Energy Diet

A Sustainable Diet … But What About Fish?

Radishes on display at the Kamakura farmer's market

Radishes on display at the Kamakura farmer's market

The food recipes at my house are 40 percent vegetables.

The breakdown for our diet in the last month is as follows:
Vegetables: 40%
Fish: 30%
Chicken and pork: 10%
Beef: 5% or less, two or three times a month (less than 500 grams, or 18 ounces)
Bread & rice: 15%

We didn’t measure this scientifically, of course, but this is our best guess on how we’re eating.

What a big portion of vegetables we take in! One of the reasons is my weight issue. My wife, Mariko, considers me almost piggish. As a common Japanese worker, I come home late. Dinner in my house typically starts around 9:00. I may leave my office around 7:30 and get to my flat at 9:00. Always, Mariko warns me not to eat much. My best solution is to take big portion of vegetables at first. This is the background on why we eat so much produce.

Mariko buys fresh potherb mustard from one of famous producers in the area.

Mariko buys fresh potherb mustard from one of famous producers in the area.

When it comes to food, Mariko is not specifically concerned about being eco-conscious, but about quality. Her way of choosing food may be the most common among Japanese consumers.

Her first choice for buying is the Kamakura farmers’ market, established in 1928. Twenty-seven farmers who belong to the farmers’ union in this area organize rotation of selling their own farm harvest at this market. The harvest itself is guaranteed freshness and very best taste. The market opens 8:00 every morning, and things often sell out. Many big-named restaurants in Tokyo compete to purchase particular producers’ items. If you visited this market in the afternoon, you would see just an empty hall.

Her second choice is the supermarket, which displays explanations of products. In general, products are shown by geographic area, sometimes with a photo of the producers. Mariko’s primary criterion is to choose local products. Vegetables in supermarket are always well laid out and uniformly shaped – I suppose that’s a result of mass-marketing.

Organic produce on display, with the farmer's image, at a Kamakura supermarket

Japan’s farm ministry has established organic food requirements. Produce that meets the standard is labeled with a JAS Organic logo. The agency is quite eager to broaden the movement, but not eager enough. Prices are extremely high: as much as 50 percent higher than conventional. Mariko also has some doubts about the freshness compared to the farmer’s market, given that the volume of organics in supermarkets is relatively small, and they are usually packaged for shelf life.

Thanks to the Japanese custom of having plenty of vegetables rather than meat, our food habits are naturally healthy and greener.

Sustainable fish is the issue. I want to write on another occasion about how we should act for tuna sustainability. We do not eat much, but we love tuna sashimi and sushi very much. Well, what shall we do?


  1. Christina
    February 7, 2011, 4:33 pm

    Tatsuo, I have the same issue with sushi and fish in general. I have cut way back on tuna in sushi places and no longer consume eel. There are some seafood selector guides ( that can be helpful, but most sushi restaurants — at least here in the States — do not tell you where the fish comes from, and I’m not inclined to ask for every order, so I just try to order the fish types that seem safest. Definitely a complex issue.

  2. Tatsuo
    February 8, 2011, 10:16 am

    Great idea. Christna,
    I wish ihad same one for our demestic use. I could not find any local appropriate for Japanese sushi lovers.
    Thanks. T.

  3. Tom Sahagian
    February 8, 2011, 9:40 pm

    As a vegetarian, I can’t in good conscience recommend eating fish or meat of any kind. But the issues are exceptionally complex, and it would be unwise, in my view, to have a doctrinaire or self-righteous attitude.

    For me, I think if the amount of animals killed for food is reduced, that’s good. Reducing it 10% would be nice, and reducing it 50% would be terrific.

    On the other hand, life is short and pleasures can often be hard to come by. It’s not owrth i t to me to be a vegan because it would mean no pizza or ice cream, and please don’t anyone try to claim that there’s some vegan “pizza” or “ice cream” out there that tastes great.

    So it’s a complex issue.

  4. Kazuhiro Ono
    February 8, 2011, 9:40 pm

    I have just been to the Kamakura farmer’s market. It’s nice place to find flesh, delicious and vitaminn-rich vesitables. I also recommend to go there in early time before sold-out.
    Thanks, K.Ono

  5. Barton Seaver
    Wash, DC
    February 11, 2011, 10:26 am

    Hi Tatsuo, thanks for the post.
    Sushi is one of the toughest issues with sustainable seafood. It has become one of the poster-examples of what is wrong with the globalized seafood trade, and to some extent for good reason. The prized Fatty Tuna that you write about is probably the best example of how the ever growing prices for tuna, driven by the lucrative market in sushi have pushed species like bluefin to the brink of extinction.

    However, as in all situations there is a bright side. Sushi, and the culinary artistry of that cuisine is a constantly evolving genre. It is not so old as to be rooted in millennia of tradition and ritual that it cannot evolve past the present species that it relies so heavily upon. Sushi was introduced only in the last century and the demand for tuna specimens has only really taken off in the last few decades.
    Is there another fish in the sea that matches the richness and delicacy of the prized bluefin tuna? No, but there are hundreds of other species that can be celebrated on the plate for their own unique qualities. That is the opportunity that sushi chefs have; the chance to introduce us to the wonderful world of tastes and textures that are abundant in the bounty of the seas.
    However this takes some self control and a little adventurousness on the part of the consumer. We have to be willing to try new and different things. Sitting down to a wonderful meal of spotted sardines lightly brined in a little vinegar, the crisp crunch of a perfectly sliced clam accentuated by a bolt of sunny wasabi, a quiveringly fresh tile of mackerel with its boldly silver skin and meaty dense texture is more than enough to make me forget all about tuna. Sushi is as much of an art form as it a cuisine. And to think that there are yet hundreds more opportunities for diners to explore the abundance of tastes of the sea!

    So go ahead and enjoy it responsibly, just don’t forget the vegetables!

    I have posted links below to two great resources for selecting the best that the sea has to offer, both for our continued pleasure and for the health of our oceans.