Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Eating Together… Can We Talk?

I’m anticipating the day when the waitperson serving my chicken pad thai sits down and wants to talk about eating. I guess I’d have to start off with the one thing I don’t like:

It’s papaya, the fresh luscious tropical delicacy my granddaughter can eat halves and halves and halves of until stopped by her mother, the jewel of the farmer’s market offered to me by my late mother with the query, “You still don’t eat papaya?”, the papaw, "fruit of the angels" according to Christopher Columbus and “deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency,” according to Whole Foods.

No, thanks.

Some people don’t eat some things for health reasons, some for religious reasons, some for philosophical reasons. The list of what one doesn’t like to eat is hopefully shorter than the list of those things one will eat, because it will be hard to find that McDonalds Happy Meal or KFC chicken while in India, Peru or Mongolia, not to mention in Hana or Lopez Village.

I’ll eat just about anything. Well, not the fermented soybeans called natto prized by many. I’ve seen it eaten with relish in mochi cakes, on hot rice and even served on pasta.

No, thanks.

The island comedian Frank DeLima had a stand-up routine where he said that every group that came to Hawaii brought some kind of “stink food.” The Japanese brought natto, the Portuguese brought bacalhau, the Koreans brought kim chee, the Filipinos brought bagoong. And, Frank said, every one thought that their stink food was the best kind of food.

That’s probably true around the world. In Sweden there’s surströmming (source of a near-international incident when British Air demanded that a Swede not bring a can of the delicacy on board). Go to Iceland and natives will tell you about the sublime pleasures of eating their fermented shark, hákarl. Like cheese? Like Limburger for its smell?

There’s a popular reality television show hosted by Andrew Zimmern called Bizarre Foods.  “Bizarre” seems a bit overblown since foods in their cultural context don’t seem that unusual.

My mother would soften the dried, strongly fragrant bakalhau just enough to get pieces of it into jars of pickling sauce with pieces of green and red peppers and chunks of onion. We’d vacation spear fishing and shore fishing on Kauai and my aunt would immediately clean and pickle the young goatfish, oama, after getting home from the beach—and we couldn’t wait to eat them whole, head, tail and all. When Mr. Dan from Maui visited, he’d bring the Hawaiian waters version of the puffer fish and clean the fish free of its venom sack and prepare the rich, oily fugu soup. Not stink and certainly not “bizarre” by my tastes.

“That will put hair on your chest,” my father with hairless chest used to say to me, who to this day is without a hairy chest despite eating most everything.

Now, let’s eat—together.

You can have my papaya.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Talking About Race, With or Without Coffee

It’s OK to talk about race if you have something to say about it and you’re not just talking about talking about race. I’ll start with a personal disclosure:

I am a Japanese person born in Hawaii and identify myself as a Hawaii Japanese. That sometimes confuses people who think that I am saying I’m part Hawaiian and part Japanese, which I am not. But I am not Japan Japanese nor am I mainland Japanese, a distinction that means a lot when you grow up Japanese in Hawaii. In any case, being Japanese makes me part of the Asian “race” as it were, or, as I would have been quaintly called in less enlightened times, an “oriental.”

My spouse is Caucasian. When in Hawaii, my spouse is a haole or white, the same kind of “white” I assume Esther Borg of Lopez Island meant in the ‘70s to describe me as “that fellow with the white woman.”

My two children are part Asian and part Caucasian. My grandson is one quarter Asian and three-quarters Caucasian. Folks say he looks like me but he’ll outgrow that. My granddaughter was adopted from Nepal. I carried her as an infant in the Hilo Hattie store in Honolulu and the Filipino sales women thought she was Filipino; a merchant at the farmer’s market complemented her on having a nice suntan. These days she’s fluent enough in Spanish to run around the playground and chatter away with her Hispanic playmates. These are the citizens of the new Pacific Century.

When I grew up in Hawaii there were more Asians than other “races” so I never felt like a member of a minority. It wasn’t a melting pot of fondue with different cheeses; it was a stew with different ingredients that I lived in. It was the norm. The “Japs” I watched in the war movies were the enemy, not the heroes. Our parents expected me to do well, to excel in school—and I did as I was expected. My best friends in school were Japanese and Chinese and Hawaiian; I dated a Japanese girl (didn’t like the way she kissed) and went steady with a hapa girl, part Hawaiian, part haole. The first black person I met in Hawaii was at a Quaker meeting.

The “mainland” is not Hawaii. In my first month away at college, the clerk at the college business office pondered cashing the check my parents had sent me, first wondering out loud what the exchange rate might be, then saying, “Oh, I guess it’s part of the states now.” First I thought that was stupid, then I thought it was ignorant. You know the difference, right?

I sat in a northern California restaurant in the late ‘60s with my girlfriend and her mother and heard a stone-faced woman sitting at a table across the way say in a voice loud enough for maybe only me to hear, “That poor woman, her heart must be broken.” Maybe it was my shaggy long hair and Fu Man Chu mustache that was breaking a heart, maybe being Asian, who knew?

Traveling across the country, I was refused service in Wyoming by a waitress who said, “We don’t serve Indians in here.” Stupid? Ignorant? 


I once stood around with some old white veterans in Sedro-Wooley as they chewed the fat and listened to them refer to chinks, Japs and niggers. I didn’t say anything, just thought, “I don’t know about the niggers but the chinks and Japs are going to kick your asses.” I thought the same thing when some Republican senator forgot his mic was hot before a Watergate hearing and called Senator Dan Inouye the “fat Jap.” His friend, Richard Nixon, got his ass kicked.

As a Hawaii Japanese I grew up knowing I was in the majority and knew I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than those around me. In Hawaii, I grew up with all the racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes but it didn’t affect my behavior or how I treated anybody else. I couldn’t.  We played on the same team, went to the same schools, lived in the same town, on the same island.

Living on the mainland, I still think of myself as being in the majority. Seattle bookseller David Ishi wanted me to know that we, meaning us Japanese, had to stick together because we were like a Third World country. I told David I never felt like a besieged minority. But others have. The pain and shame of the World War Two internment injustice was still raw for many mainland Japanese Americans.

I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than others; I never had problems of self-confidence or self-esteem. But I sat in a Japanese-American Citizen League meeting with Lori Matsukawa talking about mentorship to build the self-esteem of Washington Japanese kids and to encourage them to enter the news media.

In Seattle my daughter was bused and, as a member of a minority group, I got a job with the City of Seattle as a “minority fill,” meaning the position was open only to non-Caucasians. Mayor Charlie Royer’s administration had set a policy that city departments should racially reflect the communities they serve. That’s still a good policy to follow today.

When environmental groups decide to define issues in a way that is relevant to groups other than white, college-educated liberals, their staffs, their messengers, will begin to reflect the communities they serve.

While it’s a good first step to learn Spanish and Mandarin to live in the Pacific Century, there’s no understanding without knowing the difference between Mexicans and Guatemalans and between Beijing Chinese and standard Chinese speakers on Taiwan.

In Hawaii, it’s good to know the difference between Hawaiians, Tongans and Samoans because, as with Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, it’s easy to offend by not understanding the differences. Like me being a Hawaii Japanese.

Talking about race, with or without coffee, is easier than talking about religion. I think it begins by telling one’s story and taking the time to listen to the stories of others.

What say?

--Mike Sato

Friday, March 20, 2015

Skunk Cabbage Welcomes Spring

Today’s vernal equinox in the neighborhood was celebrated under breezy gray skies and sporadic rain. Let the early bloom’d cherry blossoms, daffodils and tulips droop; the real harbinger of spring is the skunk cabbage.

Lysichiton americanus (western skunk cabbage) is a familiar springtime sight if you get out of your house and your car and frequent bogs, swamps and stream sides. You can’t miss the bright yellow, petal-like sheath in which tiny flowers are found on a stem. Blooms of the western skunk cabbage stink like rotten flesh and attract flies and beetles that serve as pollinators.

Famous forager Euelle Gibbons, author of Stalking the Healthful Herbs, describes his attempt to eat skunk cabbage (the eastern variety) boiled and served with salt, pepper and butter. He reported, "It tastes exactly like it smells, and burns your throat like red hot pepper as it goes down." And, if you can believe Wikipedia, “its roots are food for bears, who eat it after hibernating as a laxative or cathartic. The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when almost all parts were eaten.”

Another harbinger of the real spring: Have you already seen dandelions in their yellow blooms? No woosy plants these.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Get Smart With Phone, Rockfish Rebound, Fight IS By Shooting Back

When we get smart, smart phones can change the world; rockfish rebound so now let’s eat; why don’t gun-rights activists go to Syria and Iraq instead of wasting their time trying to get arrested in Olympia?



If you have a smart phone and are a ding-dong who talks or texts while driving, consider the recent development of being able to do a test in 15 minutes on an iPhone for HIV and syphilis. Yes, it does require a pin-prick worth of blood and an low-power attachment called a “dongle,” but this follows equally remarkable advances in being able to do remote testing for other blood-borne diseases like malaria. In any case, it helps to get smart with these smart phones because the state legislature might make cell phone use when behind the wheel a violation that would go on a driver’s record. Want to see what State Patrol would say when you say you were only fooling around with your dongle?


The news about rockfish along the west coast is good: conservation and fisheries management brought stocks back far enough for us to eat them again. Well, I’m not sure anybody noticed that rockfish were not available in local markets but the problem, according to the story, was that, unlike the iconic salmon, Sebastes goes by so many different names that confusion reigns over what’s been really saved. In Puget Sound, yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish and bocaccio came under federal protection and recovery last year in 590 square miles of near-shore habitat for young rockfish and 414 square miles of deepwater habitat for adults. Of course, since you don’t know the name of the rockfish you may have hooked and rockfish don’t do well after you land them, we might just as well keep our line out of the water, wait until Puget Sound Sebates recover, then get the dinner plate ready.

Now, in the spirit of public health and safety, a modest suggestion for gun-rights activists who went to Olympia last week with their armaments to get arrested for carrying firearms into the legislature’s viewing gallery. The State Patrol locked the gallery and no one got arrested. "What's the world coming to when there are people who want to break the law and they won't let you do it?" one activist complained. Now, now: instead of pledging, “I will not comply” and wearing identify apparel emblazoned with “Fight Tyranny – Shoot Back,” these patriots should go to Syria and iraq where, according to the Associated Press, 20,000 foreigners are headed to join up with the Islamic State. Take your guns, fight IS, shoot back!

--Mike Sato

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Walk To Work, Eat The Fish, and Wash Your Hands

This week on changing the world, eating and health: Potential world changer James Robertson walks 21 miles round trip to work, food for thought about halibut and how it’s caught, and whose health is this anyway?

James Robertson (AP)
James Robertson's car broke down 10 years ago and, given the deplorable state of bus service in Detroit, he's been walking to work and back-- and having perfect attendance. Since the Detroit Free Press publicized his story, he's been the recipient of a massive crowd-sourced fundraising campaign, offers to buy him a car and bicycle, door-to-work-and-back shuttle bus service, and help to manage his new found fortune. I hope he'll be a world changer and continue walking or maybe spur Detroit into reviving its bus system. After all, if you think the traffic's bad now, the US Department of Transportation says it's not going to get any better over the next 30 years with an additional 700 million people joining us-- unless we make some major changes. Walk on by, Mr. Robertson.


If you like food like halibut, you liked the news in the Seattle Times that the International Halibut Commission recommended increasing catch limits to 29.2 million pounds in 2015. Catch limits are set for separate areas off the shores of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. One problem in establishing catch limits has been the state of the halibut stock in the Bering Sea where trawlers harvest halibut that have to be thrown back. The commission estimated that more than 8 million pounds of halibut were netted as bycatch last year, discarded and died. But the commission went ahead and allowed halibut catch in the Bering Sea area anyway. Fish to feed over 16 million people wasted in bycatch, sad.


Public health, I always thought, was dealing with the health of the public but some of the recent pronouncements about vaccination have focused on private health, as if it's an individual's right to reject immunization against communicable disease and, if you exercise that right, it's OK to put others, the public, at risk. OK, maybe that wasn't what Sen. Rand Paul meant earlier this week, then recanted as the week went by. [Rand Paul Now Says He Shares Obama's Position On Vaccinations ] Maybe there’s something in the water these guys drink. North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis thinks restaurants should not have to make their employees wash their hands after toilet visits. [US senator questions forcing food workers to wash hands ] According to Sen. Tillis, it's a burden when government regulates businesses and restaurants that did not require hand washing would have to alert customers by displaying signs. Uh, oh-- signs which government would have to regulate and enforce. Take another drink, senators.

--Mike Sato

Friday, January 30, 2015

Failing Science, Eating Salamanders, and Seahawk Fever vs. Avian Flu

We’re not going to change the world, for the better we hope, if we don’t use best available science. And let’s not consider endangered species as delicacies for fat cat palates. And, oh, go ‘Hawks but wash your hands.

Nope, nobody’s going to change the world for the better as long as there’s this big difference between how scientists and citizens see science and society. A Pew Research Center poll finds scientists highly esteemed by citizens but that scientists and citizens hold differing views on genetically modified foods, pesticide use, nuclear power, evolution, overpopulation, childhood vaccinations, and human-causes of global warming. According to almost all scientist polled, there’s a problem: people don’t know what they’re talking about.

On the food front, add to the plight of the white rhino, the wolf and the elephant, the rare Chinese giant salamander. The BBC reports that that senior security officials ate a critically endangered giant salamander, also considered a

delicacy, at a lavish banquet. The salamander, which can grow to nearly six feet, was allegedly feasted on in the southern city of Shenzhen. Photographers taking pictures of the attendees were reportedly beaten by police.

Seahawk fever reaches its peak on Super Bowl Sunday and backyard poultry growers around Agnew on the Olympic Peninsula can rest easy that their flocks tested negative for the spreading avian flu virus. There are several subtypes infecting commercial and wild bird populations, including the subtype A(H7N9) which

has infected two people in British Columbia. The virus passes from bird-to-bird much easier than to humans and human-to-human transmittal doesn’t happen easily. Call the health department if you find dead birds. Meanwhile, go ‘Hawks.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Braille Lego Printer, United Nations Food, and “A Few Stupid Extremists”



Yes, let’s change the world: Last week it was Bill Gates drinking water purified from sewage, this week it’s a 13-year old’s prototype of a simple Braille printer built from Legos.  California teenager Shubham Banerjee, with encouragement and investment from his parents, developed a low-cost machine to print the tactile writing system used by the visually impaired. Intel Corp. is interested enough to invest in his startup, Braigo Lab . Brialle printers currently cost about $2,000. Says Shubham, “I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this." (Boy, 13, builds Braille printer with Legos, starts company) Write on!


I’ve always believed if we’d share and eat each other’s food, we’d fight less. To that end, I’ve been savoring the pages of Lonely Planet’s Food Lover’s Guide to the World. This week, public radio reported on Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden’s New York City project to have dinner parties featuring the foods of each of the 193 United Nations member states. “As they cooked food from Algeria to Djibouti to Guyana, United Noshes hosted dinners that ranged from just a few friends gathered around a living room table, to dozens of guests assembled in a banquet hall. And the ingredients have ranged as well — from cashew juice to French charcuterie to fermented corn flour.” (United Noshes: Dinner Party Aims To Eat Its Way Through Global Cuisine). Eat on!

And, thus far in 2015 public health, there were “a few stupid extremists” who “handled their firearms unsafely.” French murderers at Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish deli? Nope, Second Amendment gun rights advocates in the state legislature’s public gallery. The quote is from Alan Gottlieb of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms who was working hard to distance the “stupid” from other gun rights protesters. (House bans openly carried weapons in public gallery)

At the same time, sounding not much different than extremist Islamists, legislator Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) was proclaiming: “This is a culture war, folks. They don't like what we do, and they want to control what we do." (Hundreds of gun-rights activists rally at Washington Capitol)

Brian, Alan! Eat first, talk later!

--Mike Sato