To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Mystery Meat

Hey, all,

       I think I mentioned before my shock at my colleagues frequent inability to identify what we are eating. I've expanded my observations enough to be able to confidently claim this as a cultural trait: quite frequently, Japanese people have no idea what they're eating, and this doesn't bother them much. I heard this in so many words when I asked a colleague with whom I was dining what we were eating; his answer, "meat," wasn't terribly illuminating, so I pressed further. After consulting with his wife, he admitted they didn't know what animal it came from, though they were pretty sure it was something warm-blooded. When I laughed at this, he admitted that quite often he had no idea what he was eating, and though Japanese people usually had words for particular dishes, it was quite normal that in any given meal there would be one or two things they couldn't meaningfully identify.

Japanese person: This is XXXXXXX.
Peter: Oh, what's XXXXXXX?
J: I don't know.
P: Is it from an animal?
J. I think so.
P: What animal?
J: Maybe a pig. Or a chicken. I don't know. Probably not a fish.

At least once, I found a person who couldn't even narrow down one blob to a particular kingdom: he thought it was either a vegetable or a fish.

      Today, I ate lunch with first year students, and asked them all about their lunches, even though I really did know what most of the foods were. About half of the kids were unable to identify at least one item in their lunch boxes, and it was clear that this had never even occurred to them before (and this conversation was largely in their own language, so it wasn't simply that they didn't know the English word for XXXXX). Tonight, at the enkai, I asked what one hunk o' fish was, prompting quite a long reply from the truant officer, who is a retired JHS principal, about the life cycle of the buri, and how sushi from this fish is called different names depending on what stage of its life it is caught at (this was one of two conversations I pretty much understood among the fifty or so of the evening). For some reason, everybody at the table got excited about explaining this to me, though there were a couple of dissenters from the buri theory. One of the latter asked the waitress, who then asked the chef and reported back that it was in fact a completely different fish.

       As long as I'm sure it's not Japanese milk, I'll consume something without much worry--the hygeine standards for everything except the Upton-Sinclair dairy products are quite high, so there's nothing to fear (though it did take me about half a pint of beer to wash down just one weird snail tonight).

O genki de

Peter

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