No to Nobu! is the new Free Tibet: In April, the Worldwide Wildlife Fund published estimates that the breeding stocks of Mediterranean bluefin tuna will disappear in three years. Everyone knew the sushi business was killing the popular predators off; most of us didn't know that it was that quickly.
Even delicious endangered species barely make a blip on the public consciousness. Celebrities do, however, and the all-star campaign to save the bluefin has just taken off! In September 2008, Greenpeace caught Nobu Matsuhisa's multi-starred restaurants selling bluefin to patrons without telling them it was the (almost) endangered fish. Soon after, Nobu (the restaurant) started labeling the fish correctly, but appended a warning: "Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species - please ask your server for an alternative." Lame. This month, 31 stars made the news by writing a letter to Nobu's owners (including Robert DeNiro) asking the restaurants to stop selling bluefin. A few A-listers -- OK, Charlize Theron -- make the list, along with Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson, Sting and his wife, and two dozen D-listers that the news reports don't name.A separate British campaign features so-called stars posing nude with a fish that is very dead and very obviously not a bluefin:
The NPR side of my brain grumbles, "Why does it take the word 'celebrities' to get people interested?" The DListed.com side says, "Can't they pick hotter celebrities?" How do PETA-dupe Alicia Silverstone or Sting and Sting's-wife-who's-only-famous-for-bragging-about-Sting's-virility help the cause? I care so little about Greta Scacchi, whose celebrity stock was downgraded to junk bond in the early 1990s, that to see her macking on a fish doesn't stoke my fires of righteousness. Looks like a grab for attention instead.
And yet -- it's the only way this moves from activist circles to the mainstream. As Matthew Amster-Burton wrote in the Seattle Times a few months ago, most sushi chefs are still thinking of pleasing customers, not preserving fish stocks; even many Seattle vegetarians (aka pescatarians) don't think about what's on their nigiri -- how can a piece of bluefin be better for the planet than a sustainably raised pork shoulder? So if it takes Terry Gilliam and some British actress I've never heard of pulling a self-serving stunt to get people to change their sushi eating habits, well, I guess that's the way it has to be. Here I am, writing a whole blog post about them.
I ate what I expect will be my last piece of bluefin O-toro a few months back, part of an omakase meal. It was the second most amazing bite of fish I've had all year -- it floated in my mouth, meaty and smooth, a goodbye kiss blown out the window of a passing car. But it was bested by an even more cloudlike piece of hamachi belly that felt like holding a cool piece of butter on my tongue. If I could find sustainably raised kampachi belly more often, I can't imagine noticing the O-toro-shaped hole in my life. Best yet, I won't have to deal with the queasy thought of Terry Gilliam's nipples every time I order.
Correction: Nobu Matsuhisa's name is not Matsushita.