Miso Hungry

I can tell that I’m getting old because apart from constantly suppressing the urge to yell “get off my lawn, you kids!”, my taste in movies has started trending into documentaries. I already scribbled about Jodorowsky’s Dune, but a recent one combined documentary with food interest, Tim Delmastro’s travelogue and dieting experiment Miso Hungry.

Me, I’m not so hot on the idea of diets and dieting, as my somewhat unnatural fetish for pork products and goose foie gras might already attest to.

The last time I actively participated in a diet was way back in 2002, when I was running the Canadian component of a clinical trial and decided to go through what study participants would go through to identify what were some of the real-world challenges facing them. Turned out it was the required diet (NCEP Stage III), and not another study-related procedure, and now I know why patients diagnosed as NYHA Class IV are so depressed. The NCEP Stage III diet works (I dropped about 14 kg over 22 weeks) but it pretty much sucks the life out of enjoyment of eating because one is so busy trying to find/chew the requisite amount of dietary fibre that it becomes extremely difficult to attain the daily caloric target.

However, I was pretty up for watching Miso Hungry, fully knowing that it’s a movie about dieting. Part of it, I think, is the Japanese culinary hook.

The movie documents the adventures of Delmastro’s friend and filmmaking confrère Craig Anderson, who is living his dream as a creative type (actor, comedian, film maker) but is simultaneously being slowly killed by his lifestyle choice.

Delmastro’s premise for the documentary is actually pretty straightforward: he wants to investigate the health benefits of the Japanese lifestyle, and decides to do so by:

  • Sending someone to Japan (Anderson) to learn how the Japanese live and eat.
  •  Have said individual return home (Australia) and recreate that lifestyle for a further ten weeks to see what the Japanese diet has on their health (specifically Craig’s).
  • Sitting back to watch hilarity ensue.

There are of course the typical “fish out of water” segments of this film as the crew follows Anderson during his two weeks in Japan.

Watch Craig eat nattō! It’s like a fermented booger!

Watch Craig attempt to order a set meal from the sake menu at a restaurant specializing in tofu!

Watch Craig get beaten by a Buddhist monk!

Somewhat cringe-worthy but Anderson takes it in stride given that he is a comedian and is trying to make a film on healthy eating not boring to his intended audience.

There is actually a seriousness underlying the film because before Anderson embarks on his journey, a physician and a dietician work him over and effectively confirm to him that he is being slowly killed by his lifestyle. They are very polite about it, but among other things, the man had a baseline γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT) level well north of ULN, a C-reactive protein level of 4.6 mg/L and a whole lot of other things wrong. Anderson’s recommended maximum weight for his age and height should be around 72 kg, but he came in at 138 kg (yikes!). Anderson attempts levity, but one can see the alarm and fear in his body language as they review his lab assessments.

I won’t give away what happens, but there is a transformation over the course of the film and Anderson’s 12 weeks of being filmed, as this is sort-of what he looks like at the beginning of the film:

And this is what he sort-of looks like at the end of the film:

That’s actually pretty dramatic.

The interesting thing about the diet aspect of Miso Hungry is that Anderson would only follow three things over the course of the film:

  1. No calorie-counting, skipping meals, or additional exercise
  2. Drink nothing but green tea and water
  3. Eat all meals with chopsticks

Hard-core dieters will be really disappointed over that first one. That last one is supposed to slow down Westerners; I guess the equivalent for Taiwanese (and Japanese) would be to have everyone eat with the utensils designed for Alinea.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Miso Hungry. It didn’t teach me all that much about Japanese cuisine/culture since I’ve already had some exposure to it, but after watching the documentary, I decided to follow suit, though I had a little more of a Kunta Kinte aspect since I’m already a delightfully lemony tint, and I don’t need training chopsticks.

So, a couple of weeks ago I moved breakfast and lunch to a traditional Taiwanese model and have been limiting Western/North American/Irish items (i.e. potatoes and refined starch) at dinner. But wait! you say. Miso Hungry was about Craig in Japan. Yes, but Taiwan had 50 years of Japanese influence during the occupation, so a lot of foodstuffs and food customs have been borrowed and incorporated into Taiwanese cuisine (with slight modifications).

No medical evaluation: either: I have some fairly up to date assessments, and my GP’s automagic greeting to me is “lose some weight!” before “hello” so I have a pretty good sense of where I am. And I also don’t see this as a diet per se, because I really like the (culturally) traditional breakfast, and preparing one gives me something to do.

Apart from a little geographic deviation during Canadian Thanksgiving (the good one), I’ve been eating something like this:

That’s a 13-grain “rice blend” from the paternal village which my paternal grandparents apparently ate back in the day. Takuan, pickled cucumber, miso-pickled garlic (yes, for breakfast), bamboo shoots and mackerel. The sides vary a lot depending on what’s around.

In all honesty I actually feel pretty good since the switchover; traditional Irish foodstuffs (i.e. the potato) have always made me feel sluggish and pasta is the tool of the D*vil if you’ve grown horns and elected to serve it for a working lunch.

I’m presently supposed to keep my mass more or less constant until after the lobster event (or peanut event – it’s the same sound), but after about ten days or so, I have actually logged a weight loss of about 800 ± 50 g (I’ve got one of those smart scales though not as accurate as Butter Boy’s, which does increments of 25 g). By loss that means that I’ve detected this drop in mass, which has not fluctuated over at least 72 hours. Now 800 g isn’t a BIG DEAL in the long scheme of things, given that I know some people who can drop the same weight by simply getting a haircut and addressing the toenails and bellybutton lint, but I found it pretty interesting that minor portion control and getting off aspects of the Western/North American/Irish diet would have an effect in a very short time.

You can buy a copy of Miso Hungry here, as it isn’t presently available on any North American on-demand service to my knowledge (it is Australian after all).

One more thing: while there is a confirmed but inconsequential drop in mass, I did notice something else more interesting. My shape is changing and I seem to be getting smaller.

Here’s proof:

Yes, one less hole required for the watch strap. My wrist is slimming down.

 

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