Culture, No.10  Feb. 1, 2012


Photo : Takeuchi Osamu

Takeuchi Osamu

Tatsumi Yoshiko: We have asked Professor Fukuoka Shinichi, Professor Kawashima Midori and Doctor Hosoya Ryota to give us their personal perspectives on the relationship between food and life. This time we are asking Doctor Takeuchi Osamu, who teaches ethics at Sophia University and is also a Catholic priest (Society of Jesus), to sum up their talks. Doctor Takeuchi, I’m hoping you can take this discussion a level deeper to explain how life in its final stages relates with food, and I hope in doing so that we can offer the readers some new insights.

Why don’t we start with your story?

Takeuchi Osamu: Your question to Professor Fukuoka that I quote as follows was quite memorable:

“The eating habits of single people in their twenties and thirties are extremely poor and they don’t know what they want to eat. I think this is a truly grave concern… How can we develop people so they have a proper awareness of eating?”

Not knowing what to eat ultimately means that the person has not realized what kind of a person he is, where he is headed and what he lacks.

Professor Fukuoka answered, “When people don’t know what they want, that’s because they are not carefully listening to their bodies.” I also think this is true. How could anyone who has lost sensitivity and doesn’t realize the pains of his own body offer people around him sensible care? I think it is completely impossible. I also think that people who eat something delicious but do not feel that it is delicious are not capable of thinking properly.

Awareness begins with sensing, and to do so, the senses must be working acutely. This is why if your sensitivity weakens, you can’t possibly gain accurate awareness, nor can you develop a proper view of the world.

Tatsumi: Professor Fukuoka always talks from his fundamental concept of dynamic equilibrium. Life runs on ceaseless innovation. That made me think.

Life always demands that we be better. In other words, what Professor Fukuoka calls dynamic equilibrium works at its fullest for maintaining a constantly better state within us. Life itself aims to make us much, much better than what we think we could be.

So if the dynamic equilibrium of a dying person were to take any form of the word “collapse,” I feel that life would have suddenly changed its course.

I instead feel that when a person faces death, though it appears to our eyes as a collapse, it is in fact attempting to achieve the most beautiful state, the best form in terms of dynamic equilibrium.

I really wanted to ask Professor Fukuoka about that.

I’m sure that is a difficult question to answer for a scientist responsible for answering “How” questions.

When I met him in person and asked him, “Is dynamic equilibrium ultimately about balance?” he said, “Yes, that’s right.” I believe that balance is for the body and mind to be one and make everything work just right.

Professor Fukuoka says that dynamic equilibrium always aims toward a better direction, and there is always a certain grouping of order there. I am convinced of that as well. That is probably why we tend to waver one way or another in getting there.

But take it down another level and the question remains: What makes dynamic equilibrium what it is? Or, in other words, what are the grounds of dynamic equilibrium? Yet the professor said that anything beyond this is beyond what he can talk about from his position.

Tatsumi: Professor Fukuoka says that he can only drop to his knees before life’s precisely working wonders.

Takeuchi: I can identify with such humility. It’s moral respect for life.

Food provides the feeling that we are alive

Tatsumi: From Professor Kawashima Midori, we learned actual case examples from nursing.

We rediscovered the significance of eating through the mouth, which Professor Fukuoka had also mentioned was important. When one eats through the mouth, it brings out the person’s innate strength to live.

Takeuchi: From Professor Kawashima’s stories, we learned where medicine and nursing differ in their fundamental standpoints, which lead to differences in how they see patients and ultimately humans.

Professor Kawashima uses the term “all-humane.” She says nursing sees the human being in its entirety. I truly identified with her awareness that humans are not a patchwork of individual parts.

Tatsumi: Hearing the doctor’s stories reinforced my conviction that patients do not consume mere nutrients. Eating is the most basic act that makes a human what he naturally is. That understanding is where nursing begins.

Takeuchi: Doctors see patients with cause-and-effect logic based on modern science. Drink this medicine, and it should do that; do this, and that should happen. But people do not live only on those kinds of things. I understood clearly that Professor Kawashima offers all-humane care, going into a realm where logic does not explain everything.

Tatsumi: Without an all-humane view of the patient, we cannot prepare food or offer nursing care. That was where Professor Kawashima identified the commonalities between nursing care and cooking.

Takeuchi: I totally agree with her view. During the interview, you quoted a section in your book, Suupu no tehodoki – Yo no bu [Basics of soup – Western-style], which I also felt was very important.

I felt that way because a while ago you asked me, “Why do we want to and why must we serve good food to a person facing death?” This is what I answered:

“Because with this ‘good food’ the person will positively affirm his life. You can even call it a confirmation of life. This is particularly important for a person facing death. It is one’s affirmation that, ‘Despite all the things I’ve been through, my life was indeed great after all.’

“Eating is the direct-most way of feeling that we are alive. Life is not something we analyze; it is what we feel. When we don’t feel it, we become anxious and we harbor fear. The more specific this feeling is, the more deeply it resonates within us.

“For a person facing death, nothing will offer that feeling of life better than good food. Through the food, the soul of the person who prepared it seeps into and throughout his body. That is an affirmation of life. It is an indication and confirmation of, ‘I was fortunate to have lived with you.'”

I believe that the ice cubes of consommé and tea to which you devoted part of your life to serve to a dying person were a clear affirmation and confirmation of life.

That was the key point of that book, but many people don’t seem to realize it.

Takeuchi: I felt that that section is a clear embodiment of your view of human life.

We must know what is “real”

Tatsumi: We asked Doctor Hosoya Ryota about ideas for improvements in hospital food. I suggested how glad Japanese patients would be if a retired chef came to a hospital kitchen and worked on great-tasting food. But the professor said, “Under the current system, it’s difficult to secure sufficient meal fees for hospital food,” and he was in a resigned mindset to begin with. I believe that if we really have the will, we have ample chance to make hospital food taste better.

Many patients will enjoy soup – made from combinations of fish or meat, vegetables, grains and beans and thickened with flour – when taken in small portions. It is almost the norm for patients to take fluid meals and, this means rice porridge, but I think it is an imperative task for the Japanese medical field to include soup as a fluid meal for patients.

I want patients who cannot physically afford to eat to taste flavorful soup, even just a sip, and feel, “Oh, that’s good. I’m glad I’m alive.” So it’s with this intent that I have been conducting the “Soup of Life” project for about twenty years, trying to make soup a regular menu item in Japanese hospital food.

Takeuchi: I am very familiar with that project. But if hospitals were to serve such tasteful, sophisticated soup, wouldn’t the cost go beyond the limits of the insurance system?

Tatsumi: I asked the Asahi Shimbun to research how much money could be used under the insurance system. They found out that the food cost per serving that the hospital can bill under insurance is either 640 yen or 560 yen.

Takeuchi: That’s quite a figure for a single serving. I would have thought around 100 or 200 yen at the most.

Tatsumi: So I personally calculated the cost to make soup at home, and the cost per serving for ingredients went like this:

Komatsuna (turnip leaf) potage (using Chicken Clear): 100 yen
Leek and potato soup: 128 yen
Tomato juice (including cost of lemon to be squeezed in): 80 yen
Shiitake mushroom consommé: 48 yen
Brown rice soup (using Shibata brown rice decoction): 26 yen

Takeuchi: Pardon my asking, but what is Chicken Clear?

Tatsumi: This is my own recipe for, basically, chicken bouillon. You take an entire adult hen, at least two years old, and cook it thoroughly in a pot oven at constant pressure for more than four hours to obtain bouillon, which you then freeze.

Takeuchi: You use ingredients with that much time and effort, and that’s all it costs?

Tatsumi: That’s it. The cost for shiitake consommé and brown rice soup even includes the raw cost of kombu (kelp), umeboshi (pickled plums) and shiitake mushrooms. And this is the price for common, household-style soup. If hospitals bought ingredients in bulk, it should cut the cost by at least another 30%.

So what in Docotr Hosoya’s talk did you think was a key point?

I would say it was the following part: “Hosoya: Japan has seasonal changes, and the people living here have long honed their wisdom of enjoying the tastes of the regions’ and seasons’ blessings. At the root of this gustatory tradition is dashi… Tatsumi: I truly think that we Japanese are not distinguishing what we have and don’t have.”

I am not saying that we have to draw a clear line between everything, but the Japanese generally do not try to identify the rights and wrongs of matters or seek their grounds. I think we really need to rethink things in those terms.

For us to distinguish something, whatever it may be, we need to know what is “real” beforehand.

Takeuchi: Another key point was: “Tatsumi: You have to let children eat proper, good-tasting tsuyu [soup/soup base] in daily life. Eating truly good food is the starting point to honing one’s palate… Hosoya: If everyone ate great-tasting food all the time like you, they would know right away when they ate something bad.” I thought this conversation was another key. “Proper, good tasting food” is, in other words, the “real” thing.

Tatsumi: That is exactly right.

Takeuchi: In any field of life, real experience is the key. Without it, you can never tell the difference between what is good and bad. Expanding beyond the topic of food, I truly think that when a person living honestly never goes through the experience of feeling confusion or loss, he will never get to know the true way of life. You have to have a dependable foothold to take a stand and distinguish something, but without it, you will not be able to distinguish or confirm what is more dependable.

Tatsumi: Bad examples of that are Japanese politicians of today; because of them, politics has turned into a day-to-day affair. Not one of them will propose a long-range plan.

Takeuchi: So I guess that’s why we get a new prime minister almost every year. And it happens as if it’s a matter of course.

Tatsumi: Without true human experience, those that follow will be lost. Without experience of true love, you cannot find true love. Speaking of my own experience, I believe that my grandfather saw me with true affection. That was why when he died I lost the very center of my existence. Neither my father nor mother was enough to fill in for my grandfather. From that point my heart had wandered for quite a long time.

Takeuchi: How old were you when your grandfather died?

Tatsumi: Five. Until my fourth year in an all-girls school when I met the love of Christ’s cross, I had walked through darkness, desperately searching for what I would place as the center of my true existence.

Throughout this interview series, I had wanted to find a hint from which I could establish a firm view of life. From where and in what procedure do you think I should establish it?

That is a difficult question. I would think you should start from viewing your daily life with great attention. The word “life” offers us special types of notions. Yet at the same time, we cannot fully understand it. That is probably because the moment we try to understand it, we are already in it and living it. I think life is what makes you be you. What life first demands of us is to be humble about it. In other words, it is to know that life is what is given to us (a blessing), not something that we make (a product). And life can be understood only through its relationship with other life. Thus, when we forget that we are living on other lives we become arrogant, and when we forget that we are giving life to other lives, we lose hope.

Tatsumi: I think we’ve now heard your comments on what the three prior interviewees shared with us. I now want to ask you, an ethicist and a Catholic priest, to speak to us on the relationship between food and life in Christianity.

Food and life in Christianity

Takeuchi: Well it’s going to be a super-brief digest on the topic… (Laughs)

When we read the Scriptures, we find, surprisingly, many scenes of meals. And it is in those scenes that Jesus says important things. For example, from the episode of the Wedding of Cana where he performed a miracle or sign, transforming water into wine, to that of the Last Supper where he took bread and wine which we might call his last miracle.

At the Last Supper, Jesus says, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come again to you,” and consoles and encourages his disciples. He has them prepare bread and wine, and starts a meal with them. Jesus takes the bread, offers a prayer of thanks, breaks it, and says: “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way after supper, he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it in remembrance of me.'” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

This Last Supper is the origin of the Catholic Mass that continues to this day. Initially called “breaking the bread,” the act of sharing a piece of bread symbolizes that everyone shares one life or that everyone lives on the grace of one life.

Jesus, in a different section, says the following. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38) That latter “will” is that of all people to receive the grace of “true life.” In John’s words, it is “eternal life.”

Mass, simply put, is “supper.” Its host is Jesus Christ. Everyone is invited, and everyone gathers around a single table. Indeed, what we see is still bread and wine, but we understand that by the workings of the Holy Spirit, they have transformed to Jesus Himself.

Tatsumi: Why did Christ choose bread and wine as forms of his remembrance?

Takeuchi: There are many stories about that, but on a very simple level, bread and wine were the most fundamental and intimate food for the people of the time. Food and life maintain an unbreakable relationship, which is common to all people. The common denominator of all human beings is the act of eating.

Food is what makes life what it is. I believe that what a person eats determines what kind of a person he will become. The “what a person eats” here refers not only to food, but also to everything that a person requires in order to live like a person. So if someone were to eat Jesus who said “eat my flesh,” that person would have to transform himself. Jesus says, “I am life” and invites us to “eat my flesh.” It is clear that “food” directly links with the act of “transmitting life.”

Doctor Takeuchi, thank you very much for giving us so much of your time today.

Translated from “Saigo no bansan ni komerareta shoku no imi (The Significance of Food Implied in the Last Supper)” for the series of ‘Shoku to Inochi – hito ga hito to narutameni,’ Bungeishunju, November 2011, pp. 371-377. (Courtesy of Bungeishunju Ltd.)