5. …and that they seemed to prefer this version to the normal mix — indeed were hugely enthusiastic at the heights of the culinary mountain we’d scaled with this particular item — is no excuse, I know. I know.
Where do you run to when you’ve been run out of town? Out of your country, out of your old life?
“Anywhere you want of course”, is the answer, “anywhere you choose”.
But where then do you hope to feel the prickings, that stilling around you, the realisation that this, this one place could be that new home, what are the signs that maybe you can stop running, having reached that place where you can draw breath, find a grounding, a settling, as roots sinking into a new bed of earth.
My name’s Kenji and I’d accidentally poisoned my boss, with the blowfish that was my speciality and his regular favourite meal. And it was an accident. No cliché me, as I had no ill-will towards Miura-san. Not at all, I was his personal chef and he was a good boss, thoughtful, generous, kind even. That he was senior Yakuza however, complicated things. A lot. In the old days, legend had it, any chef who managed to kill a customer like this was obliged to disembowel himself with his own knife. I certainly wasn’t going to do that. But maybe I wouldn’t need to; his colleagues would, when they found me, have some — no doubt innovative and painful — ways to show me the errors in my work ethic.
No helpful family, no friends to speak of, so of course I ran, my tattoos an obvious flag to anyone looking. At first inside Japan, then abroad as I found nowhere that felt safe. Oh, and did I mention that I’d stolen from Miura-san as well? Only after he was dead of course. I’m not an animal. You may know already that there’s no cure for fugu poisoning, so there was really no point me calling anyone for help. And, just 35 minutes after we both — nearly simultaneously — realised how badly I’d fucked up, he was dead.
So, what’s a man to do? Well, in this case, this man, what better than to empty Miura-san’s safe. Key from his pocket, warm thumb print still working, it opened. Enough thick, banded bundles of yen, dollars and euros to keep a frugal man alive for years. For Miura-san, it was pissant stuff, just a little ‘walking around’ money. For me, it was a fortune and my only chance that I’d still be alive in a year or so. So I ran. And kept running, for the next 5 years.
“And that Jeff, is how I wound up here”…
Here was a little seaside town on the east coast of England. More specifically, here was the restaurant at the end of the pier where I’d been coming now to eat, week after week. I’d left a job in London, working as a key-cutter in a little shop in Acton, for here. I’d heard it described as “an oasis of calm. With great fish” by a customer chatting to a friend. The next day I’d packed my few clothes, and a short train ride later, was in Deal. For some reason, this place, so unlike the gomi on gomi density of Osaka that I’d loved, was balm for my soul. Maybe it was the sea. Maybe the ozone air. Maybe the fresh fish even… Whatever it was that had snagged my attention, I’m glad it had. For the moment, I was content. Even allowed myself to relax, feel more safe. Illusory I know but would you have been any different? I don’t think so. Even so, I continued to think it prudent to cover my arms with long sleeves, even in the hot sun.
I’d lucked into part-time work at a little fruit machine place kitty-cornered to the pier entrance, right on the sea-front. It’s funny, it was the nearest thing to a pachinko parlour that I’d found. The others working there were simple souls. Not smart but easy enough to rub along with. None of them any trouble, even little Fred who’d called me “that bloody Chink” — showing a lamentable grasp of both geography and tact — wasn’t a problem after I’d sworn, viciously, fluently and indicated that I’d also be extremely happy to throw him off the nearest cliff if he ever said anything like that again.
It’d been a few weeks living in Deal before, one afternoon, at shift end, I’d found that I’d wandered all the way to end of the pier and stepped inside the little restaurant for the first time. The owner had been kind. He knew a few words of Japanese, bowed and welcomed me in, “irasshaimase”, which had me smiling in wry recognition of my past life. He’d asked what I might like to eat, followed by a chuckle from him as I’d said “omakase chef”. So, “chef’s choice” then. What I got was a fish finger sandwich. Three words that do scant justice to what Jeff put down in front of me, about 10 minutes later. Just pure genius. It was easily the best thing I’d ever eaten. Anywhere. Ever.
So, once a week, every week, I’d come here, have the same sandwich, seat myself at one of the large windows and look out to The East. Towards the rising sun. Waiting, I think for redemption. The wooden beams, roofing the place like leviathan ribs, made me think of old Western writings. Am I Ishmael then or a Queequeg character? Certainly the body ink I have would endear me to the latter. But I’m the refugee, the exile as well.
Slowly, I found myself doing more work there, less and less at the arcade; Jeff, one afternoon having decided he wanted to fish from the beach, on the way out, handing me a clean apron & his knife roll asking me to “cover whilst I’m out” followed by “it’s a quiet time and anyway, I trust you”. Back behind a counter, serving food. Strange. I thought that particular itch scratched, long gone but now, funayuki close-fitting my hand, it was all I wanted to do again.
That was 5 years ago. Since then, I’ve been cooking alongside him. We are twins by different mothers; he, my height but fair, comic-book handsome, with me, squat, dark browed, toad-like but from the first day we worked side by side, almost literally joined at the hip. We often don’t speak very much when busy, just a quick glance to check what the other needs, a nod toward a pot that’s close to over-topping, a smile as an ingredient arrives, fully prepped under the others’ hand, just in time for its addition to a dish.
Endless sandwiches. What he (no, we now) are known for. A road paved with them, stretching back into his past and forward into our futures. It took me some to realise that this road was also my path to a redemption — if that was needed still. My cooking, the salve, the solution. That after all was why Jeff had taken me on; it just took me, Mr Unaware, some time to realise. I’d told him my full story a year or two after we became colleagues, then a few years later, when we’d become friends, he, in turn, entrusted me with his. You’ll need to ask someone else about the details though as I won’t speak of it, at least on these pages except to say he’s The Keeper
Who can now go home, confident, reassured that I’ll never make a life rupturing mistake again. Those ingredients (my ingredients now) are in love with each other. And the world. I have a home again. I have that anchor. I am now that life-saving drogue, like him. I have his set of keys. His knives. His restaurant. And a curiously coloured shell. There’s a whole story about that shell, but that’s also for another time, for another person to tell.
Did I mention my ink? I know I have. You couldn’t miss it all, distinctive, swirling bands of colour, intricate designs, a neon spotlight for my searchers.
“But I’ll always be hiding. All these. I’ll always be visible.”
“No. No, you won’t. Look in the mirror.” Glancing sideways as he suggested, I saw my face, my arms, clearing, the shapes, the designs fading, wisps blowing away like dawn mist over the sea, until my skin was birth naked again. Then, more preternatural still, facial contours blurring, running, colours in flux, until, new-born, resurrection man, stood there, shyly smiling back at me. Kind of Jeff, but not Jeff. The new keeper. The new sandwich man.
Some months later:
“Yes, that’s right, I’m Jeff, the owner, what can I get you?”
“The Japanese guy? Kenji wasn’t it? Looks a bit like you two, eh? Hahahaha. No offence like. Anyway, no idea though mate, sorry. He left”.
Stop. Wasting. Stuff.
In times BC i.e. pre-March 2020, I was still writing a separate blog about what steps were needed to get to Zero Waste. That’s kind of withered on the vine somewhat during the past year but this piece is one I started for STP a few months back and needs bumping out now, if only so I don’t stop the writing habit altogether!
Some idea of the amazingly obscene levels of waste within the food chain is highlighted by the detail that over 115 million litres of pig blood are produced each year in the US alone. Most of it is turned into blood meal and used to feed young piglets but when meat’s on the menu (it still is of course; where/when/how this will change, is a subject that deserves a whole set of separate posts), it would be sensible to re-purpose this and instead offer alternative uses such as blood sausage; before thinking that feeding pigs to other pigs is a good thing. We all know how feeding animals bits of other animals worked out for us in the UK…
In 2019, 35% of all food in the United States went unsold or uneaten. The good news is that the total amount of this surplus food has leveled off since 2016 after increasing by 11.9% in the earlier part of the last decade – and surplus food per capita actually declined by 2% during the same period. A deeper look at the data also found that:
- More than 50% of the produce left behind on farms in 2019 was actually edible. That’s enough fruits and vegetables to theoretically provide each food-insecure American with four servings per day.
- 70% of surplus in foodservice comes from consumers not eating everything they’re served.
- The residential sector is still the largest source of food waste overall and has the largest GHG footprint given the added energy required to get food from farm to home.
There is something that the average person can do to slow down climate change, and it can be accomplished without leaving the house. Don’t waste food. From a report: Some 931 million tons of it went to waste in 2019, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Individual households were responsible for more than half of that, with the rest coming from retailers and the food service industry. New estimates show that about 17% of food available to consumers worldwide that year ended up being wasted. The matter is even more urgent when considered alongside another UN analysis that tracks the problem further up the supply chain, and shows 14% of food production is lost before it reaches stores. Waste is happening at every point, from the field to the dinner table. Food waste and loss are responsible for as much as 10% of global emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If it were a country, this discard would rank third in the ranking of the world’s sources of greenhouse gases, after China and the U.S. Among the most effective climate solutions, non-profit Project Drawdown ranks cutting food waste ahead of moving to electric cars and switching to plant-based diets. Thursday’s UNEP report suggests the amount of food wasted by consumers could be about double the previous estimate. The analysis conducted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 2011 relied on data from fewer countries.
For some years now, the Japanese have been exploring the re-purposing of surplus food taken from from retail operations and caterers to feed pigs after first being treated and they trumpet the benefits of their pork fed on surplus food, as “eco-pork”.
In 2018 there were 360 eco-feed producers operating. 47 of them processed surplus food from retailers and 29 specialised in the processing of meat-containing surplus food.
The Odakyu Group is a great example of this virtuous circular operation. They run a chain of department stores, rail transport, hotels and restaurants, all of who deliver their unused food to the Japan Food Ecology Centre (JFEC) factory to be turned into pig feed, and they then go on to buy back the pork raised from this feed, to sell as a premium-quality eco-product in these same stores under brand names such as Yuton, meaning “superior pork,” and Umakabuta, “delicious, flavourful pork.”
JFEC takes in 35 tonnes of surplus food per day to produce 40 tonnes of this eco-feed which is then separated into carbs, fish, vegetables, etc. before going to be heat treated (they only need temperatures of around 80-90 degrees for a few minutes) and then into a lactic acid fermentation process which inactivates any disease pathogens (mainly targeting E. coli and salmonella). They also add various additional nutrients such as calcium lactate and lysine, a kind of amino acid, to make this, as they see it, “a premium feed for premium pigs.” About 24 hours after the waste first arrives, the liquid food is ready for the farms.
Most of the waste is carbohydrates, such as bread, noodles and rice, which is actually better for pigs’ health than it might seem as, just like us human, 70% of the energy pigs require comes from carbohydrates & it’s sufficient to get just 10% from vegetables. Carbohydrates are an important component of quality feed, and bread-and noodle-based waste actually trades at cheaper rates than vegetable-based ones and ultimately costs the farmer less than half the price of dry feed.
It’s a well monitored and safe process and it’s one that’s well overdue for approval here in Blighty.Pig-Idea-UK-policy-report
“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”
I lay no claim to greatness but we have this lovely print on the wall above the fire as a reminder of the importance of trees.
And have just got the oak sapling to stage where, in about 50 years, it’ll be a decent size.
And this is how the cherry tree looks today. The bees, of every variety are in 7th heaven with the flowers and nectar on offer.
And finally, the wormery continues its magic, turning food scraps and bits of newspaper into stunning compost. A real circular ‘economy’. Fuck capitalism.
A lot of the world is going to hell in a handcart but we continue to plant.
Slowly, but surely…