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Restaurant Names-Author's Response

Posted by JHLowenstein on 27 Dec 2009 at 00:01 GMT

26 December 2009
Denver, CO

“Without revealing the names of the restaurants surveyed, this paper is of no use to me. Which restaurants in Denver are guilty of illicitly substituting fish?”

A reader posted a comment that I have attempted to paraphrase above. The comment was posed in a manner deemed inappropriate and in violation of the PLoS rule of “good conduct.” Thus, I was notified that his/her comment and my subsequent response were deleted.

While the question was posed in an avant-garde manner, s/he raised an important point and asked the same question many people have asked me privately. Here is my edited response to his/her post.

The views and opinions expressed are mine alone and not necessarily in agreement with my co-authors, the institutions that supported the research, or PLoS ONE.

JHLowenstein replied to on 26 Nov 2009 at 01:15 GMT

Salutations Mr. or Mrs. _, and all who have contacted me regarding restaurant names.

Thanks for writing. In terms of science serving the public interest, you ask the most important question I can think of.

“What good is this paper if I the consumer am no better informed about which restaurants to avoid or support, and these establishments are not held accountable for what they sell?”

As far as tuna and the public are concerned, I completely agree that this paper would have been more useful if it divulged the names of the restaurants that were sampled. This was not an oversight by us, and we had a dialog about doing so. If the institutions that supported this research had immunity from litigious restaurateurs we would have done so. Realistically, this is not the case.

Funding for science is woefully low in the US, especially within our realm of evolutionary conservation biology. The recession has resulted in many institutions (1) loosing a quarter or more of their endowments. The cost in both time and money of fighting law greatly outweighs the benefits of a tell all tuna exposé-- especially when one considers that this could be detrimental to scientists that have nothing to do with this work, the small number of restaurants included in this paper, and the fact that 90% of bluefin tuna is consumed by Japan.

For your [paraphrased] query, “Which restaurants in Denver are guilty of illicitly substituting fish?” I will say that many restaurants were completely reliable including “Bluefin Sushi Bar and Restaurant,” in Denver (2). All of the bluefin I ordered at Bluefin were positively confirmed as bluefin.

If most people were to go to an imaginary restaurant called “Grizzly Bear BBQ,” it would be reasonable for them to expect kitschy aesthetics, but I think the majority would be shocked and outraged if the menu featured “Baby Grizzly Cub Belly Tartar: $7.12.” I believe most people would not patronize such a restaurant, and they would urge their friends to do the same.

The persistence of bluefin tuna could be greatly assisted by morally outraged and engaged public activism. The idea of naming a restaurant “Bluefin,” can only become entrepreneurial suicide by mobilized consumers who appreciate these fishes beyond an abstraction of crimson flesh draped over rice. The top Google hits for the query “bluefin sushi” are all restaurants named “Bluefin.” It is no accident that these restaurants have logos composed of letters and silhouettes, and that these websites make no mention of why bluefin are one of the most impressive animals on earth.

Here are some suggestions that you could do that would be of greater use towards conserving bluefin and supporting conscientious consumerism than if we revealed which 19 restaurants did not provide us with information that was consistent with our results:

1. Newspapers/environmental organizations have sometimes commission this type of research, and then taken responsibility for the dissemination of fraudulent businesses. Greenpeace, for instance exposed that Nobu London was serving Northern Bluefin Tuna (3) unlabeled at its restaurants, prompting sufficient public uproar (4) so that at 2/21 restaurants they now clarify bluefin on the menu (See Greenpeace in NYC; 5). You could write such organizations and see if they would like to sponsor such an investigation.

2. Publishing in PLoS is wonderful because of the Open Access (6) policy that allows anyone with internet to download the (partially tax funded) fruits of research. Whatever insights this work may lend can be extended to cultivating progressive change if people like yourself engage in the dialog, and hopefully extend it to other arenas.

This would be a useful plan of action:

a. Share with your friends something you appreciate about living bluefin tuna, and why the shortsighted decimation of these fishes as an ephemeral delicacy is akin to making a sanding belt out of sapphires.

b. Ask your friends (the more the better) to find restaurants (7) that sell bluefin. Ask them to visit or write these restaurants explaining that they will not patronize their establishment unless they remove bluefin from the menu. Give them one of the many excellent editorials about the issue, a Seafood Watch Sustainable Sushi Guide (8), and if you feel so obliged this paper.

c. Ask your friends to ask friends to do the same (again the more the better), and their friends to ask their friends …n6,798,664,666.

d. Create a website (there are a lot of easy ways to do this now, 9) where people can upload the names of restaurants by city that serve bluefin. This can also have:

i. A field where people pledge not to eat bluefin.

ii. A means for restaurants to declare that they no longer/never have, served bluefin (which, in the case of reform, should be entered into the above list as a note).

iii. A link where concerned citizens can write their elected officials something á la: “Given that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has once again ignored scientific advice by setting quotas for 2010 that will lead to the further decline of Northern bluefin tuna populations (see “Tunas Death Spiral” 10), it is time for the United States government to put its full weight behind championing an international trade ban through CITES (11) listing on Appendix I when the convention convenes this upcoming March. This will be a key milestone for demonstrating whether the US government’s commitment (12) to marine science and conservation is real.”

iv. If you are impassioned by the health concerns imposed by eating tuna, or unwittingly consuming escolar, you could create a similar website for health advocacy and conscientious consumerism.

I feel that sushi restaurateurs can be great allies to the cause of marine conservation. Sushi chefs have one of the most intimate and enduring relationships with their clientele. Their mission is to make the guest feel at home and chefs are typically very responsive and accommodating. Bluefin was considered a trash fish unfit for sushi until Japanese tastes became more westernized in the 1970’s. When more people consider sustainability when choosing restaurants and sushi, this trend will be reflected in the cuisine. The more communication, the faster the transition.

Thanks for initiating this important dialog,

Jacob Heen Lowenstein



2. http://www.denverbluefin....






8. http://www.montereybayaqu...





No competing interests declared.