Sushi Chefs: Can We Talk?

On a sushi-filled New York Times op-ed page, Trevor Corson offers us a prescription for sushi eating in America, and Stephen Shaw says the pregnancy police are all wrong in advising pregnant women not to eat sushi.

Here's what Corson says:

What we need isn’t more tuna, but a renaissance in American sushi; to discover for ourselves—and perhaps to remind the Japanese—what sushi is all about. A trip to the neighborhood sushi bar should be a social exchange that celebrates, with a sense of balance and moderation, the wondrous variety of the sea.

I suggest that customers refuse to sit at a table or look at a menu. We should sit at the bar and ask the chef questions about everything—what he wants to make us and how we should eat it. We should agree to turn our backs on our American addictions to tuna (for starters, try mackerel), globs of fake wasabi (let the chef add the appropriate amount), gallons of soy sauce (let the chef season the sushi if it needs seasoning), and chopsticks (use your fingers so the chef can pack the sushi loosely, as he would in Japan). Diners will be amazed at how following these simple rules can make a sushi chef your friend, and take you on new adventures in taste.

In return, the chefs, be they Japanese or not, must honor the sushi tradition and make the effort to educate us—no more stoicism. They must also be willing to have a candid conversation about the budget before the meal; it’s the only way American diners will be willing to surrender to the chef’s suggestions. Sushi should never be cheap, but it also should never be exorbitant, because that makes it impossible to create a clientele of regulars.

This all sounds well and good, but the idea that sushi chefs will volunteer straight talk about how much a sushi meal is going to cost and abandon their classic stoicism strikes me as a bit of cross-cultural social engineering that just isn't going to fly. Corson is asking sushi chefs to ignore hundreds of years of cultural breeding. Conversely, the idea that Americans shouldn't order what they have clearly demonstrated they like is also not likely to happen. In theory, Corson's prescriptions sound like a persuasive cultural exchange program. In reality, it is not going to happen.

And just when you thought we were finished with sushi there's more.

Steven Shaw argues that it is perfectly safe for pregnant women to eat sushi and furthermore that the pregnancy police have merely added a layer of unnecessary worry to a pregnant woman's already lengthy list of rational and irrational fears.

Serious Eater Meg Hourihan, having just given birth to beautiful Ollie, must weigh in here. And let's hear from Nina Planck. It seems to me that even if there's the slightest risk of food-borne illness from eating raw fish, that might be too much for most women.

Of course, the real question is what's the big deal about not eating raw seafood for nine months. Shaw says that the combination of warnings about parasites in sushi and about mercury in certain species of fish is scaring pregnant women off cooked seafood as well, which is problematic because the "fatty acids in fish are the ideal nourishment for a developing baby." Is this true?

Finally, Shaw argues that the "sushi ban is insulting to Japanese culture." That strikes me as patently ridiculous, but then again I'm not Japanese.