This story has been making the rounds. You can read it here, here or here. Here’s the gist of it: a restaurant called Hachikyo, in Sapporo, Japan has started fining customers who don’t finish their ikura, a dish of salmon roe pilled high on a bed of rice. Every piece of roe and grain of rice are to be eaten by the customer, or they will be levied a fine (which goes to charity.)
The proprietor says that he implemented the policy as an act of respect for the fisherman who risk their lives to working on the sea.
From the Japan Today story: According to the explanation in the menu, the working conditions for fishermen are harsh and so dangerous that it’s not unknown for lives to be lost. To show our gratitude and appreciation for the food they provide, it is forbidden to leave even one grain of rice in your bowl. Customers who do not finish their tsukko meshi must give a donation.
And the reason that I’m writing about a “No-Soup-for-You”-type-Seinfeld character on Barista Magazine’s blog is because I see a total kinship between the Hackikyo policy and many cafés in specialty coffee. A respect for where the fish comes from and the people who do the demanding, physical labor to bring it to the restaurant is no different than knowing the story of coffee, who grew it, in what conditions, under what struggles. And I think, though the Hackikyo fine has brought a lot of press coverage, it also makes consumers think about their choices, what they’re consuming, who produced it, and what the producers actually did to bring it to market. Again, these are all things that specialty coffee has been trying to educate customers about for a couple of decades or more now.
The owner of Hackikyo also sends his restaurant staff out in fishing boats to work shifts and see what fisherman go through on a daily basis to bring in the catch. And I don’t imagine for one second that if given the opportunity any number of coffee professionals wouldn’t jump at a chance to go to a coffee farm and help with the harvest, the processing, the pruning, or anything else that they could do to get a hands-on experience and create a stronger bond to the coffees they serve.
I suppose a shop could start fining customers who don’t finish their drinks or buy beans that they store in a freezer or wait a month to grind and brew. (Surely, the shop would get some publicity out of it.) But I wonder what concrete steps can we take to make sure customers understand the value of the coffee they’re drinking, the amount of labor that goes into producing it, and the real treasure that they’re experiencing in the cup? Besides handing them a ticket if they don’t finish it, of course.