|At Heritage Radio Network's East Williamsburg, Brooklyn studios.|
Laura occasionally widens her focus on the American school lunch to examine the noontime repast of kids around the world. On our visit the show, the topic was the Japanese school lunch. Atsuko spoke about the making of her wonderful film titled School Lunch in Japan: It's Not Just About Eating! I added my two cents by describing the delightful experience of dropping in on a fifth-grade school lunch at Sanya Elementary School in Tokyo (part of a Foreign Press Center Japan fellowship tour earlier this year focusing on food, nutrition and Japanese cuisine).
|Lunch at Sanya Elementary School, Tokyo.|
|In sanitary white coats, caps and masks, Sanya|
fifth graders bring lunch food from kitchen to class.
Atsuko decided she needed to introduce the Japanese school lunch to westerners after visiting her child's elementary public school lunchroom in New York City. She was appalled at what she saw: chicken nuggets strewn across the floor, indiscriminate food waste, zero clean-up effort on the part of of students, no discernable recycling measures and worst of all, a lack of gratitude toward the cafeteria lunch ladies.
|The lunch line; students serving their peers.|
|Miso soup week: student reports on regional styles,|
illustrated with photos of what they made at home.
On our visit to Sanya, we had our pants practically charmed off us by these adorable and enthusiastic kids, and were also suitably impressed with how the lunch period is handled. We learned that the Japanese government has been concerned in recent years at the rise in obesity and lifestyle-related diseases, thinness obsession among young women, the loss of traditional Japanese food culture and a series of food safety incidents that have highlighted an over-dependence on food from abroad.
|The Sanya garden, tended by students, parents and community volunteers;|
20 different kinds of vegetables are grown here.
Even before the earthquake disaster, though, the shokuiku (food and nutrition education) movement was gaining steam in Japan. The goal of shokuiku is to increase food and nutrition knowledge, food choice skills and healthy eating habits, not to mention its emphasis on gratitude, table etiquette and local food production. The government passed the Shokuiku Basic Act in 2005; in 2010, the law was amended to require that at least 30 percent of school lunch ingredients be sourced locally. Last year Sanya won the coveted designation of "Super Shokuiku" school for the excellence of its food and nutrition education program.
Another aspect of the shokuiku movement that America's school lunch lacks is the incorporation of nutrition education and food and cooking literacy into the class curriculum. There are now more than 5,000 nutrition educators working in Japanese schools. They offer nutrition presentations during lunchtime, weekend cooking workshops for parents and students, and provide counseling for issues such as picky eating.
|Voting on future lunch entree choices.|
Sanya also leases a rice field in the countryside, which students visit in the fall to help with planting and in the spring to assist in the harvest.
|Giving thanks after eating.|
There's a lot to admire about Japanese school lunches, but Laura pointed out areas where the U.S. arguably does a better job: food and nutrition assistance for low-income students, for example, done in an unobtrusive way that doesn't stigmatize recipients.
For more on school lunches, check out Cafeteria Culture, an amazing local not-for-profit organization Atsuko helps lead that has done much to make school lunches more sustainable.