Sample Page

LOGIC COOKING JAPANESE

That is the name of a cookbook I found In a house I moved into in Seattle in the early 90s.  

The book was in a kitchen cupboard, left behind.  I was intrigued by the cover, first.  That slim shape was unusual. I picked it up and put it into a box and put the box into a closet, where I glimpsed it occasionally. 

This book followed me for many years, evading discard, valuable as an archeological find of some importance, a tactile memory of my first apartment, a vague gesture at my own heritage, a totem of the grunge years.

The cover was quite nice. It featured some delicate brushwork by an artist named Fumiko Kimura. More on her later. 

The author was Kaz Kanda.   He sounds like a rock star. He printed 1000 of these books in 1972.

A systems safety and missile guidance engineer for the Boeing corporation, who had once worked under Contract No. AT(45-l)-1830 for the United States Atomic Energy Commission at the infamous Richland reactor, Mr. Kanda specialized in using fault-tree based logic approaches to minimize failure within systems of collective social activity. In the argot specific to his work, failure took the form of what was termed an “Undesired Event,” where that event was nuclear armageddon.

Kanda was well known in his field, and had had the sibiliant honor of presenting his whitepaper, “System Safety Math,” at the System Safety Symposium, Seattle, 1965.

Moved by the clarity and dependability of these logic-based systems to order the chaos of human endeavor, Mr. Kanda sought to apply his fault-tree logic approaches to the preparation of food, and the world of what he called “the housewives,” in order to liberate their approach to cooking.  He stated:

This cookbook was written to show the housewives how they can use a logical step approach to cooking a meal and to understand what ingredients and utencils (sic) to use at the appropriate time.

Kanda then sought to lay out, in graphical terms, some of  the Japanese cuisine’s iconic recipes, using logical symbols to define  ingredients, procedures, and interactions via a graphical interface. Kanda acknowledges the system’s idiosyncracies:

“The housewife confronted with logic symbols will at first think that following this logic will be difficult, but after using this technique, it will be found that it is very simple to understand.”

 

Here is his recipe for boiled rice (click recipes to enlarge):

And here, for the rather more complex Beef Sukiyaki:

Here is one for pickled cabbage: 

It is a disorienting cookbook. 

What obtains throughout is Kanda’s obsession with component failure: His key mission, here, is not to create delicious food, but to minimize undesired events.  

What lacks throughout is any apparent connection to, or experience with, the sensory or tactile act of preparing food: This is a cookbook written by someone who has never cooked a meal in his life.

As such, the book can be read as a cautioinary tale about systems overreach and the limits of the technocratic ideal.

Kanda was a missle systems specialist at the height of the cold war. His job, presumably, was to daily compound the probability of nuclear armageddon, factoring in the inevitability of human error, the possibility of human depravity, and the certainty of interpersonal deceptiveness.  The only way to live with that much irrational stress was to built systems to frustrate it out of existence; systems to bleach the mysteries of human intuition from any decision making process, that it may be made to yield to the cold glare of reason.

Kanda’s armageddon was at once more fiery and more palpable than the creeping anomie that defines ours. Kanda’s world was one of missiles exploding and a rain of fire cascading down upon Don McLean’s utopia . His solution was to create systems of social endeavor wherein all human activity could be programmed with the precision of a machine.

Kanda clearly viewed his cookbook as one for the ages.  He even offered a service: Send him your recipes, and he would convert them into fault-tree logical sequences, hand-painted on letter-sized vellum, for just $2:50 ($5 framed).

As a cookbook, Logic Cooking Japanese is a failure.

However, as an illustration of the limits of ideology,  it is a work of art.  A  myopic moonshot, Logic Cooking Japanese is a perfect embodiment of the famous aphorism:

An idealist thinks, If it’s right, it will work,’ where a realist thinks, ‘if it works, it is right.’

 

Fumiko Kimura, the fine illustrator of Logic Cooking Japanese, is alive and well and living in Tacoma.