I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A New Recipe with 粕

Just a few weeks ago I went into a 地酒店 (sake shop that specializes in local products) looking for fresh bottle of sake. Lately I've been on a pretty strict local diet to reduce the number of miles (and barrels of oil) my food travels to get into my belly. Shiga is a great place for this, because so much of the land is devoted to agriculture, and in my neighborhood I can find just about all of my organic roots and vegetables picked daily––broccoli, spinach, onions, green onions, carrots, eggplant, red and green peppers, daikon, cabbage, potatoes, you name it! There are even a number of meat and cheeseries, not in my city of Kusatsu, but within 40 or so miles. As I understand, and this knowledge is of course limited to my Japanese, the animals are treated humanely and fed a natural diet (unlike American cows which are on a diet of inedible corn, antibiotics, and lord know what byproducts). To top it off, their farms, slaughterhouses, and other facilities are open to visitors. As Michael Pollan said in his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," U.S. beef would benefit, and should operate with glass walls to ensure the integrity of their products. I haven't checked the places out for myself yet, but I plan on doing it in the near future just to put my conscience at rest.

Anyway, so on my visit to the coop of liquor stores, I received a special gift, 粕(かす, kasu), and along with it a recipe for a kasu and miso soup. First an explanation:

I may be befuddled, but I believe the following analogy is correct:
If sake were milk 粕 is the curds, sake is the whey
粕 is the doughy sediment that surfaces during sake brewing. As many of you know, sake is called a 'rice wine', but in fact sake is fermented like a beer. This brewing process produces two main goods: sake and kasu. Of course, we drink the sake––but what of the kasu? Due to it's rich content, it's not very tasty if ingested as pure kasu.

One option is soup...and thus I've finally found my way back to the point of this story. The woman who was running the shop gave me a bag with a mysteriously squishy substance that smelled like a hangover and the following recipe:


粕と味噌が半々 equal parts kasu and miso
豚肉腹肉 pork (a particular belly cut)
大根 daikon (giant raddish)
にんじん(人参) carrots
油揚げ fried tofu
ねぎ   green onion
(里芋、こんにゃく) potato, or gelitan based potato substance called konnyaku

I did it a little differently with the following substitutions:

-no pork, no daikon, no potato or potato substance
-added onions, ginger, spinach, garlic, a splash of soy sauce

If anyone has more info or ideas about the kasu and this soup, please let me know. If you guys back home can get your hands on some kasu, I definitely recommend it. It was delicious.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 6: Cambodia, Ta Prohm (Angkor Wat)

Continuing the note above in my native voice (above meaning from the 2月26日平成19年 (アンコールワット)journal entry a few days ago) ...

How can we allow people bent on ignorance, hate, fear, and environmental destruction to continue walking this planet?
Do we all need to die for the fantasies of the few, the wealthy? We need an international rebellion against globalization (I realize and will explain the contradiction I've posed) if we are going to survive. (The only means of ending globalization and returning to a localized for of self-governance must result from a worldwide movement, a choice, a push even, because we have been similarly forced (should I say lured?) into this trap in the first place.
Returning to the local means refusing the modern tools we are expected to pick up––the computer, ケイタイ(cell phone)––and making our own. Sustainability is the key. Maintaining a balance that we can no longer see in today's economy is going to require adapting drastically different measures of what defines productivity: is it merely the object that we get from our efforts, or is it a product of all our efforts that reflects the quality of our inputs? If we keep on our oil path we will:
1) ruin the environment
2) ruin our health (food, pollution)

This will subsequently depreciate the value of life in a serious way. Ironically, I don't believe humans are too far off of the local doctrine. So many individuals and corporations use the "one more can't hurt" excuse while they destroy our Earth. This is quite clearly an example of "the commons problem".
Sure, one person, one more cubic meter of CO2 in the atmosphere makes little impact, right? Well, imagine what happens (or should I say, what is happening), when several billion people operate by the same principle. Quite simply, 3~6,000,000,000 cubic meters of CO2 is added to the air you and I breathe in one day, depending on how much access there people have to technology.
Easy if this were only a problem in the world's superpowers, the G8, but seeing life in the "nature friendly" Japan, and now here in Cambodia, my eyes have opened to the realization that this problem is only beginning. There are no environmental laws or emissions standards here (in Cambodia). Everything is up to the highest bidder. Garbage litters the streets in cities, even the bathing water in rural areas. Not one Cambodian seems to care about the cleanliness of their living conditions. Coupled with tens of thousands of touristing Westerners (and Asains) who want "at home conforts––air conditioning, chauffeuring, and Lexi––this gravens the dilemma. Air in the cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Riep, is toxic.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Deforestation = Crime Against Humanity

I know I'm continuing on tangents further and further from promised updates on my recent South Asian trip, but these things must be said now while we still have the air to say them. I believe the earth has precedence over just about anything else at the moment. America, put your petty sandbox tiffs in the middle east on recess and your campaign money where it is needed.

Click here for an article at CNN.com: Forests and Carbon Trading

How is it that, according to this article, our world economy does not factor in the Earth's largest and most vital assets?: trees, the atmosphere, and although not mentioned in the article water.

" 'It's insanity that a single service company, Google, has a market value of $200 billion, while all the services of all of the world's great forests are valued at nothing,' Hylton Murray-Philipson, head of Rainforest Concern, recently told the Independent newspaper."

Meanwhile, the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) raised a measly $160 million, funded by only 9 countries. Is that all that our trees are worth? Not only is this insufficient, the aid offered by the World Bank is suspiciously two-faced. Who's interest is the Bank really working for? In the end money, of course; and hacking up trees is apparently one of the ways the benevolent Forest Carbone Partnership Facility endorsing World Bank has been increasing their own stock pile of glorious money.

It's pathetic that people in the world are only going to start caring about the environment if it proves to have monetary value. Even so, when put on the scales gold is always going to weigh heavier that forests. Maybe only in the short run, but that seems to be the only profit line that our globalizing pirates are after these days anyhow. Despite the fact that predictions show that damaging the world's forests now will cost several thousand times over in the future, we are not changing our ways.

And carbon credits? Who are we fooling? Not only have we reduced the respect for nature by making her a tax write-off, or tradeable commodity, we've tied it to a spineless, hopeless cause like the Kyoto Protocol. Here's a newsflash, but for all of the big talk Kyoto gets, very few of the countries who have agreed to it are actually going to be able to meet and uphold the standards set back in the 1997. Japan even (#4 in CO2 emissions), will not hold its promises to maintain Kyoto's to return to pre-1990 standards. America and China, the world's largest polluters, are not even trying. The Kyoto Protocol is like the UN during Rawanda or worse, Darfur. Weak, cowering in the corner, hiding behind high-minded yet gumptionless politics and philosophies that don't stand a chance in the real world.

Is nothing sacred? Perhaps, sustaining the means of all life on Earth?

I believe this is more than just insanity––it is, and it should be a crime. If we are going to have a chance for a future, we are going to need some realists to take charge and impose vigilant laws on the polluting, destroying, and abusing that we are doing to our Earth. This help is clearly not going to come from any government of coalition of such, whose dawdling, tepid actions reflect a lack of seriousness and sincerity. What else is there? Well, you, me, us, we. We are the people, are we not? If we do not have faith in our contracts with authorities do deliver where clout is needed, do we not have the power to strike with our own hands? What I am saying is that we have to take certain measures into our own hands and make the world what we want it to be. I, personally, am infuriated by the greediness that dominates our authorities and has subdued them into money-dreaming slumber. They are selling our lives short, and we need to do something about it if we hope to have a future on this planet.

The numbers:
Every year around 32,000,000 acres of rainforests are bulldozed. 32 million is a pretty large number, so difficult to imagine just how great that magnitude of damage is. Allow me to make use of comparative geography:

32 million acres = 50,000 sq mi = 129,472 sq km
Georgia (the US State) = 59,425 sq mi = 153,909 sq km
Japan = 145,883 sq mi = 377,873 sq km

That means that almost the equivalent of Georgia, or, 1/3 of Japan in rainforests disappears everyday for the paper for your hamburger wrapper. Enjoy your meal.