What we eat is deeply tied to our customs, culture and the produce of the land we live in. Growing up in the midwest (known as the breadbasket of America) beef, pork and chicken were plentiful. The crops that filled our grocery stores were often grown locally, and those that weren’t were mostly grown in America. There was an almost endless sea of options before you at the supermarket, all at a good price.
When my wife and I moved to northern Brazil, our diet also changed. The variety of food that we enjoyed in America was replaced with Brazil’s staple food of beans and rice. Add to that the local manioc root called “farinha” and a side of meat, and you had yourself a meal. Many Brazilians wouldn’t even consider that they’ve eaten a meal unless they’ve had rice and beans! And the fish! Oh, the fresh-water fish from the Amazon River is second to none. Delicious and plentiful, I developed a deep appreciation for fresh-water fish in Brazil.
But there were times I longed for a good old-fashioned American burger with cheese, corn on the cob with butter and salt, and some apple cider to go along with it. Perhaps a side of potato salad! My mind would recall times enjoyed together with friends and loved ones in America talking and laughing together as the night slipped away. Ah! There’s more to what we like to eat than just taste. Often our favorite foods are our favorites for a reason: they remind us of a good experience — a beautiful view or a special time in life. A certain meal at a particular restaurant can remind us of when we fell in love, and other places can trigger nostalgia.
Now that we live in Japan, the rice and beans of Brazil have been replaced with the staples of Japan: sticky rice, seafood and ramen with a base of soy sauce. There’s a completely different taste to the palette of Japanese cuisine. If you didn’t grow up eating things like natto (fermented beans) or mugichya (tea), you might just gag your first time trying them. That is, until you develop the palette for it. Customs and cultures are as much like cuisine as anything else. What we grow up is normal to us — until we’re introduced to something else. If we keep braving the new experience until we are used to it, we find we have grown to appreciate a deeper aspect of life.
When we expand our experiences and appreciation for other cultures, foods and places — not putting them down or being closed off to them, but embracing the good parts of them — then we grow in our ability to experience joy and satisfying relationships with others on a deeper level. While 20 years ago I could have never imagined being homesick for anywhere but the midwest, now I miss America and Brazil! There are experiences, relationships and cuisine unique to both. And when I’m traveling away from my new home of Japan, I miss the people and food here, not to mention my family!
My point is this: without forging out into the unknown, you can’t grow as a person. But growing as a person is the key to enjoying life in ways that you could never have imagined.
The Bible emphasizes the importance of family and fellowship with others by sharing meals and encouraging one another. This is key to being a healthy, well adjusted person. But what that looks like and just how it plays out in each and every culture is very different. Without a doubt, this diversity is special and unique and to be celebrated world-wide.
God’s promise is “Wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I am with them in their midst.” God’s Spirit is the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. When we meet together in Jesus’ name, the fellowship is more rich and meaningful than any other type of get-together. It is a central part of the experience that we call church, and it is bigger than any one culture. If you’ve never experienced that, it’s time to try for yourself. I’d like to extend an invitation to you to join us at Paz Church, or if you are not near us, ask around your area to find a local church that people recommend. The experience alone will expand you as a person and allow you to experience a joy you never thought possible. There are so many stories of people who, for the first time walking into church, began to cry because there was so much love and hope in the room. I want you to experience that too!
Our life is so rich now because of the three cultures we have come to love and appreciate. Each culture’s cuisine and interaction define a way of interacting with others that is rich, complex and meaningful. How much more rich will it become as the years go by? Enjoy this week’s Life in Japan: What we eat in Japan when we’re together. So many of the precious people in this episode are not only our family members in Japan, but our extended church family — the brothers and sisters that make our experience here in Japan so rich. Bon appetite!