The surprises never end on this trip. This afternoon we had an appointment set up with Bun Lai (who wrote the title of this post), the owner of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, one of the most sustainable restaurants in the country. We walked into the restaurant at 4.30pm, only to be told by Nate, the waiter who greeted us, that Bun had thought that the meeting was scheduled for 3pm and was now attending a wedding. We were all incredibly disappointed since we’d read his bio and were especially excited about asking him about his ‘Idea Dinners’, much like the community meetings we try to host in each town.
Next thing we knew, a local oyster farmer, who had earlier exclaimed ‘Climate Summer!’ when he saw us outside the restaurant, pulled up a chair and sat down with us for a chat. ‘I’m sorry you missed Bun, but I guess I can be a sort of low-quality substitute for him’, he said. Instead of launching into details about his sustainable oyster farm, he first asked us what we were doing and showed demonstrable interest when we explained the concept of Climate Summer to him, which is something I always enjoy during such conversations. When we were done, he began telling us that he writes a lot about climate change issues and writes for the Huffington Post. But he is an oysterman by trade. That’s what his business card says – not ‘journalist’ or ‘environmental activist’, but ‘Brendan Smith – oysterman’. He owns a sustainable oyster farm on Thimble Islands in Connecticut, sells at farmers’ markets and to Miya’s, and runs a CSF, or a Community Supported Fishery. He refuses to define himself as an environmentalist, and instead identifies himself with other people around the world who are fighting for their livelihoods. He calls the fight ‘existentialist’ and defines himself as a social justice activist who thinks that climate change is the prime issue of our era.
Oysters are one of the most threatened species by the dual evils of ocean acidification, which interferes with carbonate shell formation, and increased ocean temperatures. Brendan grew up a fisherman and used to be in commercial fishing, ‘raping and pillaging’ the ocean, but has since completely changed the way he fishes. His newest article on Whole Foods’ false claims about the sustainable fish it sells is going to be published on Monday in Grist.
While this conversation was going on, Nate (whom Brendan calls ‘New Haven’s best waiter except he didn’t apply for the award’) was serving up dish after dish of sushi inventions and explaining what went into each one. The meal began with miso soup and a salad made with fresh greens from the Yale Farm, which we’d worked on earlier. And then it was time for the crazy sushi surprises. Today was the first time I’d ever heard of Arctic char – not your standard sashimi, but good all the same. Better yet – next to the plate of Arctic char sushi was a plate of Arctic char skin and asparagus sushi. Talk about not wasting food. The rest of the sushi combinations escape me now, but they were to-die-for mixes of things like cranberries, pine nuts, goat cheese, mango chutney, and sweet potato.
Miya’s sushi also boasts an invasive species menu, the brainchild of oysterman Brendan and sushi chef Bun. One guy wants to sell sushi, the other guy doesn’t want invasive species interfering with his oysters, and so what’s considered an output in one system becomes an input in another system.
People like that make me want to go hole myself up in a library and read about all the problems with the way we eat fish (which I am almost completely uneducated about). And then when I have the money and time and enough daredevil spirit in me I will set up my own cafe and host my version of Idea Dinners.