Sunday, September 02, 2012

Food Challenges

"Can you find out if Chieko has any food preferences?"
Back in early July, that was a common email question coming into my inbox. Anti-nuke groups in California were getting ready for Fukushima survivor and anti-nuke activist Chieko Shiina's California Tour. A typical grassroots event, it seemed to have materialized with no budget. Volunteers were asked for air miles, accommodations, rides, etc. but that's the cool thing about grassroots: everyone is so generous with everything they have.

I had language and as one of the hosts along the way, other hosts directed this Very Important Question to me.

Things got a bit chaotic when the main organizer suddenly had visa problems and we never did get an answer to the food preference question, but they needn't have worried. Most Japanese are game for all kinds of foods and I rarely meet people with food-related issues. It's such that although so much of Japanese food is vegetarian and vegan, if you go into a restaurant, no one will be able to tell you if something has a meat products, wheat, eggs, whatever. Maybe things have changed in the decade I've lived outside of Japan now, but back then, at least, if you had food restrictions, better be able to look after yourself.

Imagine Chieko's surprise when our local translator (Japanese) ordered a special (vegan) meal at our Dinner Event. (I must say, though, I was very happy that Chieko was not shy about stating her breakfast preference to me when I asked later that night and we were able to share a lovely Japanese-Italian brunch with all the yumminess of our early summer garden. I was sorry I didn't have any natto for her, though, and have since learned to make my own!)

Americans are not at all shy about stating food preferences to their hosts. I learned this early on when I asked the DogFather why he had so many kinds of carbonated beverages in his closet even though he only drank the occasional Diet Coke.

"Oh, D only drinks Diet Pepsi, and H only drinks regular Coke, and......" He was stocked with a dozen different brands to suit all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"Wow. In Japan, people just eat and drink whatever's offered. And gratefully," I said.

And every time I cooked for Big Dog's niece, I learned of new things she did not eat!

Being away from the ranch for a good part of the summer, we are just starting into our Season of Visitors and our next one has presented me with a small Food Challenge: Gluten Intolerance. It still surprises me when guests are able to so casually mention something like this. Maybe it's because so many Americans are used to dealing with convenience in cuisine and don't understand that I make everything from scratch.

I've seen a lot of packaged foods that claim to be gluten-free and I know there are many baking items that are such, but why should I start buying factory-made food now?

In preparation for 4 days of gluten-free cooking, I have been trying to find information ("Okay, wheat is out. But rice is alright? Hmm. But rice is glutinous. Does that matter?") and ideas ("Desserts are going to be tricky but I can do stuff like chocolate mousse...") I still have too many questions. "What do they eat for breakfast?" "Will they be able to do a Real Japanese Breakfast?" ("Are you kidding me?" says Big Dog.) "Can they eat oat?" "Can I make a pizza dough with only rice flour?" I guess I will find out more after they arrive.

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