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Dietribes: Fun Facts about Sushi

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Sushi is a fairly new phenomenon in the United States. I have quite a few relatives who have never in their lives ventured to a sushi joint and enjoyed the wonderful experience of raw fish and rice. Though a big fan of it myself (as a person who even occasionally boils up seaweed for a snack), there's a lot I still don't know about the history and art of sushi. So let's dive in, shall we?

"¢ Edomae-sushi was first brought to the United States from Tokyo in the early 1960s. While looking for Japanese products to sell in the US, executives from Mutual Trading Company instead brought back an entire culinary experience, which they kicked off in Los Angeles. In the way America must make things its own, the California Roll was soon born. It was originally created to substitute for a maki roll made with toro (fatty tuna). Because the fish was seasonal, the thought was to create a roll that had the similar texture and flavor as toro when the fish was out of season.

zen-of-fish.jpg"¢ From Trevor Corson's book The Zen of Fish, "Sushi began as a way of preserving old fish. Rice farmers in Southeast Asia would pack fish in jars with cooked rice to preserve it. The fermented result tasted more like stinky cheese than like fresh hamachi; the Japanese, in adopting the strategy, gradually shortened the fermentation time, developing a fresher style of sushi that still relied on fermented rice for its distinctive sour taste."


"¢ Still, Some hungry soul got tired of waiting for his sushi to ferment. What we now think of as sushi — Edo-mae nigiri — was invented as fast food for laborers, served by outdoor vendors from small carts. Soy sauce was offered, probably to mimic the fermented fish taste of the earlier style. (For more, read this.)

"¢ Regarding that little bamboo leaf, "the bamboo leaf was a sign of freshness, conveying the message that sushi is perishable and should be eaten before the bamboo leaf dries out." I don't think that counts for the plastic ones included in the Publix containers, although, "the leaves prevented the flavors from contaminating each other and added a mild antibacterial function. The green pieces of decorative plastic that are still served with takeout sushi are a carryover from these early practices. Some brands of plastic are even coated with antibacterial chemicals." (From The Zen of Fish.)

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"¢ Making sushi is no easy feat—traditional sushi chefs undergo years of training. However, there are other options with the California Sushi Academy, including an intensive 12-week sushi chef course, which consists of 250 in-class hours plus 100 internship hours.

"¢ Still, there is a great disparity among sushi chefs. According to this incredible podcast from NPR, "Most of Japan's more than 30,000 sushi restaurants still refuse to hire women, and many men refuse to eat sushi that a woman has prepared. Men often believe that women have a higher body temperature and other physiological differences that make them unsuitable to prepare something as delicate as sushi."

"¢ On a different note, for $300/hr you can hire a model to act as a human sushi plate. There's something vaguely cannibalistic about this, but I would have still considered it as a side job while I was in college.

"¢ If you're like me, this post has made you crave some serious sushi. Here are some great tips and etiquette regarding sushi, and how to brave that intimidating sushi bar (I admit I am one who often lacks courage and simply sits at a table.) Also, a look at the menus of 50 major sushi places around the U.S., and where they get their fish. Plus, hints on how to spot good sushi versus the bad.

OK fellow Flossers, I would love to know of any suggestions about making your own sushi, the best places to learn, or even any sushi stories you have to share (like the first time you tried wasabi ... for me, I thought my brain had exploded). Although I'm keeping mum on any tales regarding me, copious amounts of sushi, and several rounds of sake bombs.

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
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University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Dietribes: Cabbage
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• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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