In the spirit of trying to live a healthier life, I’ve started cooking low-fat vegetarian meals, going for walks or jogs every day, and replacing the candy bowl with the rice cracker bowl. I’ve also sworn off McDonalds, which is next to our apartment wafting its gloriously gluttonous scents of deep fried everything. I haven’t seen “Supersize Me” or read “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” though I’m sure they would just solidify my choice to become vegetarian. No, I want more energy to write and travel and keep up with my daughter. I want to achieve my goals and boost my self confidence. I want to live to see my great grandchildren.
Learning to read hiragana and katakana has been a revelatory experience to say the least. I can see the world (or at least Japan) a little more clearly than before. It also means I can read ingredients and fat content, which makes me REALLY wish I liked sushi, miso and seaweed rather than chicken nuggets, chili and bread.
My recipe book says a lot about my life and the stages and changes I’ve gone through while in Japan. There’s the homesick section which has all of my favorite recipes from Mom – chili, chicken curry (which I’ve modified to veggie and tofu curry), hamburger rice skillet, chicken broccoli casserole, vegetable soup and oatmeal scotchies. These are all things I can’t make without 1) a trip to an import foods store, 2) ordering ingredients from Foreign Buyer’s Club, or 3) asking Mom or Amy to send stuff (thanks for the butterscotch chips Sis!). Then there’s the cookie section, which is me counting the things I CAN bake in my pint-sized microwave oven. This includes gingerbread, Greek wedding cookies, chocolate chip, apple crisp, and peanut butter chocolate oat cookies (thanks to Rick and Aileena for the deliciousness). I stopped baking so many cookies when I learned to read katakana. Picture me, a 1st grader in Japanese (according to “My Japanese Coach” on Nintendo DS) sounding out the following in the dairy section: Fu-a-tto Su-pu-re-ddo. That’s right folks. Fat spread. Pass the rice cakes.
Then there’s the section I’m currently expanding – The Size 6 Section - by far the tastiest, cheapest and most diverse chapter in my life of recipes. Here come the whole wheat corn muffins, rice-cooker lentil soup, Indian sweet potato wraps, garlic ginger tofu, Masoor Daal, vegetarian chili, Potato mushroom soup, Persian basmati rice pilaf, and fresh baked figs topped with plain yogurt and sliced almonds. Mouth watering yet? I know!! I have Aileena to thank for the majority of the recipes in this section. She’s been at the vegetarian thing longer than I have. I am humbly following her example.
You know, I’ve spent 2 years as a fat American complaining that none of the Japanese “jeans” fit. Small oven, small apartment, small clothes, small portion sizes (there’s a connection there), small cars, small roads, small grocery carts, small drug doses, small life! But look at what they’ve accomplished. Japan is one of the only first-world countries without national debt. Their elderly live to their 100’s. They conserve what little energy they have. They protect their forests and wildlife. They garden on every spare inch of land. They live minimalist lives because they have no choice, but they are better for it. There is much to be proud of in this small humble country, and coming from a place where bigger is better, I forget that a lot. What’s sad is seeing fast food chains like “Junky Jack’s” pop up like weeds among the rice patties. Hummers and SUVs crowd the narrow roads of country life. Expressways scar the mossy mountains of Shikoku. Bigger. Faster. More. It’s a disease that’s clogging the arteries of this fragile habitat. Japan has survived this long. Will it survive American-style consumerism? Will America?