The Times tested the mercury levels in tuna sushi served at twenty different city stores and restaurants this week. At most of them, mercury levels exceeded those set by the Environmental Protection Agency. On Wednesday, New York’s Tim Murphy set out to see who in the city was still buying tuna sushi, and why.
6 p.m.: Whole Foods, Chelsea
Rebecca, a redheaded Web editor, is picking up salmon sushi. She’d noticed that the Times report found the highest mercury levels in tuna from Blue Ribbon and the lowest levels at Fairway. “People who eat high-class sushi are more at risk for poisoning than people like me who eat ghetto sushi from Whole Foods,” she said with some satisfaction.
6:30 p.m., West Side Market, Chelsea
Jean, “an attorney and a nurse,” eats more than six pieces of sushi a week and likes “anything except eel.” Told of the Times findings, she decides not to buy sushi for dinner. “I was going to,” she says. “I’ll go back to meat.”
6:45 p.m., Go Sushi, Greenwich Village
Paul, an architect, and his wife, Shannon, are headed inside. They have sushi about every other week. “The news doesn’t worry me,” Paul says, “because fish is either good for you or bad for you.”
7 p.m., Japonica, Greenwich Village
The upper-mid-level Japanese restaurant is fairly busy. Tuna is only offered here à la carte or on a very expensive $55 plate. As she sits down to eat, Leslie Diamond, a hand therapist, says she doesn’t believe the Times report. Her assistant, Teresa Luong, does. “But I’m not worried, because I’m not pregnant and my immune system isn’t compromised,” Luong says. “And I don’t eat that much tuna.”
7:30 p.m., Blue Ribbon Sushi, Soho
Two men and a woman are leaving; all say they work in the restaurant business, but none will give their names. “In that article, there was a very androgynous statement that bluefin has the highest level of mercury,” says one of the men. “It depends where it’s harvested from.” Androgynous? “Androgynous meaning you can’t tell the difference. Two years ago they said salmon had the highest mercury content, plus carcinogens and PCBs. How can we tell which is worse?”
7:45 p.m., Gourmet Garage, Soho
A sign above the sushi counter warns against mercury in sushi for children and pregnant women; another says the store uses only yellowfin tuna. (The Times said most of the sushi sampled was bluefin.) Mona Bhatnagar, a consultant whose British accent renders it “chuna,” says she’d never buy sushi at a supermarket. “It’s not just raw fish,” she sniffs. “It’s the cut of the fish, the way it’s prepared, and the rice. I just don’t think the person making it here is knowledgeable enough.”
8:15 p.m., Nobu Next Door, Tribeca
Outside, handbag designer Kate Spade and interior designer Steven Sclaroff are having a postprandial cigarette. Sclaroff says he doesn’t have an issue with eating tuna, but “anyone who gives it to their kid is demonic.” Spade says she feeds her daughter, Frances Beatrix, sole because she read it’s very low in mercury. A fancy-looking party of four exits the restaurant. “We didn’t have tuna,” says a woman in a long fur. “I did,” says a guy. The woman in fur is unconcerned. “One night’s not going to kill you,” she says, “and nobody here is pregnant.”