The Value Of Self-Discipline, As Revealed By Sushi

A sushi restaurant’s policy made me reflect on the importance of self-discipline. American culture prioritizes indulgence over restraint, which breeds unhealthy habits. To grow as people, we should learn to appreciate our blessings and gauge when we have enough.

November 22, 2023 06:10 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

Allow me to regale you with a story from my vacation last year. I was staying with my friend, Ryan, in St. Louis, Missouri. While searching for lunch one brisk day, he suggested we visit a favorite restaurant of his: Kabuki Sushi & Thai. Though Japanese cuisine is not my preference, I agreed. I figured it might offer a unique experience.

That notion proved correct. When we sat at our table and received our menus, Ryan gave me some advice. “Only order sushi you think you can finish,” he instructed. This was a no-brainer to me — waste not, want not, as the old saying goes. But he continued: “This place charges you for every uneaten piece.”

That took me by surprise. Our casual dining experience now came with a punishment for ordering something I did not enjoy, or too much of something I did. With this sudden pressure bearing down on me, I took a few recommendations from my friend. I gobbled up several tasty California rolls, then took a gamble and ordered salmon skin rolls. They revolted me, so it was fortunate that Ryan bailed me out by eating a few pieces. He discovered he despised them also, so we choked them down together to avoid a pricey penalty.

We paid our bills and went on with our day. My stomach digested the sushi, but my mind continued to mull over the lesson Kabuki Sushi & Thai had enforced: In all things, we should master restraint.

Indulgence vs appreciation

StockPassion /

Self-discipline is a virtue that we Americans largely ignore. Indulgence is paramount to our nation’s economic success and lifestyle. Our fast food menus advertise triple-sized burgers packed with triple the calories, and they provide a better monetary value if we upgrade that into an unhealthier combo meal. Our stores offer buy-two-get-one sales on items we do not need, and we buy because we love feeling like we got a good deal. The US has thrived on consumerism for decades and will not stop any time soon.

Kabuki Sushi & Thai flips the usual American expectation for the better. From a business standpoint, charging customers a penalty fee because they bought too much of your product seems absurd. But in practice, the policy reduces seafood waste and places responsibility on the buyer. It should not be the norm that people buy an excessive amount, trash the surplus without taking accountability and then repeat that process at their next meal. Sushi-making requires the loss of a fish’s life and a talented chef’s dedication to the craft. Discarding leftovers is disrespectful and unappreciative.

This Thanksgiving, let us remember how precious everything that we receive is — not just lunch. As the Japanese say, itadakimasu: I humbly receive.

Form disciplined habits

It took a Japanese restaurant in Missouri to make me reflect on the truth behind the English saying, “waste not, want not.” We can interpret it as more than simple advice about saving money. If you waste what you have — be it food, money, time, etc. — you will want more to replace it. Make a habit of this and soon you will want to want more, leading to further waste. This slovenly cycle benefits no one, least of all the unsatisfied glutton.

Internalizing restraint is vital to societal maturation. We grow as people when we savor smaller joys and experiences instead of demanding more and then taking more for granted. We should gauge when we have quaffed enough of any blessing and when we should stop. To do otherwise is to give in to drunkenness.

At Fair Observer, we take wisdom from many cultures. We Americans can learn from the seriousness and simplicity of Japan to remind us of forgotten values. For many of us, they lay in a long-forgotten, Puritan past — ironic, given that we celebrate a Puritan holiday tomorrow. May we make Thanksgiving a day to remember what is important.

We should remember, too, those who do not enjoy the blessings that we do. We can read about the catastrophe Italy’s migration policies have caused on Lampedusa. We can reflect on the degradation of America’s rule of law. And we can learn from the principles of peace and hospitality expressed in Iraq’s Arba’een pilgrimage.

For more of my writing, perhaps try my FO° Wednesday piece on the emotional artistry behind the video game Pikmin.

Stay disciplined,

Lee Thompson-Kolar 
Assistant Editor

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