April 15, 2006
Moonie sushi

They mentioned this story on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me today, and now I'm totally depressed. Executive summary: Every time you eat sushi, you put money in Rev. Sun Myung Moon's pockets.

Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.

Over the last three decades, as Moon has faced down accusations of brainwashing followers and personally profiting from the church, he and sushi have made similar if unlikely journeys from the fringes of American society to the mainstream.

These parallel paths are not coincidence. They reflect Moon's dream of revitalizing and dominating the American fishing industry while helping to fund his church's activities.

"I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building," Moon said in "The Way of Tuna," a speech given in 1980. "After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it."

In the same speech, he called himself "king of the ocean." It proved not to be an idle boast. The businesses now employ hundreds, including non-church members, from the frigid waters of the Alaskan coast to the iconic American fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.

Crap. I love sushi, but I don't love the thought of helping to subsidize Moon's empire by eating it. I'm not even sure that the Eric Zorn solution of getting the tempura instead is a viable answer - are we sure that sushi restaurants get their non-sushi fish from a different wholesaler?

Yeah, I know. We all face these decisions every day, and the correct response isn't often clear. Sushi is an indulgence for me, not a staple, so whatever choice I ultimately make will at least be easily rationalized. In the meantime, I'm going to sulk a little. Feh.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 15, 2006 to Food, glorious food | TrackBack

This offends me far less than knowing every time I fill my tank I am funding some POS Kingdom in the Middle East. And knowing that US war-mongers drive the biggest gas-guzzlers offends me even more.

But, it is still a tad annoying. Somehow, the fish won't taste quite the same next time.

Posted by: RedScare on April 15, 2006 1:15 PM

Wow, I had not idea of the extent of the Moonie's seafood empire.

However I do know from personal experience that they do have considerable money invested in Alaska fishing industry. Before moving to Texas I worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Regional Office in Juneau. I wrote most of the regulations dealing with the pollock fishery off Alaska and the moonie boats and processors did run afoul of the law on occasion. Although they were by no means the worst offenders. Another Asian-owned outfit called "Fishing Company of Alaska" is by far the worst regulatory and environmental offender in Alaska.

As far as Alaska seafood goes, the Moonies are a very minor player though. The really big companies are Trident Seafoods out of Seattle and two Japanese firms, Nichiro and Maruha that own many seafood processors and boats throughout Alaska.

Posted by: Kent on April 15, 2006 9:15 PM

If you knew sushi, like I know sushi, oh oh oh what a gal!

Posted by: Tim on April 15, 2006 10:20 PM

Gee, thanks for ruining my day there Chuck! Now I can't go to Kubo's without feeling guilty. Oh well, a little sake can take care of that. Unless sake is owned by...
Don't you dare tell me.

Posted by: Marty Hajovsky on April 18, 2006 12:08 PM