Sushi? or S-eeewww-shi?  Which one are you?

 When I say “sushi”, most of the time the reaction I get is, “EEEWWW!” Actually, I love sushi and have been eating it for years. If you dig down into the bottom of my purse, you will find that I carry my own chopsticks with me everywhere I go. I associate sushi with family, friends, and fun, but more than that, sushi is such an interesting reflection of Japanese culture. 
I love peeking inside someone else’s refrigerator. What I find there tells me so much about the person who owns that fridge. It is one of life’s unspoken messages. For example, everywhere in my life I am compulsively tidy. EXCEPT inside my fridge. That is my secret … my fridge is full of stuff, messy, and occasionally has food items growing penicillin on them. I think that because I can’t see it, I allow it to get a little bit out of control. Besides, I’m busy controlling the rest of my universe! But, I digress; let’s get back to what this blog is really about…
Food reflects culture. Looking at traditional national dishes is like peeking inside an entire nation’s refrigerator. For example, England, famous for fish and chips, is an island where fish is a plentiful food source. Scotland, the home of haggis (eeewww!), has rolling hills spotted with sheep. The Parma region of Italy has the perfect grass to feed cows who produce milk that becomes that famous Parmigiana cheese. The leftovers from making the cheese are fed to pigs who eventually become an equally famous Italian export, Parma ham. 
So, what does sushi tell us about Japan. Well, Japan is an island with very limited fuel sources. Hence, quick cooking stir fry and raw foods are common. The Japanese culture is one of great refinement. When a guest is invited into the home, it is important that the guest feel honored. It would be unthinkable to expect a guest to prepare his own food. Cutting food is considered part of the preparation process and therefore it would dishonor a guest to expect him or her to cut food on the plate. Hence, small bites are the norm; both stir fry and sushi are served in bite sized pieces. Another way that Japanese chefs honor their guests is through beautiful presentation. A well-prepared plate of sushi is exquisite, looking almost like stained glass. It is colorful, enticing, and appetizing. Eating with chopsticks forces me to slow down and savor the flavors and the conversation. 
Unfortunately, American culture is synonymous with fast food picked up at drive through windows: hamburgers, greasy fries, and carbonated drinks. What does that say about our life style? My life isn’t so different from anyone else’s. Yes, I have been known to take advantage of the fast food option on more than one occasion. However, when doing so, I end up gulping down food at red lights and I most certainly don’t feel calm or relaxed. So, when I sit down at the sushi bar with friends around me and a beautiful, colorful plate of sushi in front of me, I am honored and excited to be taking part in an ageless tradition of Japanese culture. But more importantly, I am creating a mental scrapbook of happy times and good memories. So, help me take the “eeewww” out of sushi by remembering its honorable history and tradition.

Author: Jennifer C. Walts, Ed.D.

I am a retired educator and School Improvement Specialist.

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