By Sonoe Howard
You could say that after more than 40 years in Canada two-thirds of my body has been sustained by Canadian food. Until now, my family and I have been free of any serious illnesses and have led an active, healthy life. Of course, we have our parents to thank for this, but even more I can say that in large part it has to do with what we eat. While many specialists have done a lot of research concerning healthy lifestyles, I want to put down a few words about food based my own experience living in Toronto.
My Canadian husband loves natto and rice. He never complains about what I put before him. Together we are reaching our 70th year and after 30 years of constant good physical conditions, our home doctor has nothing but praise for us. I really think that this is due to our good lifestyle. Generally speaking, we are both quite flexible in our way of living, including our eating habits. We love to eat at regular times, always keeping it simple. At times when this is not possible (on trips or eating out), we always return to our regular pattern as soon as possible. Every time we eat out we have the feeling that the food has too much fat. Aware of this, our next meal is a Japanese meal—naturally less fatty. We enjoy a hotdog or hamburger, but we also enjoy the real simplicity of the light Japanese-style meal, called Kaiseki. However, what is more, it is important to feel the harmony that comes from sharing a meal together. I think that most people are like us in this. I realize, of course, that there are exceptions, such as those who have strict diets because of health or religious reasons.
I am really careful about my food choices. Almost 40 years have passed since people became concerned about what they eat and have embraced organic food. Nowadays when people have become aware of the seriousness of contamination of our foods by hormones and additives, organic foods have taken on an even greater importance. Yet it cost 20 to 30% more. This makes it difficult for families with children to change completely to organic food. Last year I decided to try switching completely to organic foods as an experiment. I found that the food budget for three people became about double. Based on this, I decided that meat, dairy products, root plants, beans, flour were to be organic, but closed my eyes to the fact that leafy foods and fruits might be sprayed, hoping that pesticides were on the surface only. By doing this I was able to lower the food budget somewhat. For Japanese foods I check the label to make sure that they have no MSG or additives, but I have difficulty in doing the same for Japanese food produced in other countries, making it hard to choose. I always make sure that I get the best miso, soy sauce and dashi—the most central ingredients of Japanese cooking.
I would like to introduce you to two organic stores which I use daily. The Big Carrot(348 Danforth Ave. Toronto, Tel 416-466-2129): Toronto’s biggest, best stocked and most trust-worthy organic store. All year long you can get fresh vegetables, fruits and health products.Fresh From The Farm (350 Donlands Ave. Toronto, Tel 416-422-3276), a store run by Mennonites. Because of their religious beliefs, they continue the old-style ways of farming. I often obtain a lot of what I need at this store. Have you ever had a craving for steaming hot rice topped by a fresh broken egg? Without worry, I fully enjoy eating rice this way using eggs from the store. The owner was surprised, though, when I told him that I ate his eggs raw. The fact is they do not use any hormones in the feed they give to their chickens or cows.
During the long Canadian winter, nothing beats homemade soup. I buy a soup-bone from the Fresh from the Farm. It takes a day to prepare the soup stock from the soup-bone. I add vegetables, beans and other ingredients to the soup to create a variety of soups. I buy a whole chicken and cook it in the oven. With the leftover bones I am able to prepare a nutritious soup-stock. I feel no anxiety around preparing these soup stocks when I use organic beef or chicken bones. While I may be able to get these 20 to 30% cheaper at a regular supermarket, I feel uncomfortable when I think of steeping those bones to make soup, imagining the hormones that would be in the soup. I cannot bring myself to eat such stuff.
I also love to use organic beans and nuts. Traditionally in Japan, “beans” are soybeans and adzuki beans. The way that they are prepared is steeped in tradition. Nuts are only used for snacks (tsumami). I have always been fascinated by the way in which people from the Middle East and Mexico use beans, nuts, parsley and herbs. One bean or nut has the potential of becoming a plant. Imagine the amount of nutrition contained in that one bean! So it almost seems a waste to not make the most of that bean or nut. Look at how beneficial the soybean is in Japanese cooking. I want to achieve the same results with other beans, using them in salads, soups and pastes. Have you ever had to throw away parsley or herbs because you could not use all of them? I combine them with olive oil, garlic and cheese, blending them into paste. I put this paste into freezer bags to freeze for future use.
We are really fortunate to live in Toronto, where we have access to foods from all over the world. We have all sorts of ethnic cuisines in the many restaurants of Toronto. Also we can mingle and get to know peoples from different ethnic backgrounds and through them discover the delights of their traditional foods. Getting to know these foods that are not in Japanese cuisine better, we can incorporate them into our own cuisine expanding the repertoire of our dishes for a healthier life.