28 June 2012

On Choices

Let me be clear: I was never the type to buy processed squares of cheese (or cheese-like substance). While Kraft singles may have made an appearance in my early childhood, it's been decades since I picked a package up at the store. Decades until recently, that is. If you open up my full-sized Japanese refrigerator, you'll quickly find チーズ (chi-zu). White, square, individually wrapped chizu.

Scout around my kitchen, my house, and you'll see things that in past lives I was against. Things like white sugar (I liked raw cane sugar, a.k.a. Hippie Sugar), white flour (hmph, I preferred King Arthur's brown), white rice (give me the nutty, earthy taste of brown rice, if you please). Okay, basically my whole grain mojo has gone to shit.

It's not limited to my アパート (a-pa-to) either.

When we go out for drinks, Amos and I will order ビール 二つ (bi-ru futat-su), which is to say "two beers." We never specifiy which kind. They only have one on tap, and it all pretty much tastes the same. (Think of it as the opposite of the microbrew lovin' PNW.)

At the grocery store, I look around to see what's there. Tuna might have been there yesterday but that's no guarantee they will have it today. Salmon could be sold out by 2:00, and the bananas that were in stock yesterday have been replaced by pineapple. Menu planning is done on the fly.

Clothing stores? Honey, if it fits and doesn't look half bad, I'm buying it. If I can figure out that it really is dish soap, it's going in the basket.  While my illiteracy in Japanese don't help matters (Names I can usually get. Descriptions? Not on your life) it seems that my life here has fewer choices then it did back home.

It became clear to me the day I wanted to buy cheese. It's not an everyday occurrence for me, but I had been obsessed with trying Joanna & Deb's Perfect Egg Sandwich and needed. some. cheese. I could have ridden down to Dean & Deluca to try their cheese counter, but that would have required entirely too much effort and more Yen then I was willing to part with for an at-home breakfast sandwich. I went to my little Sun Ace grocery store, just down the street. There, in the smallest dairy section you'll every see, I found the squares of cheese. 

The entire cheese inventory was less then five boxes of one brand of square, processed cheese. This was all that was available.

I looked at the package. "Yup, that counts."

It's liberating. Choices that used to define me -- IPA! Organic! Free-range! Whole wheat! -- have ceased to become options. Do you want it or not? Strawberry, blueberry, or blackberry jam? They're all the same brand, price, and size. Brown or white eggs? You have the option of two, four, six, and twelve packs. Bread sliced in 4, 5, or 6 slices? It's all white, with crust, and thick. Decisions are made quickly here. I am home from the grocery store in 20 minutes. Ordering drinks at a restaurants is straightforward. Once I know what something is (or am able to decipher the menu, or find it in my size), I move fast. Do I want it or not?

Besides, if it works for Japan, the country with skinny, smart, long-living people, who the heck am I to argue?

Sociologists smarty-pants have done studies that show fewer options make people more satisfied with their decision making and more (quote-unquote) happy. While I do miss my nutty, seedy, 'healthy' bread, I can't really complain about my thick, white toast with peanut cream (not butter, but cream, which is a different, sweeter, beast). I eat it with my coffee every morning. 

Boxes I used to contain myself in don't exist here. There is a sketchy guideline at best. When I'm cooking, even from my Japanese cookbooks, I never have all the ingredients on hand. They just simply aren't available. I'm wing it all the time. Kids, it's working out. Most nights, dinner is edible. Sometimes it's even delicious. I'm becoming more confident forging my own way, looking at flavors and ingredients and saying 'Yup, this should work.'

It should work just fine.

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