But Why Do They Have to Get Naked?


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:

Celebrity tuna.jpg

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.

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