Nick Tosches wrote "If you knew Sushi" for this month's Vanity Fair (read it here, its amazing) , and describes a visit to the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. He follows the path of a particular bluefin tuna.
"The tuna that lies before Iida-san on its belly was swimming fast and heavy after mackerel a few days ago under cold North Atlantic waves. In an hour or so, its flesh will be dispatched in parcels to the various sushi chefs who have chosen to buy it. Iida-san is about to make the first of the expert cuts that will quarter the 300-pound tuna lengthwise."
Nobody wanted bluefin tuna in America 30 years ago; it was caught for cat food. Then they figured out how to air freight it to Tokyo in stryrofoam tuna coffins and a new industry was born. Now there are sushi restaurants on every corner of America; The best ones get fish from Tsukiji. Nick says that the best of the best is Masa in New York.
But what is the cost in carbon for all this flying around? Lets look at Nick's Bluefin, which sold at auction for 855,000 yen, or $7,250, or $23 per pound, assume some of it went to Masa and figure it out. We are talking extreme food miles.
We calculated the distance from Gloucester to JFK, air miles to Tokyo, truck to Tsukiji (estimate) back to JFK and by truck to Masa. We got the CO2 in grams per ton per kilometer from Pablo at TriplePundit. The fish weighs 150kg, so we then calculated the CO2 per fish per km and multiplied that by the distance and added it up.
What a shocker. 2,241 kilograms of CO2 for a 150 kg fish. There are about 10,000 pieces of sushi in a fish that size, so each is about 15 grams. The carbon footprint of each piece of that sushi is 224 grams, or almost 15 times its own weight in Carbon Dioxide.
It's like eating carbon.
So the next time you order takeout from Masa, take a pass on the Bluefin.