Thursday, April 24, 2014
Opinion

Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

Therese Park: A new resolution

Special to The Star

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On our refrigerator many notes are posted, but most recent one reads “No more sushi!”

Scientists discovered that bluefin tuna caught off California a few months after a tidal wave and earthquake crippled a Japanese nuclear reactor in 2011 had about 10 times more radioactive cesium compared to tuna caught before the disaster. Even though news reports said the fish were still safe to eat, I’m not taking chances.

My sushi eating days ended this month. My common sense tells me this: If one kind of sea life is contaminated by toxic chemicals, others would be too, even seaweed.

The bluefin tuna is the prince of the sushi industry, a fish whose flesh delights gourmets. But its price is not easily palatable for common consumers. A specimen weighing 489 pounds was sold in Japan last year for a record-breaking $1.8 million. How much is that per serving? I can only give you a hint: one single piece of toro sushi made of fatty bluefin belly can cost about $25.

In the 1960s, bluefin were faceless fish no one wanted. In the United States, they sold for pennies per pound, and most of them became cat food. A decade later sushi bars were showing up in large cities. But most Midwesterners had no appetite for anything made of raw fish.

“Do you eat sushi?” my American friends often asked me cautiously, in a manner we Koreans would ask the Chinese, “Do you really eat chicken feet?”

When I admitted that I did eat sushi, my friends wrinkled their noses.

“How can you eat raw fish? I can’t even stand the smell of cooked fish,” were their general reactions. I defended myself and all sushi eaters by saying, “You should try it first before you say anything about something you don’t know. Sushi has no fishy taste at all.”

But today, almost every grocery store you walk in has refrigerated shelves displaying all kinds of ready-made sushi. This tells me that even if I’d begin an anti-sushi campaign, the sushi industry would not suffer any time soon, nor would bluefin tuna lose its reputation as the prince of the sushi world.

Truthfully, I’m a bit nostalgic about my sushi eating days, especially those of my childhood when we lived in the port city of Pusan.

Our family made a monthly visit to a Japanese-owned sushi restaurant by the sea, where we could hear the waves hitting the reef and seagulls searching for their mates while we ate. That restaurant had a large tank against a wall that had all kinds of fish swimming in it. Occasionally, a man wearing a white headband and a white tunic appeared from the kitchen with a net, fetched a wiggly fish, and disappeared through the door. When I think about it now, it was obvious that the occupants of the tank had been waiting for their death, and the chef executed them, one at a time, to please his diners. But back then I never thought about how tragic it was that fish had to die for us, because our main reason for going there was to eat.

My nostalgia will not change my mind about “No more sushi!” After all, I have a long life ahead me.

Retired musician Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.

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