Sustainable Sushi – Bun Lai (part 2 of 2)

Miyas Sushi

(continued from part 1)

SushiPro: Will sustainable sushi ever be popular?

Bun: My distributor that I dropped said, “We are looking into sustainability because the government will make us do it, one day.” They may be right but it is, obviously, the wrong reason to do it. It is not going to happen overnight; it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. We are at the beginning of a serious grass roots revolution and at Miya’s we are doing our best but I have a long way to go before Miya’s is as sustainable as we know it will be one day.

For example, I use catfish in my sushi, because it is reasonably sustainable. It is raised in confined ponds that do not cross contaminate disease or pollute in the way salmon farming is famous for. But there’s a catch, it is fed meal based on grains and these grains are, no doubt, GMO and Monsanto. This opens up a whole new can of worms! Now we are dealing with lots of other environmental, social, political, nationalistic, imperialistic and ethical and, even racial issues. These are issues that I have to consider when using catfish. Sustainability is complex. Doing the right thing is not easy.

SushiPro: How much time do you spend on your menu?

Bun: I’m constantly reading. I try to learn about all this stuff, I try to surround myself with smart people, and I’m constantly thinking about what I do. It does influence my recipes.

SushiPro: You’re known for promoting the consumption of invasive species, for example, with Asian shore crabs. Can you tell us more about that?

Bun: One of the reasons why sushi became so popular is that sushi is exotic and uses ingredients that people used to consider exotic. The rarer the seafood, like bluefin tuna, the more expensive it becomes. If we’re looking for exoticism, why not look for stuff that we don’t normally eat that is edible and readily available and bad for the environment. This is about starting a conversation and re-thinking the way we eat in order to influence the world in a good way.

SushiPro: Do you think traditional sushi in Japan must change?

Bun: No, I don’t think they need to change. Tradition is vital to culture. I love traditional cooking and I am a proponent of the rights of indigenous people everywhere. They just have to change how and what they fish. We are not telling them to make sushi, the way I do. I love traditional sushi and it must go on!

SushiPro: I find it discouraging that I usually have to vote by withholding my vote, not by casting it in support of sustainable choices. For example, every time I walk into a sushibar I ask things like, “Where does that tuna from?” But I almost never get an answer.

Bun: We are trying to have the average person become aware of these questions, and you are pushing the dominos of change by asking those, often hard to answer, questions.

SushiPro: What did you eat for dinner last night?

Bun: I ate a lot of raw plants yesterday. Generally when it comes to eating meat and seafood, we need to make sure it’s not the main thing we eat. The over-consumption of meat and seafood has a negative impact on our bodies and on the environment. I recommend that you read the China Study which is the longest scientifically peered reviewed study that connects animal consumption with human disease.

SushiPro: What plans do you have for the future?

Bun: I just want to get better at what I’m doing, and continue to get the word out there, so it will be easier for others to make sustainable sushi restaurants than it was for me. Anyone can get in touch with me and I’ll help them in any way that I can.

There are some people and organizations that can help a restaurant in their quest to be sustainable. They are fantastic consumer educators, as well. Here are few of my favorites and there are many fantastic ones that I will fail to mention:

  • links restaurants with sources for sustainable seafood. It was worth going to the Boston Seafood Show just to discover these folks. They are creating practical solutions to my sustainable seafood distribution challenges
  • is the Zagat of sustainability. Write your reviews here and nominate restaurants that are doing the right thing!
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and Sushi Guide helps U.S. restaurants and consumers navigate the choppy waters of sustainability. They have a free downloadable iphone application too!
  • WWF Sustainable Seafood Initiative is an international sustainable seafood guide. They produce a wallet sized downloadable seafood guide. Wherever you may be eating seafood on the planet!
  • Jacqueline Church is the originator of Teach a Chef to Fish. She is a seafood sustainability educator, writer and photographer. She loves pigs, too?!
  • Casson Trenor is a tireless advocate of spreading the word of sustainable sushi.
  • Trevor Corson is the author of The Zen of Sushi and The Secret Life of Lobsters and is a huge advocate of sustainable sushi

Author’s comments: Miya’s Sushi is located in New Haven CT, and has been recognized by many as a leader in the sustainable sushi movement. Miyas unique menu features the largest vegetarian sushi menu in the world, as well as a variety of unique, low-impact items.

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  • Martin says:

    Great write up, Mike! Bun is doing some really great stuff with sushi and I can’t wait to make it out there and try it myself!

  • mdw says:

    Thanks Martin, and thanks to for being part of the solution! I’d love to get up there to Miyas Sushi this summer too and try out some of Bun’s unique menu. He’s doing amazing stuff. Might have to get some to go though – there are so many great choices 😀

  • Ines says:

    Bun is an artist! His restaurant and all its offerings are works of art and taste wonderful!


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