In my forested hilltop hamlet of sixty Norwegian souls, there is a Little Free Library. How the book Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen appeared on the library shelf next to The Magic of Lefse I’ll never know! But with a title that provocative and “click-baity”…you just have to read it!
A book about the women of my family would be titled Swedish and German Women Eat Butter, Eat Sugar, Get Fat, Get Wrinkled, Get Fantastically Old and Die of Absolutely Nothing one Day After Their Social Security Check Arrives. (True story! Thrifty to the last!) So when I found the Japanese Women book I wanted to know if it was true or if it was more narcissistic medical bullshit, like the BMI bullshit I debunked in Part 1 of this article. And frankly, I found the title so deliberately irritating, my first reaction was “Well, la-de-frickin-da!”
But irritation notwithstanding, I took the book home because I wanted to know if Japanese cuisine was perhaps the way we should all eat? After all, Dr. Ancel Keys, “discoverer” of the so-called ultra healthy Mediterranean Diet has long been criticized for ignoring the health and longevity of the Japanese, the Danes and the Norwegians to inexplicably insist that we all eat the non-local, expensive cuisine of the culture halfway ’round the globe. #facepalm
There’s nothing about Japan I don’t love…except maybe the earthquakes. They’re an ancient culture that has devoted the time, focus and ingenuity into wrinkling the kinks out of life. Life has been figured out by the Japanese and every human need has been met in a very practical way, often with an ingenious machine. They have a system for everything, strong families, a concept of honor and very little crime. My husband and I can’t get enough of learning about Japan and we love the food!
But I can debunk the “Japanese never get old or fat” thing right now. You have only to watch their “naked man festivals” on YouTube to see that middle-aged Japanese have nicely rounded tummies, a hint of love handles … and there’s nary a six-pack amongst the skinny young men! No one is obese (well, except the Sumo wrestlers but they work at it) but Japanese do put on weight, just as we all do.
We Americans have these cockeyed ideas that the Japanese only eat raw fish and rice and remain thin because they don’t eat beef, wheat flour, sugar or butter. But that’s not true at all! According to Natsu Shimamura, “Wheat has been cultivated in Japan since ancient times,” perhaps as early as the eighth century. Nowadays, most of their wheat is imported from Australia (they won’t touch American wheat!) There are many bakeries in Japan and the creativity of their sandwich fillings puts the Earl of Sandwich to shame. And what do you think ramen is made from? Wheat flour!
Not only do Japanese love their bread, but they also love their pastries. The confectioneries in Japan would make any French patisserie proud. Just like France, they have confectionary competitions with amazing sculptures made from all things chocolate and sugar.
But, even if they eat wheat flour and sugar, surely the Japenese don’t imbibe the horribly “unhealthy,” quintessentially American food: beef! Sorry, but there too I must disappoint. We’ve all heard of kobe beef, but wagyu beef is where it’s at. Wagyu is more marble, than beef! But here’s the kicker: “At the University of Wisconsin…to their great surprise, [researchers] discovered that certain fats found in meat contain a substance with anti-cancer properties. This substance is also thought to combat arteriosclerosis, the tendency of arteries to become ‘silted up’…..Further research has shown that — as a result of their genetic properties – Wagyu Cattle contain up to 30% more monounsaturated fatty acids than the much praised Angus cattle.” So you’re telling me that the more marbling in the beef, the healthier it is!?!?!
Our last ideal topples when we remember that delicious tempura is really just another word for battered and deep fried in fat.
Sorry, but the title of that book was just brilliant clickbait. Middle-aged Japanese of both genders get a little podgy around the edges, just as we all do. It’s nature’s way of shoring up our resources for old age. And the Japanese do get old too. Jolly old! It’s in their genes. Every culture has a very few, very long-lived individuals. Most of them swear by one thing for their longevity. America’s oldest World War II veteran, Richard Overton, who just left us on December 27th at the age of 112 swore by canned soup, whiskey and cigars!
In the final analysis, the narcissism of the medical community would have us believe that we are the cause of our ill health. That we eat the wrong things and too much of them. That getting fat and dying young are all our fault. Along the way, they make a helluva lot of money as we try to follow the latest far-out, expensive eating plan that isn’t local, isn’t natural, excludes certain healthy foods entirely and, two years from now, will be debunked by yet another study that declares, “Oh wait. Coffee is good for you. Coconut oil isn’t good for you. Shrimp is off the naughty-no-no list.” (I lost all respect for “the latest medical study” when one concluded that autism is caused by expectant mothers drinking coffee. Insert-disgusted-splutter-here!)
The Japanese are healthy and long-lived because, like my octogenarian grandfather, they eat a little of everything, have amazing genetics and walk. Yes, they eat fish, but also wagyu beef and butter. Yes, they eat soba (buckwheat) noodles, but they also eat starchy potatoes, wheat bread, sugar, eggs and yes, corn syrup in their soft drinks. Yes, they eat nutrition-packed mountain vegetables, but the only way you can choke down the bitter things is to apply tempura batter and fry them in hot oil. And they love their fermented foods, pickles and sake. Good food and good genetics hold them in good stead.
All that to say, I’m sick and tired of the guilt trips from the narcissistic medical community. I’m sick of them blaming everything on weight and fat, weight and fat. I’m tired of their blatant disbelief when I tell them I actually eat like a bird. I’m sick of them shaming me for my weight, but overlooking the visible, in-your-face physical traits of hypothyroidism (supraclavicular fat pads) and insulin resistance (acanthosis nigricans). I’m sick of their vanity in claiming to know “How We Should Then Eat.” I’m sick of the richness of the local food resources being castigated as “unhealthy” and replaced with a menu from halfway around the world. The food of every nation and every culture is healthy. Some people will live long lives; some won’t because it wasn’t meant to be.
In Job 14: 5 it says, “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” Like you, I would like to pass the days determined for me in happiness, not false guilt about every morsel that passes my lips. My chubby, jolly Great-Grandmother ate butter, sugar and creamed every vegetable she ever ate…and lived to be ninety-eight-and-a-half to the day. It was meant to be.
In Acts 10: 15, Saint Peter received a vision in which God told him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Taking it a bit out of context, how dare the medical community declare any food “impure.” How dare they shame us for that most human joy, eating. How dare they shame us for dying as though immortality is possible if only we ate the Culinary-Fad-of-the-Moment. What an ego trip for them! What exactly are they trying to hide by shaming us for our ill-health, our autoimmune diseases, the obesity epidemic? What have they actually been up to behind-the-scenes? I think I know. It’s like my mother said, “Back in the 70s we all ate like horses, scarfed desserts, didn’t exercise and were thin.” So what changed? Now we all eat like birds, exercise and are still fat. It’s being done to us; we’re not doing it to ourselves.
And that book Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat…!? Great information! Delicious recipes! Savvy marketing! Brilliant clickbait! But not exactly true!