Shifting Baselines

This could possibly be the shifting baselines story of the year. In today’s Business Section of the New York Times is the article, Waiter, There’s Deer in My Sushi. Japanese chefs are considering using smoked deer meat and raw horse as just a couple of odd alternatives to the ever-scarcer tuna supply. Just since last year, the price of frozen imported northern and Pacific bluefin tuna has risen $13 a pound.

“It’s like America running out of steak,” said Tadashi Yamagata, vice chairman of Japan’s national union of sushi chefs. “Sushi without tuna just would not be sushi.”

Japan currently consumes more than three-quarters of the world’s annual catch of bluefin tuna. But as Japan’s economy has stagnated and the price for tuna has risen, the nation is having an identity crisis over the potential fall of their tuna empire. Meanwhile, many sushi chefs seem to be taking the attitude that times change and so must their sushi. Deer meat and raw horse sushi, an extraordinary shifting baseline.


  1. #1 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 25, 2007

    Perhaps not so odd.

    Tokyo Express, a Japanese fast food chain here in Canada features the “Alberta Roll”.

    Beef Sushi.

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    June 25, 2007

    Actually, raw horse meat has been available in Japan for a long time. When I lived there for a few months in 1998, I used to routinely get sent plates of basashi at bar I used to frequent, because it was the strangest thing on the menu, and everybody wanted to see whether the enormous Westerner would eat it.

    For the record, it’s not bad. I wouldn’t think of it as a substitute for tuna, but it was fairly tasty.

  3. #3 jk
    June 25, 2007

    “Sushi without tuna just isn’t sushi.”

    He’s right. In this case it’s gimpap, Korea’s answer to sushi. Instead of fish, gimpap uses fried egg, cooked ground beef, and sausage, among other things.

  4. #4 T.R.
    June 25, 2007

    BEEF SUSHI?!!! I’ve only recently converted to sushi, but what I have come to like is how much more subtle the flavor of the raw fish over potent beef or chicken. This is totally going to mess up my conversion. p.s. follow the Seafood Watch guide when eating sushi.

  5. #5 baryogenesis
    June 25, 2007

    Some years ago, a reporter stationed in China wrote about a restaurant that specialized in serving rat. They claimed it was healthy, grain-fed, country rat as opposed to his dirty city cousin. The menu referred to it as “heavenly deer”.

  6. #6 Jeb, FCD
    June 28, 2007

    Maybe Carl Zimmer can weigh in on this too, but isn’t raw mammal meat more likely to introduce parasites into a human than raw fish, all things being equal (health, immune staus, etc.)?

  7. #7 Jennifer Jacquet
    June 28, 2007

    This is a great question, especially given the recent Chinese seafood alerts. Definitely will need help from Zimmer…

  8. #8 Carl Zimmer
    June 28, 2007

    I don’t know the relative risks of deer vs tuna, but either way, you may run into parasites in raw meat. Not for me.

New comments have been disabled.