Age of innocence for consumers is truly over
As a dish, tamagokake gohan (literally "egg poured over rice"), is simple and tasty. It is made by cracking a raw egg into a bowl of hot rice, stirring the mixture into an even consistency, and then adding a few drops of shoyu soy sauce for seasoning.
I love this dish, but I never had it while I was working in the United States because I was warned of the risk of food poisoning from eating raw eggs. You can imagine my delight when I savored it with a Japanese egg upon my return home.
Japanese eggs are delicious, but our country's self-sufficiency in eggs stands at a lowly 10 percent or so.
That is because Japanese hens rely on imports for 90 percent of their feed, and the eggs they lay do not figure in the self-sufficiency ratio.
A classic children's song goes: "Red bird/ Little bird/ Why is it red?/ It ate red berries." To imitate this song, perhaps I could say that eggs laid by Japanese hens fed on imported feed are "import-colored." For the same reason, Japan's calorie-based self-sufficiency ratios in beef and pork are also surprisingly low at 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
According to farm ministry estimates, the nation's per-capita egg consumption will drop to only one in seven days if chicken feed imports cease altogether.
This extremely heavy reliance on imports sends cold shivers up my spine. Rice, the other ingredient of tamagokake gohan, is also subject to severe production cuts amid the current rice glut. Prices plummeted last year.
The farm ministry's Tohoku regional office created a poster saying something to the effect that overproduction is a "waste of resources." This did not go down well at all with rice farmers. In fact, they were furious.
Daisetz Suzuki (1870-1966), a foremost scholar of Buddhism, once observed of the difference in perception between rice farmers and consumers, "People who consume rice tend toward abstractions, whereas people who grow rice always live by the specifics." Read "vegetables" or "meat" or gyoza dumplings for rice, and Suzuki's observation still holds. Consumers tend to remain mentally divorced from the actual production site.
There are some "specifics" of rice and eggs, too. Now is the season for soaking seed rice, and perhaps trading spring chicks.
For us consumers, the age of sitting smugly at the receiving end of the distribution system and just taking what we eat for granted is already over.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28(IHT/Asahi: March 29,2008)