The Untold Truths of Sushi

Sushi, originally a Japanese delicacy, is one of the most widely appreciated foods in America. It has recently become a very popular dinner and lunch option, whether people go to a high-class sushi bar with friends or get sushi takeout for a more reasonable price. If one finds the thought of raw fish unsettling, you can usually find fried shrimp, crab meat, and even smoked salmon to take its place. Some chefs have gotten really creative with the presentation, making sushi donuts, sushi burritos, and even a sushi push pop! Although many authentic Japanese sushi chefs would nearly see it as a sin, Americans love having their sushi rolls fried. If a basic sushi roll contains fish with a handful of vegetables wrapped in seaweed and jasmine rice, it’s a healthier option, right? This is one of the many misconceptions about sushi.

While snacking on sushi is unquestionably better than vegging out with a bag of potato chips, it is still not a very healthy option. After you add the sauces, tempura flakes, cream cheese, soy sauce, and other additions that complement the fish, the amount of calories is significant. This does not really concern people who get sushi about once a month, but some of these health effects do raise a flag for people who go at least once a week. Tuna, one of the most frequently used fish in sushi, has an alarmingly high mercury content. Too much tuna, especially raw, can cause mercury poisoning, which can lead to vision impairment and, in extreme cases, difficulty walking, speaking, and hearing. Also, as many people are aware, raw fish can carry parasites if it is not prepared to the proper standards. These parasites can cause multiple foodborne illnesses that you definitely do not want to deal with. Most sushi dishes are also commonly served with pickled ginger and wasabi which contain many dangerous chemicals. The ginger is typically drenched in red dye #40, which is a common allergen that can cause hyperactivity and congestion. Eating sushi on various special occasions will likely not cause you any harm, except for maybe the parasite part, but consistent consumption could certainly bring about these health issues.

The risk of sushi is not too high, and it is your personal decision, but most people did not know that America’s sushi habit is contributing to the destruction of marine environments. Overfishing is at an all-time high throughout fish stocks, and it is predicted that these will begin to crash in the coming thirty years. Fishing boats are no longer able to catch anywhere near what they used to because of reckless fishing techniques. One of the most common fishing methods is trawl nets which capture every creature they come by, taking turtles, sharks, dolphins, and small whales up with their target fish. Because of a growing interest in sushi, the World Wildlife Fund discovered that overfishing of bluefin tuna since the 1950s has destroyed 96.4% of their population. Although many different land and water species go extinct over time, the bluefin tuna is highly predacious and is near the top of the food chain, eating a multitude of fish that cannot be caught by other predators. These are just a few of the many ways that the world’s sushi obsession is severely harming the environment.

If that is not enough, the demand for fish commonly used in sushi is supporting slave labor and human trafficking. A large majority of fish that is used for sushi comes from Thailand where eighty percent of the 145,000 people working there are migrant workers. Most workers are men of all ages who sometimes work twenty hour days with little food. Sometimes they are only given boiled ocean water to drink, but that is the least of their problems when some are beaten or killed by the ship captains. On top of it all, most of them are paid very little or nothing.

Deciding to eat sushi regardless of the health effects is one thing, but it is a different story when it is destroying aquatic environments and indirectly supporting human trafficking. Next time you get sushi, do your homework and see where their fish comes from. You may be able to help end this tragedy.

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