|RANT 'N' RAVE|
Plants and animals
Illustration by Marco
I can remember a biology
lesson from high school a long time ago. The subject was "The Classification of
Living Things," posing the question, "Is it a plant or an animal?" Mr.
Jarvis taught the lesson well - so well, in fact, that I can still recall the golden rule:
If it's got four legs, or a trunk, or something like that, it's an animal. On the other
hand, if it's got leaves, it's a plant. It's a simple rule that I've carried about inside
me ever since, and it's testament to the genius of its creator, Charles Darwin, that it
still works today. A pig? That's an animal. A potato? A potato is definitely a plant.
You might like to play this game ("Animal or Plant?" you could call it) with
friends, and you would find it a pleasant, if slow, way to spend an evening. But for the
mercenary type of person, I have a gilt-edged proposition: play it for money, against a
Japanese person, and you shall win big, because none of them have the slightest idea.
I know this because my girlfriend is vegetarian, and in Japanese restaurants, it's always
the same ... When we order, she says (in Japanese, mind you, and in a great variety of
ways) "No meat or fish please". (A tip: Never say "I'm vegetarian"
because they think Vegetaria is a country in Eastern Europe). This is invariably met with
a confused frown, and then begins what is for me the real entertainment - the waiter
trying to work out what she can eat.
He'll say (this is always first, I don't know why) "Is corn OK?" to which we
reply, "Yes, all vegetables are OK." Then "Are eggs OK?" (I can see
where he's coming from here) followed by "Are potatoes OK?" (I can't here).
Much, much later, after the helpful intervention of all the diners in the place, the food
arrives, and the vegetarian option that the waiter and chef were at such pains to prepare,
will contain one of the following: Meat (ham is common), or Fish (usually katsuo
bushi - papery flakes of concentrated nastiness).
Now I'd like to ask the waiter in what type of field the pig that produced the ham was
planted, or answer that, "Yes, potatoes are OK, providing they've been humanely
slaughtered," but my Japanese isn't up to it.
A memorable evening occurred at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo, where we (eventually)
ordered tofu salad, followed by spaghetti with a vegetable sauce that the chef was pleased
to prepare specially for us. The tofu salad came with something like 2000 dead baby fish
in it (they call them shirasu boshi and they should be banned) and the vegetable in
the vegetable sauce was tuna.
And how about this one: A Japanese friend who runs her own restaurant gamely rose to the
challenge of feeding my vegetarian girlfriend. All the initial suggestions she made fell
on the wrong side of the animal/plant fence, but eventually, to our relief, she got it.
"I know, it's no problem!" she said triumphantly. "You can have
I bet Charles Darwin's turning in his grave...
Many thanks to Andrew Vickers for this Rave.