America Dreams of Sushi and Overfishing Nightmares

Wedged between a liquor store and a wig shop on Pennsylvania Avenue is one of Washington, D.C.’s not-so-hidden gems. Sushi Capitol has been featured on the Washington Post, the Washingtonian, food blogs online and hundreds of Yelp reviews, of course. Behind Sushi Capitol’s glass door, there are seven tables, enough to seat an average of twenty customers at a time. Only about three blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, Sushi Capitol’s customers include a mix of tourists, locals, government employees, politicians, diplomats and self-proclaimed “foodies.”

Inside, Can Yurdagul, 25-year-old Sushi Capitol general manager, is making sure the restaurant is ready to reopen at 5 o’clock on a Saturday.

“Diversity,” he smiles, “that’s my favorite thing about sushi. It has such a simple premise: just rice and fish. The complexity that comes into play with every piece you enjoy, there are different taste notes and textures and flavors.” With nearly 5,000 customers visiting little Sushi Capitol every week (many of them regular visitors), there is no doubt that sushi is making a big splash in Washington, D.C. and throughout the United States.

Sushi has quickly grown into one of the most popular dishes introduced to America by another culture. With environmental organizations like Wild Oceans reporting the dangers of overfishing and documentaries like Jiro Dreams of Sushi depicting the devotion a sushi chef has for his craft while he struggles to make traditional sushi as fish populations continue to decrease over time, it is difficult not to wonder how sustainable this “new” trendy food might be. Government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working to study and assess fish populations, fishing methods, and environmental patterns to make sure regulations are effectively protecting fish and are obeyed by fisheries. Despite environmental groups expressing their concerns, NOAA is sure that things are alright for now. Sushi continues to grow as a misunderstood but highly popular cultural force in the country. Consumers now face a dilemma when they are told they must choose between the responsibility to protect and preserve wildlife and their desire to experience a novel and fascinating combination of food and art.

Why is sushi so big?

“Beats me,” laughs Ken Hinman, president of Wild Oceans since 1997, “I guess it becomes trendy. There is a certain amount of cultural status. People want to try new things or maybe they have money to burn. But you have to understand the impact of your decision; it’s irresponsible to not find out.”

Seeking new experiences seems to be the main motivation for most first-time sushi-eaters. Most are inspired by the artistic value and traditions behind the creation of sushi dishes. The relationship between food and art is best depicted in the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which follows an elderly Japanese man who has devoted more than thirty years of his life to perfecting the art of sushi in his humble three Michelin-star rated restaurant, located in a Japanese subway station.

Have you seen Jiro?

“Three times!” exclaims Yurdagul. “I don’t think it was ever meant to popularize sushi, but it certainly has, indirectly,” he says. “After watching something like that, people focus on the fish rather than the people leading the industry. I think the essence of the movie, which gets lost in the translation, is Jiro’s devotion to his work. I think in the documentary, the food critic who narrates the experience emphasized that Jiro is not concerned with reviews. He knows what his craft is, he knows what it takes to perform at an excellent level, and he is willing to commit himself for his entire lifetime to wake up, make sushi, go to sleep, and repeat the same thing every day.”

Much like Jiro, Sushi Capitol’s dedicated owners have close ties with fisheries in Japan that know exactly what the restaurant is looking for in terms of quality and freshness. Sushi Capitol makes sure not to cut any corners when it comes to their dishes.

“We pay the price for the higher-end fish to ensure we serve the best,” Yurdagul boasts, “But also, the relationships we have built in order to get buyers to work with us over the years is important. Once they know you, they know what your preferences are and they know your skill level. And because they know that, they aren’t going to send us anything that’s below our standards.”

Unlike Jiro, however, Yurdagul isn’t too worried about overfishing. “When there’s an issue, there’s always two sides to a story,” he explains. “I’m sure there are people who say the issue of overfishing is overblown and that it doesn’t exist. And then there are people who say stopping overfishing is the most important thing in the world right now and in ten years we won’t have any fish to enjoy. I’m sure there’s overfishing being done in different parts of the world, but at the same time, there’s also sustainable fishing that is being done as well.”

Government agencies like NOAA have created various regulations over the years to make sure that fishing done here in the U.S. and abroad are in fact sustainable. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act first passed in 1976 aims to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term economic and social benefits, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.

The Magnuson Act regulates domestic fisheries through eight regional councils made up of scientists, academic experts, fishermen, fisheries, and everyday citizens. Under the Act, NOAA conducts stock assessments to analyze fish populations. The data collected helps these councils plan to regulate how many fish and what types of fish can be caught by fisheries in the U.S.

Are fish populations in danger?

“I think we are moving towards being okay,” says Alan Risenhoover, the director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Sustainable Fisheries. “We have fishing efforts under control. We are always working to keep a sustainable population. In the US, we are doing very good.”

Environmental organizations like Wild Oceans work with NOAA to ensure that laws and regulations are created with the ecosystem, and not just the fishing market, in mind. Ken Hinman is most worried about the damage that can be done to the ocean if fishing methods are not monitored.

“We change the balance, and once that happens, fish may not find a spot in the ecosystem,” explains Hinman. “We have seen that in Chesapeake Bay with forage fish. Fish like striped bass have dwindled, people have had to switch to other types of fish. Then those numbers start falling, and they move to another fish. Most people do not understand, and even when we do, it’s not something we can reverse because it’s a complicated system that has developed over millennia.”

Hinman and Yurdagul do agree on one thing: it is the consumer’s responsibility to do some research about their food. Customers should know about the quality of their fish and, if possible, the means by which it was caught. With the Internet readily available to almost everyone, reviews, reports, and data are at customers’ fingertips. Customers can choose to frequent sushi restaurants that advocate responsible fishing practices and take pride in the quality they serve, like Sushi Capitol.

“If you choose to eat something new or different, like sushi, then you should do it right and learn about it,” says Yurdagul, “your understanding and enjoyment of that course will increase exponentially next time you eat sushi.”

Back at Sushi Capitol, Yurdagul and his team is ready for the next wave of hungry customers to walk in to the cozy restaurant to get their sushi fix. The experienced sushi chefs are ready to create Instagram-worthy dishes full of vibrant colors and textures. The phone rings—yes, Sushi Capitol does accept reservations. Soon, the restaurant will be packed with customers who have done their own research on where to get the best sushi in town and probably dreamt about the menu the same way Jiro does about his own creations in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Whether or not sushi is the best thing to come to the U.S. since pizza and tacos is objective. What is for certain, however, is that the careful balance between preservation of the ocean’s fish and providing a hungry market with sushi cuisine must be constantly monitored by government agencies like NOAA and environmental groups like Wild Oceans.

“Here’s the whole big picture,” says Hinman, “the cost of the fish on your plate is more than you think.”


Food Factory: Where Delicious Food Exists

George Washington graduate student Ahmed Hassan, American University sophomore John Leo and senior Ali Muhamed stand in front of Food Factory on Saturday Jan 24. Food Factory is known for Mediterranean Cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Ali Muhamed)

George Washington graduate student Ahmed Hassan, American University sophomore John Leo and senior Ali Mohamed stand in front of Food Factory on Saturday Jan 24. Food Factory is known for Mediterranean Cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Ali Mohamed)

If your mouth waters for savory kebab, delectable gyros or tasty wraps, then look no further. Food Factory is the perfect place for you. Bringing South Asia and Middle Eastern flavors to the table, the restaurant features kebabs, buffet, wraps, salads and more.

Located at 8145 Baltimore Ave, College Park, MD 20740, the restaurant is within easy walking distance of the University of Maryland, as well as a number of professional institutions in the laid-back vicinity.

The neighborhood is like no other; it houses a myriad of fine shops and ethnic restaurants that provide cuisine from around the world. A sizable parking lot in front of the restaurant allows for a convenient commute, and from there you can see a few people walking their dogs around and some cars driving past.

At first glance, the restaurant, founded in 1994, seems Indian due to the complexion and the physical traits of its workers, most of whom are actually Pakistani. Another glance will offer a view of patrons sitting on green chairs, devouring the delicious food while chitchatting with those accompanying them. It is this peaceful milieu that makes Food Factory a perfect destination for families or couples.

With word-of-mouth advertising, the restaurant stands the test of time on account of its high quality food, affordability and its aura of friendliness. Besides food, the restaurant provides free WiFi, and the spacious dining area is surrounded with a number of oriental paintings on the wall, making it a great cultural venue for customers to hang out or hold social events like parties or birthday celebrations.

Situated in a beautifully-landscaped neighborhood lined with well-groomed trees that conjure up images of peace and tranquility, the restaurant is a perfect spot for employees on the run, families or visitors who want to have a break and enjoy an affordable delicious meal.

Students also get a discount as per the official menu. The restaurant was bustling with families and students who came to have lunch and make optimal use of the special daily buffet.

“All what you can eat for $7.99” is the most popular offer the restaurant is best known for.

“$7.99 is reasonable and you cannot find it anywhere. We are economical. We haven’t raised the price for customers for quite a while,” said Mr. Mohammad Javaid, the restaurant co-owner, originally from Pakistan.

Just unleash the hungry person inside you and enjoy the different options provided at the buffet. Eat and refill as many times as you want. Nothing could be more delicious than chunks of lamb and chicken kebab marinated in special herbs and spices served with salad, garlic sauce and naan bread. If you are a vegetarian, there are also some dishes and sandwiches from which to choose.

Once you are there, it will be hard for you to walk away before trying all what the place has to offer.

As the name Food Factory suggests, the restaurant is like a factory that provides dine-in, take-out, catering services and food options that satisfy all tastes. Appetizers, kebabs, side orders, weekend specials, wraps, gyros and drinks are just some of the options on the menu.

Their signature dish is South Asian Kebab, which is not very different from the Mediterranean/Levantine one. The recipe and the Middle Eastern spices and herbs are almost the same, but the bread they have is different.

“We are known for our Persian or Afghan kebab and naan bread,” Mr. Javaid explained.

Kebab is a staple diet in the Muslim world and naan is flat leavened South Asian bread, made of white flour and baked in a clay oven. A visit to the food factory is not complete without trying their delicious desserts, especially for anyone with a sweet tooth. The baklava is not only the most popular dessert, but the most affordable as well.

With profits in mind, the restaurant still has a sublime mission.

“We want to make it affordable for everyone,” Mr. Javaid maintained.

As such, a meal at Food Factory could cost something between 6 to 12 dollars. Yet, be ready for a farm-to-fork dining experience and healthy meal, for all ingredients are fresh, and all kebabs are cooked or broiled on a skewer over charcoal.

“We provide healthy natural food. Whatever we have is fresh. Kebab is charbroiled, not fried,” Mr. Javaid pinpointed, “Our motto is fresh, affordable and healthy Asian cuisine.”

Although the food is more Asian, many customers think of it is Middle Eastern. Interestingly enough, more Middle Easterners dine at the restaurant than any other ethnicity according to Mr. Javaid.  This made the place a cultural melting pot where you can meet people of different backgrounds.

For instance, Ahmed Hassan, an Egyptian graduate student at George Washington University, is an avid foodie.

After his first visit, he put it as such, “I must visit this place again – the food is out of this world and the people are super friendly. For me, the place is a miniature of Middle Eastern restaurants. Honestly, it feels like home.”

Abdullah Al-Hammadi, a Kuwaiti sophomore at American University majoring in economics, echoed the same impression.

“I have been to many kebab restaurants in DC and beyond but this one is the cheapest and the best. And the food is halal, too.”

On another level, John Leo, a junior at American University, has been a regular customer there.

“I first knew the place when I was working in a job nearby. My colleagues were Persians and they recommended me to try this place. Since then, it has become my favorite spot for lunch,” said John, “I usually go to Food Factory because of the quality of the food which is rich in flavor and Middle Eastern pulse. It is also near to where I live.”

Accordingly, it is safe to say that if you try their food once, you will be a regular customer.

Food factory is a must-go lunch and dinner spot for locals, students, employees or families. With its wide variety of dishes and reasonable prices, Food Factory is here to stay. So, next time you want to try a new cuisine, go there, satisfy your hunger, feed your appetite and have the meal of a lifetime. But be warned: it is addicting!

“My Little Sister’s Best Friend is Muslim”

Junior Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien localizes the events at Charlie Hebdo through her op-ed originally published on her fashion blog, Adorned In Armor.

Adorned in Armor

My little sister’s best friend is Muslim. They met freshman year of high school and the two have been close for a little over a year now. Within their friendship, they have learned to ignore the stares of onlookers that solely see two black girls – one apparently ordinary and one that isn’t, solely because she wears a Hijab. For the ones that know my sister personally, their eyes pop out even wider because she’s a Christian and apparently, Christians and Muslims don’t mix.

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The Salad Days Will Never Die

On January 30th, a little past 9 p.m, a line streamed alongside a trendy taqueria and falafel shop waiting to enter The Black Cat, a staple concert venue in Washington, D.C’s U Street Corridor. The crowd seemed dissimilar as people in cable knit sweaters stood next to some clad in studded and patched denim jackets, but all seamlessly shuffled in. On the venue’s second floor, the stage was retrofitted to become a movie theatre, with over sixteen rows of chairs set in front of a simple projector and screen. Within minutes, all of the seats filled up. Viewers waited while perusing drinks at the bar as lagging attendees happily hopped onto bar stools and pinned themselves to the walls.

“I’m here with a buddy from Arlington who worked at Dischord. He’s been a punk for a long time,” says Dave, 39, originally from Kentucky who moved to Petsworth, D.C. “This stuff was earlier than my time, but its fun to see footage of what I learned about after it happened.”

Dave, along with about two hundred others, came to see “Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution, at its fifth screening in Washington, and its second at the Black Cat. The film focuses on the Washington punk scene in the late 1970’s through 80’s. Among personal concert tapings, the film features interviews with “scensters” from Fugazi, SOA, Minor Threats, and those who were inspired from it, such as Dave Grohl from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.

Washington’s punk youth came from a different childhood than its punk contemporaries in other cities such as New York and London, which were working class and a result of long music scene lineage. Washington was, and still is, a white collar town, where government is the industry, and its educated children were of lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists.

“In D.C, there is no rock and roll industry to speak of,” says Ian Mackaye of Minor Threats, Fugazi, and a creator of Dischord Records, a label that released most of the time’s local emerging talents, in the film. “In this town, the canopy is Government.” Soon, a class of youth culminated from a deprivation of an established music scene. Individuals grabbed their friends, started bands, labels, and began playing shows in Georgetown, themselves.

“These kids came from a city that had no music industry and just started to create things,” says Scott Crawford, the film’s director. Since D.C is a smaller city, and by default its underground scene even smaller, bands shared similar styles, sounds, and some musicians even rotated between bands. The sentiment that quality of musicianship didn’t matter, but the act of playing is more important, wove throughout the movement, and made creating art less intimidating for new comers.

The Washington punk scene, at it’s fundamental form, really only existed for a couple of years with few members. Soon pivotal bands like Bad Brains fused punk spirit with soul, and a new genre, emotional-punk rock surfaced, changing how the scene phonically sounded. However the do-it-yourself ethos persisted. The punk scene’s founders set a stage that inspired other artists to not wait for an art culture, but to make art themselves. The nature of DIY is transient, and the punk scene’s music was just as transient as its surrounding culture.

Music will always change, and the film finely balances sepia toned nostalgia and broader themes of the punk scene’s influence, not just how great the time was. The film allows some to reminisce and others to appreciate a transformative era. Also, of course the film jams so music produced in the scene, which the crowd deeply appreciated. (So much so, that the Black Cat simultaneously hosted a punk rock karaoke night on the first floor while the film showed.) Crawford, didn’t want the film to come across as an homage of a scene too steeped in its own connotation. “I didn’t want this to be a bunch of people looking back as if the glory days had already happened…as if talking to a bunch of people in their forties talking about their high school football career. I wanted to steer clear of that line of questioning.”

Just like the movement’s legacy itself, the film makes the punk movement tangible, but doesn’t induce a feeling that viewers missed out on something that will never exist again. There is a huge nod to the future, and the youth that existed forty years ago, still exist today. Monumental D.C music clubs that are featured in the film such as the 9:30 Club, are extremely different now, and others such as d.c space have since closed, but out of necessity, the new generation has created their own places.

“There are a lot of house concerts…there are bunch of clubs, but if you’re just starting out, there aren’t that many,” Crawford mentions. “That really has the same spirit of ‘fuck it we will create our own network’ and that’s what is happening right now in D.C. People are still starting labels and their own music.”

Salad Days, is an important reminder of Washington’s original spirit and the powerful strength that lays in youth. It is a film that doesn’t encourage further lamenting on days past, but to explore and find your own underground scenes. Clearly this message has resonated way passed the immediate Washington D.C community. Scott, and his partner Jim Saah, set up a Kickstarter to raise $32,000 to aid production costs. They reached their goal in six days from over 980 backers spanning from Germany, Russia, Brazil, and all over the U.S who understand the importance of documenting this movement. The film will venture off to various theatres domestically in places such as Oakland, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, six more festivals globally, and more music festivals this summer. “Then I can sleep,” Crawford says.

National Press Club History

As part of their internship at the National Press Club’s Broadcast Operations Center, Abessalom Araiza, Claire-Francesse Dalzon and Florian Blankenburg produced a video of the Club’s history with Abessalom and Claire in front of the camera and Florian behind it.