Food, Wasting and Being Right

By Rev. Hideaki Nishihori

“Food”

 Recently, I really like to cook. I began to like cooking when I lived alone in Tokyo. Although I once worked for a French restaurant as a part-time chef in Kobe city, I didn’t really care about food until I moved to Hawaii.

I often had an upset stomach, suffering for more than seven years. However, because I’m getting healthier and my illness seems to have gone away, I can eat well and cooking has become a hobby.

The other day, I cooked dinner, consisting of rice, miso (soy bean curd) soup with vegetables, baked tarako (pollock roe), umeboshi (salt plums) and natto (fermented soy beans). The rice, given to me from Yamagata prefecture, tasted fantastic. The brand name is Tsuya Hime (Romantic Princess). Although it’s expensive to buy this brand, it has a juicy, enriched flavor. And I made miso soup with konbu (seaweed) and katsuo (shaven tuna flakes) in the broth. Besides tofu, I added many vegetables such as wakame (seaweed), field peas, onions, and mushrooms. It was delicious.

Nowadays, I feel grateful to be able to eat something delicious. I appreciate food even more. When I say “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisosama,” I really mean it. Both mean, “I appreciate all food, and every person related to this food.”

By eating this food, we can live, and it continues the cycle of creating and sustaining our body. I’m sure that food also affects our minds. Yet in reality, we usually eat food without thinking carefully. We take food for granted.

When we think deeply about food, we find some astonishing facts. When I drank the miso soup, I thought about how much effort and time were needed to make this soup. For instance, in order to harvest seaweed in Japan, mostly female workers—called “Ama (ocean ladies)”—dove into the cold sea. Then the seaweed must be dried, sorted and packaged. The dried product then was trucked to stores. My mother sent this seaweed to me in Hawaii. My mother bought it in a Kobe store, went to a delivery service, which sent it by air, and another delivery company brought it to my residence. I have no idea how many people were involved or how long it took until it finally reached my mouth. I’m sure it took innumerable people to make this miso soup.

You can see this process may be applied, not only to food, but also to water, the miso, broth and cooking utensils, such as the pot, cutting knife and cutting board. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people combining their efforts just to make my miso soup. I needed every single person, food, and tool to make this soup. In Buddhism, this is called interconnectedness or interrelatedness.

Everything in this world connects with one another. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. We usually feel nothing when we see any type of food, let’s say, an apple. An apple is just an apple. If we consider carefully, we can find thousands of actions and people were needed for us to eat the apple.

“Mottainai”

 We have a nice phrase in Japan, “Mottainai.” For instance, when you see edible leftovers being disposed, you might feel, “Oh, what a waste. We can still eat those leftovers.” That’s the sense of “Mottainai.” Japanese people hold this attitude strongly. My father often told me, “Don’t waste paper. Use the backside.” I have been using the backside of paper since childhood. This is a really important sensitivity of the Japanese people. Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai used the slogan, “Mottainai,” at the United Nations to promote environmental protection. However, what I want to emphasize is not the spreading of this attitude. I know how you feel when you see something is wasted. I suppose, this feeling should not be forced on someone.

“Forcing others”

I am picky. I have likes and dislikes. When I was a child, I often got scolded by my parents for not eating what I didn’t like. One day my father became seriously angry and he didn’t let me get up from the table until I ate all of my dinner. At this point, I became resentful. “Why do I have to eat what I don’t like?”

My parents used to say, “You have to be able to eat even what you don’t like, otherwise you cannot stay healthy.” Looking back, that was true in a sense. I am thinking that a well-balanced diet is really essential for our life. I used to eat big, greasy ramen, with noodles as thick as udon, in an amount three times as large as normal. I often had an upset stomach after eating ramen. I loved it, but my health was not good because of this ramen.

Now, I really understand what my parents meant. We shouldn’t waste food because food is life and we are supposed to respect both of them. Still, I am wondering if it’s good or not to force someone to eat something they don’t like. “Mottainai” is really a good word, but it probably shouldn’t be used to force or criticize someone.

“I am right and you are wrong” theory.

This is exactly like Buddhism. We can hear a lot of deep and meaningful phrases, such as, “All conflicts in our life are between righteousness and righteousness,” or “I am right. This is the root of conflicts,” or “If you think you are humble, it is your arrogance that makes you think that way.” These phrases are really true. But we should never use them for criticizing others. These phrases are for each of us. Let’s try to keep this attitude in mind.

If we criticize others, it causes sufferings for both sides. At the moment I criticize others, I think I am right and others are wrong, just exactly like this phrase, “I am right. This is the root of conflicts.”

“Our world and your world”

We are supposed to take Buddhism very seriously, as in “Oh yes, Buddha is talking about me.” This is your life, not others’ lives, but yours. We share this world, but your world is only for yourself. No one can replace you. My world is only for me. We think we are living in the same world, and it’s true in a sense. However, your world that you are experiencing now is only for yourself.

Each of you is the main character in your world. That is why Shakyamuni Buddha said “I alone am the world honored one,” at the time of his birth. Shinran Shonin also said, “When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone!” I used to think, “What? Only for Shinran? Not for me?” This is a basic misunderstanding for everyone. Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin were not arrogant at all. They felt their own world was only for each of them.

In that sense, my world is only for me. Your world is only for you. Only you can experience your world. When I die, my world will disappear. Until recently, I didn’t really realize Buddhism was only for me. That means I didn’t take it seriously.

I have covered many topics in only one dharma talk, but everything truly is connected. It may be confusing, but through listening (and reading) again and again, I believe our mind will be rejuvenated.

 

Rev. Nishihori is minister at Kaneohe Higashi Honganji Temple in Hawaii.

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