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Jul. 24 2009 - 12:14 am | 147 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Frank Bruni, Rich A**holes and Bluefin Tuna as Gucci Handbag

bluefin_sushi2

“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:

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“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.”

Image: NattoKun/Flickr

Posted by Brandon Keim (Web/Twitter/Outtakes)


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  1. collapse expand

    Long after handbag-carrying, status conscious humanity is dead and gone from this planet, the extinction of half of all living species will be our one true “legacy” to the future. How very fitting that our ability to destroy is the one thing that really sets us apart. Hooray for us. :-/

    Fausty | http://www.cultureghost.org

  2. collapse expand

    Fishing is a classic market failure- in that the price mechanism works exactly backwards. High prices encourage producers to make more until the price matches demand. But higher prices encourage overfishing, which drives down the population further. Fishing is a complex problem- and the best solutions seem to be fishing bans and overt monitoring of boats and catches.

  3. collapse expand

    @fausty: But also worth remembering that given enough time, and without humans hogging all the resources, life will branch back out again. After all, the creatures we have are descended from a few mega-extinction survivors. From a human-centric but nature-loving perspective, nature will ultimately prevail, but in the meantime we’re impoverishing our own lives.

  4. collapse expand

    The ephemeral value of seemingly silly things (fish belly, Beanie Babies, baseball cards) is always something to puzzle over. But as a reluctant NY Times shareholder, having Bruni pay that much for a piece of fish really pisses me off.

    What, you can’t get a decent hot dog in New York, Frank? C’mon.

  5. collapse expand

    It’s too often the case of mistaken and tragic attention to priorities, what we choose to pay attention to and what we choose to ignore. There is very little enforcement resources directed at stopping the obscene laying of waste to precious resources because our policy makers have been blinded by the drug hysteria. The coast guard spends millions of dollars a year stopping ships bearing drugs at sea, sequetering and destroying their contents and doing what the trade in blue fin, exotic, rain forest hardwoods, dolphins is experiencing at this moment….driving up their worth so that the useless Gucci-wearing drones can flaunt their superiority because they judge their intrinsic worth on what they hold title too. I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to observe that the empty words of the politicians trumpeting their superior morality and devotion to worthy causes speak with forked tongue. They will not halt the destruction of species world-wide because the people engaging in this very same destruction have them on their payroll.

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