"A sushi man is someone who puts fish on rice. A sushi chef thinks, tastes, and feels," said John Daley of New York Sushi Ko last December, distinguishing himself from other Caucasian practitioners who fail to honor the Japanese art form. The lack of diversity in both race and gender in this profession, he suggests, is a large issue with complicated roots that span centuries. But ideological battles aren't the only ones that threaten to challenge the "purity" of sushi's legacy. The everyday forms of eating and preparing raw fish, whether in conveyor-belt format or picked up from your local Duane Reade, do just as much damage.
"If you're paying $2.50 for your tuna roll and you don't live in Japan, you are doing it wrong," says Daley. "Japan can produce at that level. We have a 99-cent burger. That's okay as Americans, but a $2.00 roll in America? I wouldn't trust it."
In this era of convenience sushi, a new tradition has emerged, founded on the principles of "cutting corners" and deceiving customers in the interest of mass production. "The way Western society looks at fish is the way a customer looks at a stripper in a strip club. It's very objectified. It's very product-oriented and transactional."
Not all shortcuts in sushi-making deserve your scorn, though. When sushi rice is pickled, for instance, it can be stored for several days and re-used after steaming. "A lot of these 'tricks,' or smoke and mirrors, are excusable because it's under the guise of preservation," says Daley. "That's why sushi was invented. It's just done with far greater integrity at traditional places."
And then there are more blatant instances of misconduct—mislabeling fish so that you'll pay more for it, or seedy butchering practices that'll make you think twice about eating at large sushi houses. Daley's ultimate prerogative is to educate customers so that they can make better choices. From understanding why it's best to skip sushi on Sunday evenings, to the real reason why there are inside-out rolls, here is Daley's #staywoke guide to avoiding bad sushi habits.