Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Kinge Okauchi Interview
Narrator: Kinge Okauchi
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Ridgecrest, California
Date: July 16, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-okinge-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: You got a, you started working in the mess hall at, in your block?

KO: Yeah. We had a mess hall, and I worked there for, I guess, about six months I guess. Three to six months, something like that. And got acquainted with a few people that were in that area. And I guess our mess hall was sort of lucky. We had a couple of professional cooks working there, so we had more or less palatable food. [Laughs] Palatable was a good description, that was about it. The suppliers, the army supply that provided the food and stuff, they had absolutely no idea what it took to make the food. I think the condiments we got was salt and pepper and I forget what else, there was something else. Salt and pepper... and one or two ordinary condiments. They expected us to make dining, you might say dining room type stuff out of it. There was absolutely the cooks can do except fry stuff or boil stuff and add a little salt and pepper to it. It was such that even when we got fried eggs or scrambled eggs, it was just plain scrambled eggs with nothing in 'em. You couldn't, no ketchup, no nothing. We didn't get, we got a few, guess it got about two gallons of ketchup per week for three hundred people. And I think about a pound of salt, or, I guess we had more than that. I think we had a five pound bag of salt that we could cook with, and almost no pepper. You couldn't season anything. You can make boil salt stuff this, and boil that. And the thing like, obviously things like butter and stuff were almost nonexistent. So it was sort of a mess. And whoever was supplying the place, they loved turnips, 'cause we got tons of turnips. We were throwing turnips out into the trash, 'cause nobody wanted to eat turnips. You couldn't, you couldn't do anything with a turnip. It was the kind of turnips that you could pickle. We couldn't even make pickled turnips out of the stuff. It was boiled turnips, just plain boiled turnips. Otherwise, it was sort of like army mess stuff. I guess about twice a week we could make stew with some onions, boiled beef, and potatoes, and that was about it. Almost no salt and no seasoning, and it was fatty beef. It was like army stew, it was, almost everything was floating in grease. And the cooks couldn't do anything with it.

RP: Did the food change over time? Did you start to get some Japanese food?

KO: Oh, yeah, yeah. We, they finally managed to start getting us some things like soy sauce and stuff like that. We got maybe four or five gallons of soy sauce a month or something like that, just enough to occasionally come up with something palatable.

RP: Creative.

KO: Yeah.

RP: You also, didn't you receive shipments of food at the mess hall? You said some of you originally were supposed to be a pot washer.

KO: Oh, yeah, I was hired as a pot washer, but I wound up, in between pot washing, which was only for a few minutes before the meal when they were cooking, we had to make, wash the pots as fast as we can in order to keep up with it. 'Cause we didn't have enough pots to keep things around. And we had this great big kettle type stuff that the army used for making ten gallons of stew or whatever it is, so we had that stuff to boil stuff in. So I did the pot washing. And the other times, I didn't have anything else to do, so I was sort of working as an assistant stock clerk or something like that.

RP: So you, you checked in the food was delivered to the mess hall?

KO: Oh, yeah, we checked in the food and hauled it into the little stock room, and doled it out during the cooking. They used to, when the cooks demanded such, we provided them with the appropriate days' amount. We had to be careful that we didn't over-issue the stuff, otherwise we'd run out during the week.

RP: Right.

KO: So we could check in the days' worth of food that came in and whatever it was, and made sure that that's what we issued that day. And if we had any leftover, we'd stock it up, and sooner or later we'd be able to use it. So that worked out pretty well.

RP: Did you have ice boxes or refrigeration?

KO: Oh, yeah, we had iceboxes. No refrigerator, just iceboxes. That was the other part of my job, was that the people who delivered the ice would put it in the icebox. But then we had to re-juggle the icebox every now and then to keep the ice spread out properly. So that was part of my job, I'd move stuff out. And as part, assistant stock clerk and stuff, I had the job also of finding out what the heck we had in the icebox so that the cooks could use it. So it was sort of an interesting non-routine job. We wound up, I guess the stockroom was sort of stocked with all sorts of the usual stuff. But we would, some things like flour and stuff, we would probably get a week's worth of supplies at one crack. So some days, the delivery truck would come and dump nothing but flour, some sacks of flour off. [Laughs] We wonder what the heck we're gonna use all this flour for. We've got nothing else to eat it with.

RP: How about rice, too? Did you get regular shipments of rice in?

KO: Yeah, towards the end, we got, I guess, a hundred pound sacks of rice. I think probably got the equivalent of something like a pound of rice per person per week or something like that. Or per day, I guess it was, the equivalent of that. So they were able to make things out of that. We'd have rice coming out of our ears. Trouble was, there was nothing to eat rice with. We didn't get enough -- we would get barely enough other stuff, vegetable matter and stuff like that to go with it. So it would be one serving of rice, or actually, two servings of rice and one serving of vegetables, of meat products, whatever it is. Of course, beef and stuff were relatively rare, and it was pretty hard to get fat for cooking purposes. That made it awkward for the cooks, 'cause they couldn't fry anything. About all they could do was boil stuff. We wound up with all sorts of boiled stuff. Unsalted boiled stuff. You get pretty tired of that after a while. But like I say, we had a couple of professional cooks in our crew, so they were able to do things imaginatively. But as I said, we awfully got tired of turnips.

RP: Turnips. Were there other things that were just completely offensive to people's palates like apple butter or mutton?

KO: Oh, apple butter, we had, we had stacks of that in the storeroom. Nobody would eat it. [Laughs] And we had essentially a ration of bread for enough people, but maybe the equivalent of one slice of bread for breakfast per person. Of course, some people didn't eat the bread, so that wasn't too bad. They get two slices if they wanted it. But we had... as a pot-washing general assistant, I had to help serve stuff out. We just made sure that everybody just took their portion of bread or whatever it is, and if they came back after everybody got through the line, if they came back, we could issue whatever they wanted. [Laughs] So some people got more than their ration of bread sometimes, more than their ration of just the stuff that nobody else took. Because one thing we did make sure, except for turnips, they could have all they want, for a second serving, they could take all they want as long as there wasn't any left. And if you were late, tough.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.