Staples

19 Mar

Regular readers may have noticed that SOK has been on a bit of a hiatus. Tom’s parents came to visit us a couple of weeks ago, which really cut into blogging time (though not eating time). And then last Friday, the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region of Japan, followed closely by the ongoing nuclear reactor crisis. Most of you probably know this already, but my mom is from Japan, and my grandma, uncle (plus wife and son), and Tom’s aunt and uncle and cousin (plus husband and son) still live there — thankfully, in Tokyo and Hiroshima, so they’re safe. Still, with the threat of a nuclear reactor meltdown, and who knows what kind of aftershocks, I’ve pretty much spent the last week glued to liveblogs and Twitter feeds about the news. And writing about food seemed hollow and frivolous when I was worrying about my grandma (and my mom, who flew into Tokyo the day before the earthquake) having power outages or who knows what else.

It was actually a conversation with my mom that inspired this post. She was talking about how she’d gone out to get groceries, only to find stores sold out of most staples. Some of it was stuff you’d expect to sell out in the US: water, milk, eggs, bread. And some weren’t: tofu, instant ramen, and even natto. Why natto? I think it’s because it’s a protein that doesn’t spoil and doesn’t have to be cooked. Her story made me think about how varied the “basics” of a kitchen can be across cultures. Most Americans probably don’t have a container of miso knocking around in the pantry, and I don’t think the average Pakistani household has a stockpile of mac’n’cheese. A quick look at the Salvation Army’s site shows that a typical soup kitchen meal is going to be something like chili or sloppy joe’s; in the Japanese evacuation centers, they’re serving rice balls and miso soup. It’s not just about nutrition, it’s about what’s familiar and comforting.

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