Monday afternoon I saw the documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. My original review is here.
My first inclination was to focus on Jiro’s single-minded focus on vocation. I’m the type of person who likes exposure to a wide-range of information and experience. I read to learn about what I can’t experience first-hand and I read to be inspired to experience new things that I might not otherwise know about. A perfect day is often one where I have new experiences, taste new foods, discover new music, learn new skills, hear new ideas, gain new knowledge. I couldn’t fathom being so devoted to a single purpose and so I walked out of the theater a bit deflated or disappointed—not inspired.
But later in the evening I began to think more about Jiro’s emphasis on creating and serving perfect sushi. I began to realize that Jiro’s commitment to quality and perfection in food is not so different from my own. Overnight, I pondered this more and more.
In preparing and serving sushi, Jiro won’t consider using fish or other seafood that does not meat his strict quality standards. Every step of preparation is built on perfection. Apprentices spend years perfecting the technique necessary to achieve perfection for a single element in the process.
Jiro’s sushi is impeccable.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we need more people like Jiro who are committed to creating, serving and promoting quality food.
Our Broken Food System
The problem with our modern food systems is that true quality is largely disregarded, except perhaps in exclusive restaurants that serve foods beyond the price range of average folks.
Our food system is built around “cheap,” highly-processed, artificial-flavor-enhanced food-like substances that most people consume with little thought to actual taste or the cumulative health consequences of what they consume. Even less consideration is given to the environmental costs of industrial food production–soil depletion, agricultural runoff, antibiotic resistant bacteria, new pandemic diseases, contaminated food supplies, wasted water due to poor irrigation practices.
I daresay most people don’t know what “real food” actually tastes like because they’ve eaten the manufactured food-like products for so long.
Obviously, we have too many mouths to feed to have a food system built around everyone growing and preparing food at home. Even thousands of years ago, our economies developed to allow people to purchase food in markets. No one wants to go back to subsistence.
Sustainable Food Systems
But it is possible to do much better. We can have food systems that deliver naturally tasty, healthy foods at affordable prices. We can have good quality AND affordability. We simply must insist upon quality. If those of us who consume food seek and buy food that is grown, raised and produced with care we will all be better off. If enough people insist on quality (and we take away subsidies for big ag), the laws of supply and demand that economists revere should ensure that the prices will adjust accordingly.
If each of us spend a few dollars more each week on food and pay more attention to what we eat, how it is grown, raised and produced, we can each save hundreds or thousands each year in healthcare costs. At the more macro-level we can also save millions in lost dollars due to the costs of environmental reparation, systemic costs of lost productivity due to poor health and illness caused by contaminated food.
And we can also create economic opportunities for individuals and families who care about food and the environment, who want to live in rural communities and engage in sustainable agriculture production. Many, many people want to live an agrarian lifestyle and raise their families that way. They need the economic support of our food dollars to make that happen.
As a society, we benefit from a diverse economy and a diverse work life and community structure. We all benefit from a system that provides economic opportunities for everyone: the mechanically-inclined, the cook, the baker, the individual who works with his or her hands.
The Real Message of Jiro Dreams of Sushi
We all benefit from the farmer who knows the soil and the animals with the same level of intimacy and expertise that Jiro and his supplies use to select the best quality fish, seafood and rice.
And so I have revised my thesis about the message Jiro Dreams of Sushi: It’s not about one man’s life quest to make and serve perfect sushi.
The real message is that food–what we consume each day– is worthy of such a quest.