Frank Bruni, Rich A**holes and Bluefin Tuna as Gucci Handbag
“People are going to eat what they want to eat, and this is the core of the bluefin tuna problem,” says Richard Ellis, author of Tuna: A Love Story.
I talked to Ellis this week while reporting on a story about advances in breeding the three species of bluefin tuna, each now headed for oblivion.
As Moises has written elsewhere here, impending bluefin doom only makes them more valuable. In January, a 440-pound bluefin sold for a record $173,000. Another record will no doubt be set next year. Japanese companies — the de facto controllers of global bluefin fishing — have deep-frozen an estimated 30,000 tons of bluefin; it’s already worth between $10 billion and $20 billion, and the price inflation of extinction could turn that sum into pocket change.
At this point in the discussion, people like me usually shake their heads with despair at the greedy, short-sighted rapacity of the bluefin fishing industry. But the more I think about it, the less they bother me.
Their rationale for exterminating those magnificent creatures at least makes sense: they want to get filthy rich while the money’s flowing. If they don’t catch the bluefin, someone else will. It’s simple supply and demand.
So where’s this demand coming from? Who’s really killing the bluefin? Here’s New York Times foodie darling Frank Bruni’s take:
• Consider the plush toy lobster
• Racing ourselves to the edge
• Fish Farm Subsidies Add Up To Big Losses
• Ban bluefin? Forbidden fish tempts even more
• When Economics Isn’t Enough
• Review: Waiting for the Macaws
• Get that fish off my helipad! Or, How Not To Save an Ecosystem
• Rise of tuna farms fishy, at best
• Is the Mafia stealing your tuna?
• Putting a Price on Salmon
• Fish by numbers
• Farmed salmon? Not a fan
• Introducing the Hive Mind
“I could … tell you about watching a friend bite into one of Masa’s toro-stuffed maki rolls. His eyes grew instantly bigger as his lips twitched into a coyly restrained grin. Then the full taste of the toro, which is the buttery belly of a bluefin tuna, took visible hold,” wrote Bruni in a 2004 review of New York’s most expensive restaurant.
“Forget restraint: he was suddenly smiling as widely as a person with a mouthful of food and a modicum of manners can. His eyes even rolled slightly backward. This play of emotion mirrored my own toro-induced bliss.”
(One can only imagination his response to an asparagus and parmesan frittata, made with golden condor eggs and served on a plate made from Lonesome George’s shell.)
Ellis, who refuses to eat bluefin, had a different take on Masa’s fare.
“People believe in their hearts that a piece of raw fish is worth $600. And one of the main reasons that it’s worth $600 is because you can’t afford it and I can’t, but they can. That makes it very special, and it makes people who eat it special.
“Any kind of luxury goods largely come from that sort of statement: I can afford it, and you can’t. I’ll drive a Maserati, even if I can’t drive it faster than 65 miles per hour in most of the United States. I can afford a $280,000 car, and you’re stuck with a Dodge Neon. I can fly private jet, drive a Maserati, do anything I bloody well please, including having a $600 piece of fish. And you can’t.”
And this is the brutal truth: bluefin, which beyond their intrinsic value as living creatures happen to be one of the universe’s more majestic species, a Platonic ideal of oceanic speed and grace, aren’t being extinguished by our greed. They’re being sacrificed to our vanity, pretension, and ostentation — the most pathetic of our vices.
“Justifiable? I leave that question to accountants and ethicists. Worth it? The answer depends on your budget and priorities,” wrote Bruni. “But in my experience, the silky, melting quality of Masa’s toro … does not exist in New York at a lower price.”