G7 leaders recently met in Japan to discuss important global issues such as terrorism. Another topic of discussion was ways in which we can improve world hunger and improve nutrition on a global level. Inspiration was taken from Japanese schools, which have possibly the best school lunch programme in the world.
Compared to the school lunches I had in the US public school system, Japan’s approach is truly visionary. And the key difference could be in perspective. In Japan, lunchtime is seen as an educational period. In the US, lunchtime is recreational. In Japan, school lunch is a time to promote healthy living, sustainable consumer practices and good citizenship.
School lunch is a fantastic way to educate children early on about the importance of nutrition. It is also a great way to form healthy habits to carry throughout life. In Japan, school lunches are prepared fresh each day by the school from locally sourced ingredients. Schools are able to determine what they serve based on availability of ingredients and input from the chef as well, but the overarching factor must be nutrition.
This stands in stark contrast to the US model, which aims to slash costs by relying on frozen, processed foods shipped from wholesellers. In Japan, meals consist of vegetables and rice with fish and soups on the side. In the US (from my experience) meals mostly consist of pizza or hamburgers with cookies on the side. Again, this stems from the ostensible drive to cut costs. Ironically, of course, any costs saved are more than made up for through future health problems. Japan, on the other hand, spends up-front for long-term benefits.
Japan must be doing something right, as they have one of the lowest rates of obesity and highest life expectancy in the world! Better yet, they also get the students to serve one another and help with cultivation of food. So we could all take a leaf out of their book.
While thinking about school lunch in wealthy nations doesn’t address the 793 million people around the world who live in constant hunger, it puts world leaders in the right frame of mind.
Eating food shouldn’t be trivialized and it doesn’t have to be degraded through cheapness, processing and wholesale distribution. Food is at the root of all human life. When food is abundant, it’s easy to forget about this. But when students are taught to appreciate the full journey of their food–from crops growing in soil to nutrients powering cells in the body–their outlook can change.