Liver, corpse demons, and historical vegetarianism

 In the US, liver has been in the news with the California foie gras ban going into effect. However, I hadn't heard until today that Japan is going through it's own liver debate. If you have asked me to NYC restaurant recommendations, I've probably told you about Takashi, a unique West Village spot that serves the cuisine of Korean immigrants who lived in Japan. One of the best dishes on the menu is the raw marinated liver, which is amazingly fresh and doesn't have the mineraly flavor so many object to in this organ meat. It is the best preparation of normal liver that I've ever had.

I read an article today about raw meat eating in Japan that says that unfortunately Japan may ban the dish due to a food poisoning outbreak that killed five people and recent scientific tests that found pathogenic e coli in some samples of liver. But the food poisoning outbreak involved raw meat (yukko, another delicious dish at Takashi, which is roughly like beef tartare) from a department store that was not graded for raw consumption. 

Most of the major food poisoning outbreaks in the past five years in the US have involved produce. So far I haven't heard of anyone calling for a ban on lettuce or spinach. It's funny because I know some older Chinese women who have told me that they view the US consumption of salads made with raw vegetables as being very risky. Of course, I am of the opinion that every food you eat is risky and banning food because of risks is foolish and almost always inconsistent with actual logic. Most of the risk is mainly for certain populations like children, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised. 

Another funny story I found when I was googling raw liver was that a Korea pop star named IU apparently relished a pile of raw liver on Korean television. The Korean Vegetarian Federation demanded an apology for the incident. Reading the Wikipedia article on raw meat in Korea, the history of vegetarianism itself in Korea is very interesting, with it gaining in popularity along with Buddhism during the Goryeo Dynasty. Luckily in the Joseon Dynasty, the state favored Confucianism and since it was said that Confucius enjoyed raw meat, it became trendy again. The practice of eating raw meat was said to originally have come from China, where is may have become unpopular because of epidemics in the 11th century.

Korea is still a place where you can get a good vegetarian meal though. One of my favorite chefs, David Chang, toured some of these traditional vegetarian restaurants. The tension between vegetarian and non-vegetarian in Korean food is evident to me in many dishes I've eaten over the years. One memorable one was a rice hearty broth with chunks of both blood and tofu. Or Ssam, which is succulent roast pork with a delicious fermented soy and pepper sauce called Ssamjang. 

It was actually at a Korean restaurant that I learned to follow Confucius' saying "Do not shun rice that is well clean; do not shun kuai (raw meat or fish) that is thinly sliced." I was with a group of paleo dieters and one made the mistake of sending the rice away. The cook, a Korean grandmother, was very concerned for our health and sent us a platter of sliced tofu. 

Tangentially, Taoism has a very strange relationship with grains like rice, some Taoists claiming they feed corpse demons that lead to death and decay. While that might seem like Taoists would get along really well with Loren Cordain, it becomes clear that the ascetics who wanted to avoid corpse demons weren't exactly eating steak, but miserable-sounding herbs and honey, a diet that seems quite similar to that of the Christian Orthodox St. Mary of Egypt, who was said to have lived in the desert as an ascetic eating various plants of the wilderness. However, her goal was penitence, not longevity, which the Taoist ascetics sought. The Taoist practice seems quite similar to modern practices of calorie restriction for longevity. 

Most American Christians are very much unaware of the ancient Christian history of meat-restriction. Possibly because it doesn't fit very neatly with modern conceptions of vegetarianism, which stress lifelong abstinence. Ancient Christians fasted from animal products on specific fast days. An devoted Orthodox Christian in Ethiopia or Greece is going to be essentially a vegan for half the year, with some invertebrates and fish allowed on certain fast days. An interesting research article I read about recently discusses how hyenas in Ethiopia are affected by fasting. If you are vegan and traveling in an Orthodox country you can often get an appropriate meal by asking for "Lent" food. Western Christianity split off and became more and more lax about fasting and at this point most Western Protestants know nothing about it. I was looking up tansy (related to Game of Thrones but I don't want to spoil you all) yesterday and I found it amusing that it was once used in dishes during Lent in order to reduce the flatulence people experienced because of legume-heavy diets. Epazote is used similarly in Mexican cooking.