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What “Nature” means to Fukuoka, and What We Can Do

16 Sep

In the movie Ratatouille, all kinds of complicated dishes are served to the wealthy patrons of a French restaurant.  However, it is the taste of a simple dish which wins over the heart of the harshest of food critics.  Masanobu Fukuoka might have said, “I told you so,” but there is much more to his philosophy of simplicity in food.

Modern society’s obsession with refined, commercialized food clashes with Fukuoka’s belief in the consumption of purely natural foods.  The sad reality is that even those who think they eat a lot of natural foods probably do not, if going by Fukuoka’s definition.  First, Fukuoka is not just referring to snack food with preservative elements; he is also referring to chemicals used during the growth of crops.  He has shown that crops grown without chemicals and insecticides may actually be healthier than the chemical-doused crops grown by huge companies.  The consumption of out-of-season fruits, as an example, would also be the consumption of unnatural chemicals.  I do not believe it is practical for everyone to stop buying fruits and vegetables grown with the use of chemicals; were today’s diminished count of farmers to forsake “science” when growing crops, we would not have enough food for the Earth’s current population.

There is one aspect of Fukuoka’s wishes which can, however, be tackled.  Today, it is all too common to find the taste of natural food overwhelmed with artificially added flavors.  Vegetarians who swear by natural foods slather them with unnatural dressing.  Americans commonly oversalt foods of all kinds.  Snack and soda manufacturers all cram too much sugar into too small a space (have you ever measured out 40 grams of sugar and seen how much space it occupies?).  It is completely within our power to choose to consume foods with a limited amount of additional flavorings, in an attempt to get back to “natural” taste.

Art, Skill, or Both?

16 Sep

Some people would call someone who makes food that’s good for you a chef. Others call someone who makes good looking food an artist. But in today’s world of farming, have these two categories collided? Where is the difference? Now in today’s world with a population that’s exponentially growing, farmers are being forced to use all kinds of unnatural additives and preservatives too create food and keep it fresh.  And with organic produce being so expensive these days, I don’t blame society for not following as closely as they should. With this being so, Fukuoka Masanobu, philosopher of nature faming is rolling over in his grave as we speak.

Fukuoka was a strong believer in traditions.  Every culture has its traditional dishes. But it seems that all people care about today is how well you can transform those traditions into something new and hip. Lets take Iron Chef America for example. This show was created for foodies. Once a Japanese show, the Food Network decided to create their own version. This show essentially, is a competition to see which chef can create their traditional dishes, with the best twist, or something added. For the average foodie, this is a dream come true. You get to see how the food is made and what it probably tastes like.  Fukuoka would hate this show. You have French chefs trying to mix Korean into their meals. You have Italian chefs trying to mix Indian into their meals. It’s not a competition to see who can make the best food, but rather who can the make most interesting and good tasting combination.

I believe that its sad that in today’s society and culture, a traditional dish is boring. It shouldn’t be about where the dish could go, but rather where the dish is from.

In Search of Pizza

16 Sep

Pizza isn’t really that difficult to find.  I mean, there are chains of stores built just to serve us, the customers, an instant box of pizza topped with a bunch of toppings of our choice.  However, my sister and I, already too familiar with the taste of America fast food pizza, sought to find a more prestigious, special pizza,  to eat not only for the sole purpose of filling our stomachs, also to educate our taste buds as to what is closer to the “root” of pizza.

So we found a nice, but not too fancy Italian restaurant in the the neighboring city, and in retrospect, made the mistake of ordering to-go.  The pizza took quite a bit of time to prepare, perhaps nearly half and hour or so, and the time spent creating the food in the traditional fashion was part of the prestige that we absorbed when eating it.  Everything was prepared on a more personal level, rather than by machines, from the rolling and spinning of the dough to the preparation of fresh toppings.  Our failure was to not dine on the retaurant itself and miss the finality of the experience.

The taste of the pizza was unlike any other we’d eaten before, and what we were being fed was not just tomato sauce on top of a flattened piece of bread, but Italian culture imported onto our kitchen table.  This desire for taste over the core function of food (to provide us with energy and nutrients) is a foodie’s mission, and creates a venue through which ideas and values are traded and merged, not explicitly, but as complementary side dish.

Fukuoka and the Foodie Dilemma

16 Sep

Fukuoka, a scientist by education, came to the realization that the application of science to nature, and more specifically agriculture was not correct. Through his enlightenment he developed the idea of “do-nothing” farming. He reasoned that if plants and vegetables had grown naturally without any intervention for centuries, what was the need now to add fertilizer and till the soil to help the plants to grow? Fukuoka would not approve of the modern day foodie.

Today a foodie is someone who has a keen taste for food and loves to critique and try different combinations and flavors of food. Fukuoka would deem this behavior as unnatural and would not endorse it. Foodies were important in the Meiji era because they were the ones who really pushed for the meat, and specifically beef eating craze in Japan. Up until this time Japan had essentially been practicing isolationism and rejected Western ideas. The fashion of eating meet was purely a Western concept and thus Fukuoka would deem incorporating meat into the Japanese diet as being unnatural. It can also be argued that the foodies of the Meiji period are a large reason why Japan opened its doors to the Western world.

Although Fukuoka was correct in his analysis that nature is able to take care of its plants on its own, human intervention, and more importantly human invention in the kitchen pushed the limits of Japan in the Meiji era and opened their country up to the world. Today, the foodie culture is pushing our cuisine to new limits and is an integral part of our evolution as a human race.

Burgers, Anyone?

16 Sep

It can safely be said that the vast majority of people has had a burger at least once in their lives, and that a lot of people like it. Quite frankly, I was a burger fan until around last year when I stumbled upon an article that shocked me. This article discussed the less known facts about beef patties in many gourmet burgers, some even from top tier restaurants. It was no surprise to me that research found these beef patties to contain an exorbitant amount of hormones, but the real alarming fact was some patties contained up to 128 distinct sets of DNA, or more simply, is a mix of who knows what from 128 different cows. I’m not talking about 1 dollar burgers from McDonalds, but rather a few (anonymous) high class restaurants that “foodies” would fancy.

So what would Fukuoka say about this “foodie” meal?

First of all, he would not be too happy about the idea of the burger itself. Ground beef isn’t natural, and neither are the (most of the time) commercially grown buns that go over it. In terms of the beef, it’s parallel with his description of chicken eggs. “And commercial chicken eggs are nothing more than a mixture of synthetic feed, chemicals, and hormones” (Fukuoka, 94). Many cows are constantly injected with hormones to help them grow faster, which is obviously not how nature intended for them to be grown, let alone the fact that 128 different cows are put together to create one patty. As far as the buns are concerned, pesticides are used in the production of wheat buns. Again, something that Fukuoka points out as going against the forces of nature.

As Fukuoka says, “At the heart of natural farming is an understanding of the unity of existence; the ability to see the natural patterns in everything.” But nowadays, the only patterns we see, even in “foodie” foods, are cheap production and a high selling price.

Nowadays, unless it has the word “organic” written all over it, I always think twice before ordering a burger.

A New Generation of Pretentious Diners: Foodies

16 Sep

Fukuoka discusses the modern style of dining and preparing food and the way in which it has deviated from a “natural” style of dining. He believes that a natural person can achieve the right diet because they are satisfied with simple food that is nutritious, tasty and useful in daily medicine. He takes issue with a new generation of pretentious diners, which he refers to as “foodies.” Foodies tend to be more concerned with the way in which food is prepared rather than the taste of ingredients in their natural state. He claims, “Modern people have come to think that if they do not prepare food with elaborate seasonings, the meal will be tasteless. If you do not try to make food delicious, you will find that nature has made it so” (Fukuoaka 137). Fukuoka explains that in our effort to make rich luxurious foods, useless foods are made, and it becomes harder to satisfy people’s appetites.

This modern style of dining rose during the time of the Meji period, a time when Japan became its modernization and rose to world power status. After this period not as much of Japanese society relied on farming for economic purposes and as industry boomed more people were spending money on food rather than farming it themselves for consumption. With the increase in popularity of “dining out,” people became more accustomed to luxurious dining and prepared food that was highly saturated with flavor, often times covering up the taste of the ingredients entirely, eliminating the taste that nature gave the food. Though “foodies” love and appreciate the taste of food, just as Fukuoka does, they do not value it’s true taste and that is the issue that Fukuoka discerns in “The One Straw- Revolution.”

Slow Food, Fukuoka’s Foodie

16 Sep

In a Korean drama called Pasta, a definition of a best cook is to be able to make delicious food even though ingredients might be in low-quality. The cooks in this drama prepare dishes for lunch and dinner by roasting, melting and steaming with a bunch of artificial flavors (soy lecithin) and preservatives. If Fukuoka Masanobu could see this terrible situation, he would be disappointed at them because he emphasized that human should prepare food with nature intent without intervention. He prefers a simple life by connecting with natural food with souls in the Meiji era.

As the age of industrial society came and population increased rapidly, human beings cultivated vegetables with numerous agricultural chemicals to accomplish mass production, while ignoring traditional dining culture. The modern population has no choice but to follow mass production to meet huge demand of food and it’s impossible for now to stick to the old method of cultivations. Asian countries especially followed western culture and made an effort to catch the concept of Modernology.

We think critically of Fukuoka’s message called “do-nothing farming” in considering his background since he lived in the Meiji era, not the 21st century. Although natural style is good for human beings and the environment, industrialization leads people to follow fast food rather than enhance qualities of the ingredients. That’s why it is difficult to say whether Fukuoka’s foodie style is completely right or whether unhealthy food style is wrong.

Nowadays, people are against unnatural foodie because they are sick and tired of unhealthy food. People search for organic goods and open organic restaurants as well as groceries. Asian cultures view this as a Slow Food trend, as they seek for natural food and ingredients. Living in the world today, people get used to contemporary foodie. However, it would be better if people realize the pure taste of natural ingredients and avoid artificial flavors.