In the world today, there are diverse issues that surround food, such as food security and health issues. Japan is no exception to these problems.
To overcome these problems, the Japanese government has come up with a new policy, which is called “Shokuiku” (it means a constricted form of food education in Japanese) based on the basic law launched out in 2005. In accordance with Shokuiku policy, the Japanese government revised the school lunch act in 2008.
Japanese school lunch has a long history and it’s said that it originated in 1889 in a local school to help poor children. In 1930, the law established and officially food supply in schools had begun. Now, 91.9% of the compulsory education schools provide a school lunch in Japan.
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I’d like to argue that current Japanese school lunch policy has become highly strategic. Today, I will explore and analyse the strategies and the benefits, which underlie Japanese school lunch.
What are the benefits of Japanese school lunch?
Recently, the increase of childhood obesity has become a worldwide issue and Japanese National Nutrition Survey indicated that between 1976 and 2001, the prevalence of obesity in children rose rapidly by more than 3% among 6-14 year olds. Moreover, the increase of improper food diets such as a skipping breakfast are other concerns. Therefore, the role of school lunch to provide nutritious food and food education has become more vital in Japan.
The importance of food education in childhood is well documented. A previous study indicated that food diets and choices are developed as children and likely to be taken through into adulthood. In many countries, the governments present categorised nutrition information and promote taking well-balanced nutrition as an important actor. However, learning the details is not easy and it might be boring for some people.
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The first main benefit of Japanese school lunch is that children can learn well-balanced meals visually every single day, which is proposed by a dietitian of each school or city. Furthermore, surprisingly, students need to serve meals by themselves from the big pots equally, therefore naturally and physically they can learn “What should I eat?” and “How much should I eat?”. It is evaluated that children learn sufficient amount about nutrition indirectly. Additionally, since the details of the menu are distributed, students and their parents can gain deeper information, if they’d like to do so.
2.Enhancing local food to improve food self-sufficiency rate
Compared with other developed countries, Japanese food self-sufficiency rate is much lower and it was recorded 39% (caloric based) in 2016. To enhance the national food production, the Japanese government set p the desired aim to increase the rate of local ingredients used for all school lunches, from 23.3%(as it stood in 2007) to 30% in 2020. Securing domestic production is crucial from food security perspectives and also environmental perspectives, regarding the emissions for transportation.
Actually, the demand of foods for school lunch in Japan costs over £ 350 million ( £ 1= approximately 140 yen) annually, thereby the consumption of domestic ingredients in school lunch contributes to expanding the domestic production directly.
In addition, promoting the consumption of local food could result in supporting the increase of self-sufficiency because most of the citizens define it based on the distance from farmers to them. Research in Ireland found that more than 90% of the consumers regard local food as food, which is produced within the country . Although the results could be slightly different depending on countries, I believe that the maximum distance from the consumers to the food might not be changed.
Currently, local food collects much attention and it seems a facile idea that “local food =good food”. However, local food has enough benefits to be recommended.
Regarding local food, five capital assets are identified.
- Human Capital(e.g. expanding local employment)
- Financial Capital(e.g. supporting the local economy)
- Physical Capital(e.g. encouraging local economic circulation)
- Social Capital(e.g. the improvement of health due to the expansion of access to foods, which have more nutrition)
- Natural Capital(e.g. enhancing farmers to increase more eco-friendly manufacture
So, it is argued the seller side and the government could allow to “use” the idea that “local food =good food” for consumers including children purposefully and strategically with the monitoring of the local food industry.
In the context of the Japanese school lunch, it could be evaluated the government succeeds in maximising these benefits in school lunch practices. It encourages opportunities to talk school officials and local farmers in order to share the information about local ingredients such as a seasonal food, varieties and the needs of schools . Furthermore, it also strengthens the system to supply the ingredients directly or by a short chain from the farmers to the schools . These systems could increase the stability of management and reduce food waste due to the deliberate production. Additionally, the farmers would be motivated to contribute to improving the health of the children and it might improve the producer’s sense of justice for the production. So, it could be the “win-win” relationship.
The challenges in the near future
Although Japanese school lunch is beneficial, there are some potential challenges to its continuation. One of these is food choices regarding religions and cultures. The rate of immigrants in Japan is quite low and it is recorded less than 2% of the population in Japan are immigrants . Since most people in Japan are Buddhist or have no religious faith, the Japanese rarely have specific choices for food except personal interests and allergies. Therefore, there has been no reason to prepare more than one menu so far. Currently, the number of immigrants has been increasing, thereby the school lunch is required to tailor to diverse dietary requirements. But, I suppose that two or three alternative menus by reservations could be a solution without making food waste.
Even though the Japanese school lunch system is facing to the difficulties, I believe that the system itself is significantly valuable. Since its fundamental principles and strategies could be applied to advanced school lunch programme, I’d like to promote it all over the world.