007

The Sushi Economy

Sasha Issenberg, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy. Gotham Books, 2007.

The premise of this book is that sushi -- the famous Japanese seasoned rice and raw fish delicacy -- exists on two levels. It is, of course, a food that is very local, with a particular set of cultural practices and a specialized vocabulary. To step into a sushi bar is to step out of wherever you happen to be and into a small piece of a particular image of Japan.

Chances are, however, that the "local" culture that you experience is in fact the product of rather sophisticated global markets and processes, which is why sushi can now be found all over the world. The "slow food" that is prepared before your eyes exists because of a "fast world" of markets and technology.

Sasha Issenberg does a great job of telling the story of globalization through the specific case of sushi. We learn, though the sort of first person reporting familiar to readers of The New Yorker, how Atlantic bluefin tuna came to Japanese fish markets (Japanese airlines needed something to fill their cargo holds on the return trips to Japan), how the famous Tokyo fish markets work, and how Croatian immigrants to Australia learned to farm tuna to satisfy sushi diners in Japan and elsewhere.

Along the way we al,so learn a lot about how fish is caught or farmed, bought and sold, prepared and consumed. And, since this is the story of the sushi economy, not just sushi, we learn about the costs of catching fish and economics of running a sushi restaurant.

A fascinating book for readers who want to know how globalization works in a particular case. I would rank it with Pietra Rivoli's Travels of a T-Shirt and Marc Levinson's The Box as among my favorite books about globalization in action.