How Does High-End Dining Fit with Sustainable Food?

Sushi at O Ya in Boston

This week: some questions I’m still trying to answer...

Earlier this month, while visiting family in Boston, I ate dinner at a well-regarded high-end sushi restaurant called O Ya.

Whoa. You guys, this dinner was AMAZING. Really, truly a masterpiece of food. Each dish was carefully prepared to highlight every delicate flavor and was obviously assembled by tiny elves. Everything was a beautiful array of colors, textures, and tastes. And the price reflected that.

A sampling of our dishes:

Dinner at O Ya - raw fish
  • Salmon Tartare, cucumber yogurt coulis, argon oil, dill
  • Dayboat scallop, sage tempura, olive oil bubbles, meyer lemon
  • Warm braised shiitake mushroom, anise hyssop, truffle honey sauce
  • Suzuki sea bass, spicy cucumber vinaigrette, avocado, cilantro
  • House smoked wagyu, yuzu soy

So look, I’ll post some of the pictures here and on Instagram and you’ll definitely be impressed. That’s what the internet is all about, right?

Raw Oysters at O Ya in Boston

Let's go deeper....

Back at the house, after eating at O Ya, I sprawled out on the couch, too satiated to move. Visions of fish, savory sauces, and sake danced in my mind and I started thinking about the resources that went into the meal. The raw materials were of the highest quality. Sushi fish like that definitely doesn’t meet any definition of the word local, in fact, it was probably flown in from Japan earlier that day. The Wagyu beef was supremely delicious, but the cow it came from was massaged regularly! How many hours of labor went into getting one cow ready to be eaten?

Delicious short rib at O Ya in Boston

Questions swirled in my head: Is eating this way detrimental? But how could anything that delectable be bad? Was this meal worse for the environment than my usual meals? Can high-end dining play a role in changing the food landscape? Are employees working in the high-end food chain treated any better than other food chain employees? Is it inappropriately extravagant to eat this way when there are so many people who can’t afford even cheap food?

 

Yes and no and everything in between.

Ultimately, although I thought about it intensely that night, and am still thinking about it, I don’t know the answers here.

Beautiful and delicious sushi at O Ya in Boston

I make food choices for myself 3 times a day every day and it is HARD to know what the “best” options are for sustainability. Even for me, and I read about this stuff A LOT. I feel pretty sure that I’m not choosing what’s best, whatever that may be. And even if I was picking the best options, would I know? How could I measure that? Unless I REALLY look for it, the information on where much of my food comes from isn't there. How far outside of my current lifestyle am I willing to go to choose better food options? What will I pay for that?

 

I strongly believe we need a system that makes eating clearer and easier. We need more transparency and better labor practices. We need high-quality animal welfare and more environmental regulation. 

On the road to that system, I will continue to be aware of my food choices. I will be conscientious and ask myself hard, uncomfortable questions about eating. I’ll bring them up here on my blog, a forum for what it means to eat sustainably and how that fits with my life. I’ll even solicit some responses from you all (got thoughts on this? Let me know).

Salmon Sushi at O Ya in Boston

So although my dinner at O Ya was memorable and delightful and I'm drooling while I think back to it, I can’t shake the feeling that for a sustainable food advocate, it might have been hypocritical.

 

How do YOU make choices about what to eat in YOUR life? Let me know in the comments below.