If you think life on this planet can't possibly get much worse, consider this:
You have a 90% chance of eating mislabeled sushi in Los Angeles, California.
Oh, the horror! A recent study published today on LATimes.com warns that "species substitution" may be taking place in 55% of the city's supermarkets, and almost all of its celebrated raw fish emporiums. In other words, that fish for which Angelinos are paying a premium may not be the fish they think they're eating.
By way of full disclosure, I have never in my life had sushi, as the very idea of eating raw seafood makes me gag. I like chilled shrimp and lobster, but they have to have been cooked first.
According to the non-profit watchdog group, Oceana, the most common fish subject to species substitution are red snapper, Dover sole, and white tuna. In fact, red snapper was mislabeled 100% of the time in their testing. Apparently, Oceana ran tests in various cities across the country, but found the most flagrant violations in the City of Angels.
Democratic state Senator Ted Lieu didn't need Oceana's report for him to file a bill in February legislating how restaurants are to label fish in California. Lieu justifies his proposed law by reasoning that food poisoning is a major problem in the United States, and uncooked seafood can contribute to that problem. But can you get sick from mislabeled seafood? Species substitution usually involves simple deceit, using a cheaper fish in place of its more expensive cousin, so the consumer gets ripped off and the restaurant makes more money. It's not like restaurants and seafood stores are swapping talapia for the exotic - and toxic - blowfish.
On the one hand, who really cares if Los Angeles sushi lovers are being swindled after willingly paying for fish that isn't even cooked. After all, would it be cheaper if it was properly cooked? So what if restaurants are taking further advantage of their patrons' ignorance about fish by pulling a switcheroo in the kitchen? Seems to me if you're already going to pay a restaurant NOT to cook your food, what difference does it make if they continue the charade and NOT serve what you ordered?
I didn't like sushi before learning of this study, and there's nothing here that changes my mind about it now.
Having said all of that, however, and pontificated about the vanity of sushi, let me redeem myself to all of you raw fish lovers out there, and point out why this is an important story.
It's the whole nanny-state thing.
If fishmongers weren't mislabeling fish, which is what Oceana suspects is part of the problem, and restaurants weren't greedily willing to substitute cheaper fish in place of the more expensive fish for which their customers are paying, then Senator Lieu wouldn't be parading another bill through the California legislature, adding to the plethora of laws by which small businesses will need to abide. Because let's face it: there aren't many major corporations selling sushi who can absorb additional regulations in their already-massive overhead. Not that we should assume major corporations should have to absorb higher overhead costs any more than vulnerable Mom and Pop shops?
And if sushi lovers already think the price of their uncooked seafood is high, who do they think will be paying down the road for the extra work Lieu's legislation may kickstart?
Incidental mistakes in labeling fish are to be expected, but mislabeling red snapper 100% of the time isn't a mistake. It's fraud.
And yes, like sharks drawn to blood, lawmakers consider any level of fraud a perfect excuse for another law. Add up this example with all of the other little examples of fraud-fed laws, and pretty soon, you can see how much the lack of ethics costs us.
Raw fish. Now we know something else smelly about it.