Back during the 50s and 60s, having meals that didn’t involve French or Italian cuisine was considered to be “weird” by mainstream Americans. Thankfully, Western culture has become way more interested in exploring different flavor profiles lately. We now gladly nosh on tandoori, chow down on chow mein, and try halal takeout on a regular basis.
That being said, there are still some culinary traditions that are considered to be taboo or verboten by Westerners. One of the most verboten practices in the West is eating animals of any sort alive—a practice that is still somewhat common in both China and Japan.
What Is Ikizukuri? ( Live sushi )
In Japan, the practice of eating “live sushi” is called ikizukuri. While its popularity is waning due to (rightful) concerns about animal cruelty, it still is fairly common due to its rank as a culinary status symbol. The reason for ikizukuri’s high status deals with the fact that keeping the animal alive shows how fresh the fish really is.
The practice is one that tends to bring out the crueler side of food. Not only are fish sliced while alive, but the organs are kept intact in order to keep the fish alive for as long as possible. In some cases, chefs may actually put the meals-to-be back in water for a brief recovery period prior to serving.
Why Do People Eat This Stuff?
As mentioned before, sushi venues in Japan are critiqued based on the freshness and quality of their fish. In the Japanese restaurant scene, proving that you have live fish that you’re willling to serve up is a way of proving quality. To a point, it’s even considered to be a status symbol by critics overseas.
Health-wise, the concept of eating live animals can appear risky, though it’s technically not. Raw food, including live food, contains enzymes that ease digestion, improve immunity, and also help your body maximize its energy intake. That being said, you could get the same enzymes through eating regular sushi that doesn’t put a fish through hell.
My Personal Verdict
As a food critic, I know I’m supposed to be open-minded about my meals. Even so, I honestly can’t see myself eating this without feeling disgusted with myself. Certain things should remain taboo, and that includes acts of horrific cruelty like ikizukuri.
Come on, people. There’s no reason to make food suffer more than it has to. Even if you understand the concept, why would you support it?
Eating live animals is not particularly common in China or Japan. AFAIK, those dishes are more like delicacies among certain circles in those countries and not mainstream.
Also, eating live oysters is quite common here in the West. Of course, bivalves don’t really have a brain to begin with so animal suffering likely isn’t an issue.