Reading Food Manga as a Vegan

This is a part of the Moveable Manga Feast: Oishinbo and Food Manga

I am not going to give a full Veganism 101 here, but before I get to the food manga, I have to explain a few points (if you have taken Veganism 101, you can skip to ‘On To Food Manga’):

First of all, imagine if there were a group of slaves whose main purpose was to supply human breast milk. I say ‘slaves’ because they do not consent to this line of work, and they are not free – they are kept in a confined area which they can only leave if their masters want them to move (indeed, the masters sometimes force them to move). Babies are separated from their mothers at birth because that makes management ‘easier’. Male children who shows signs of being excellent sires for heavy milk-producing progeny are kept and fetch high prices at the market (another reason to call them ‘slaves’ – they are bought and sold). Other males are killed as children for the production of child meat. As far as females … well, their main purpose is to make as much milk as possible, and everything else is secondary from their masters’ point of view.

Now, knowing this about the human milk industry, let’s say a friend gave you some gelato made from this human milk, and that it was made by some of the best gelato-makers in the world. Would it make your mouth water? Or would you be too horrified to eat it?

I have heard that there is such as a think as commercial ice cream made from human breast milk, but to the best of my knowledge, the milk comes from consenting women and the sellers of this breast milk ice cream do not practice any of the horrible things I described above. However, the dairy cow industry in the United States (and I presume many other parts of the world) does work the way I described above. If it’s not okay to treat humans that way, then why is it okay to treat cattle that way? If you answer ‘because they are animals’ I am going to answer ‘humans are animals too’.

Most people think being vegan is hard. Many people say they cannot be vegan because ‘meat/cheese/yogurt/etc. are too delicious’. I used to think this way myself, at least about some foods. However, here’s a secret: being vegan (or strict vegetarian, which is having a vegan diet without the rest of the vegan lifestyle) is SUPER EASY. Most vegans say this. You know why? Because knowing about the abuses of the animal-product industry, the thought of eating its products is downright sickening. Indeed, when I eat an animal product by mistake, I literally feel sick in the stomach. I don’t like eating fake meat which tastes too much like real meat because I associate it with that sickening feeling. I am not tempted by food made from animals; I am revolted.


I admit, I was a bit hesitant about Oishinbo because of this. It’s one thing to read about somebody eating babies in a horror story; it’s another thing to read about people paying for the abuse of animals and talking about how wonderful as if there is nothing wrong with that.

However, it turned out to be okay. The a la carte editions allow me to skip the most problematic volumes, and the volumes I do have are within my tolerance levels.

I think part of it is that they often discuss the ethics of food. Obviously, I disagree with the characters a lot about this, but at least ethics is a part of the conversation, which makes it more palatable to me when they go against my ethics. I enjoy arguing with the characters; however, I would not enjoy reading about characters singing the praises of unethical food when I am supposed to full-heartedly join them instead of have a conversation with them. And just as I can enjoy a play like Titus Andronicus, I can also enjoy somebody chopping up a fictional fish in a cool way.

Now, there is a food manga which I cannot tolerate, at least when it is in food manga mode.

That food manga is Antique Bakery.

In Antique Bakery, they never consider any kind of ethical implication of food choices. Instead, when it is in food manga mode, it’s purely “mouth watering” descriptions of body parts and bodily fluids taken non-consensually from abused animals. It’s not supposed to be horror – it’s not even a part of a greater conversation about food, like in Oishinbo, the readers are simply supposed to cheer along without a second thought. And I find that DOWNRIGHT FUCKING DISGUSTING!!!!!! (note: if you are not a regular reader of this blog or you’re not one of my friends, I almost never drop f-bombs, so when I do drop one, it really does shock people who know me).

The food manga sections of Antique Bakery are unreadable to me. I have to skim through them quickly – and rarely skim when I read fiction. I love Antique Bakery, but that is the great reservation to my love. And that is why I will never read Not Love But Delicious Foods – if it was unreadable in Antique Bakery (and Flower of Life), I do not think I could read any of Not Love But Delicious Foods. Especially considering that the Japanese people are determined to drive the bluefin tuna to extinction – it was mainly due to objections from Japan, the greatest killer of bluefin tuna, that major protections were not put in place on the species.

So there, I got that off my chest. This is not a polished post, but I’m not sure how much I can polish something like this. This is a raw topic for me.

EDIT: I forgot to include the happy part, so here it is.

I love shojin ryori. It is a traditional Buddhist-vegetarian cuisine in Japan, with a focus on getting the best out of simple ingredients. My mother claims that my best cooking is in shojin ryori style – in fact, she says my shojin ryori cooking is better than almost all of the food she ate in Japan (the one meal in Japan which she said was really good was at a Buddhist monastery, so that was probably shojin ryori as well).

Shojin ryori does appear in Oishinbo, though since my copies of Oishinbo are in California, and I am not, I cannot look up exactly where. I do appreciate, however, that the one book about food that Yamaoka finds worthwhile is a book about shojin ryori. And, to me, it makes sense. People who think a lot about food are more likely to both have strong ethical convictions and prepare food well. I actually went from vegetarian to strict vegetarian (and eventually vegan) because I developed an interest in cooking, which made me pay more attention to ingredients, which made me more aware of just how messed up consuming eggs and dairy is.

I already knew about shojin ryori before I read Oishinbo, so it was not news to me. It did, of course, delight me to see it in Oishinbo.

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