Thursday, May 10, 2007

If you knew sushi

Editors trawling for good stories should take a look at the Chicago Sun-Times, which just exposed a bunch of sushi bars peddling phony fish.

Sashimi billed by the restaurants as “red snapper” actually turned out to be tilapia or other cheaper, less-distinguished varieties of sea fare, according to DNA tests conducted for the newspaper. The investigative catch of the day was so big that paper gave it a page-one banner, saying: “Hook, Line and Stinker.”

Unless things have changed a lot since I left my hometown 24 years ago, I doubt raw fish has supplanted such major Chicago food groups as deep-dish pizza and Vienna hot dogs. So, sushi seems a slightly odd investigative target.

But the S-T is on the right track in seeking weak links in the food chain, given the tainted spinach, hamburger, dog food and other detestable comestibles that seem to be coming to light at a quickening pace.

The fake-fish story has been making the rounds among television news shops since 2004, according to Therion International, a private laboratory that specializes in genetic testing for animals. The Sun-Times and St. Petersburg Times are among the few newspapers that have taken it on. But this sort of reporting is well overdue.

Although a certain number of citizens in every community doubtless are concerned about the arcane workings of the library board or the subtle political machinations at their state legislature, that group is dwarfed by the number of people who eat two or three times a day. Or drink water. Or breathe the air.

Newspapers seeking greater relevance in their communities would do well to emulate the Sun-Times by focusing their investigative resources on the sorts of subjects people care about.

Why not analyze a different food product each week? Or run a regular log of restaurant inspections? How about randomly testing the water supply at various taps around the community? Checking noise levels? Monitoring air pollution?

In the meantime, readers hankering for sushi are urged to exercise extreme caution until local editors can validate their dinner’s pedigree.

To be on the safe side, I would recommend the California roll. Because it's usually made with fake crab, diners can be sure of getting the genuine article.


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