Annotation: Bestor, Theodore. 2001. Supply-Side Sushi

Bestor, Theodore. 2001. Supply-Side Sushi: Commodity, Market, and the Global City. American Anthropologist, 103(1):76-95.

The author takes an urban studies approach by looking at the seafood trade in the Tsukiji Seafood Market as a place that commands and reconfigures spatial and temporal flows of capital, culture and labour relations. Centering on bluefin tuna as a commodity and recognizing the Market as the “center of the world” (83-85), Bestor demonstrates that “Global culture ebbs and flows in multiple directions and along different dimensions simultaneously” (82). Following George Marcus’ suggestions on the value of multi-sited ethnographies, the author follows the international trade of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a commodity that is highly prized in Japan’ sushi cuisine. Bestor’s framework uses Appadurai’s (Modernity at Large, 1990) work on scapes to illustrate the complex intersections of commerce, culture, and people, as well as Hannerz’ (Transnational Connections, 1993), to suggest that urban centers such as the Tsukiji Seafood Market play in the generation of new forms of culture that are “globalized but intimately rooted in local activities” (77). For instance, in the meeting of the West with the East due to the continued demands for sushi, Bestor argues that both ideational and economic production is facilitated: sushi enters North America’s culinary iconography, while North American maritime life becomes integrated in Asia-centered trade networks (83). Bestor describes how, in the sushi trade, Japanese “tastes” and cultural distinctions also become wired into practices and imagination in other locations (90), for instance, the shipping of the tuna to Japan in its uncut, saleable form (despite the fact that 50% of its weight is unusable), due to the widely acknowledged fact that the Japanese value kata – perfect external form – even in imported products (87). At the same time, sushi as a national commodity has also entered the popular Japanese cultural imagination, with it becoming integrated in aspects such as literature and holiday celebration (Tuna Day held simultaneously with Sports Day). An important point that Bestor makes is the existence of a balance of power in such trade structures, as evidenced by the North American harpooners who have found ways to be “removed from yet enmeshed in its social and cultural systems” (89).

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