The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy

May 24, 2007

Santa Monica


Sasha Issenberg, author and writer-at-large, Philadelphia magazine


Sasha Issenberg has always loved sushi. But it wasn't until he started talking to people in the trade — chefs, fish buyers, fishermen and others — that he realized how global the enterprise was. And how different.

Like many international firms, where production and distribution are key elements to success, the sushi business relies on modern technology as well a global network of suppliers and distributors. For example, fishermen with satellite dishes on their boats call in their catch so that when they land, it can get off-loaded, sold and shipped as quickly as possible to where it was going — sometimes thousands of miles away.

On the other hand, like many local companies, personal relationships are vital in the sushi business, he said. Local chefs have to work closely with fish distributors, and they with fishermen, to ensure their restaurants have the best fish they can get for dinner that night.

The unique nature of the sushi business — a global industry where personal relationships are essential — got him interested in learning more, not just about the sushi industry, but about how its operations illustrated the opportunities and challenges of globalization.

What he discovered, Issenberg said, is that globalization is a lot more complex than the media and policy makers sometimes make it out to be. He also learned everything you could possible know about what goes into the sushi we all eat. And the news, he said, is good. Unlike other authors who've investigated the food industry who come away repelled by what they found, "I came away with the opposite feeling," Issenberg said.

The author talked about what he found during his research, which took him to five continents, meeting with everyone from tuna "ranchers" in Australia to chefs in the world's finest sushi restaurants.

Biography: Sasha Issenberg is a writer and author whose work as appeared in Philadelphia, Slate, The Washington Monthly, Inc., Boston and George. His new book is The Sushi Economy, published by Gotham Books.