On February 23rd, the General Meeting of Japan Organic Agriculture Association was held at Ayaha Lakeside Hotel in Shiga Prefecture, at which Prof. Motoki Akitsu from Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, FEAST WG2 Chair, and I organized a session “Making school lunch organic” in the afternoon. To our great surprise, more than 30 people joined, which exceeded the fixed number and contributed to a lively session.
The session started off with a presentation by Prof. Akitsu, “Starting a food reform from school lunch”. He brought up a broader meaning that school lunch casts on the society, more than just a meal for children that shall be safe and delicious. Seeing school lunch in the framework of public food procurement, given the need for procurement in a large quantity, it could bring about various positive impacts. If procured in the chisan chisho (local production for local consumption) manner, it could support local agriculture and promote local economic circulation. Making school lunch organic could also secure sales for organic farmers, and enhance social effects that local people could feel more familiar to organic products since school lunch sets out in the public sphere. Furthermore, as school lunch is part of public efforts, it could catalyze a change in centralized decision-making process including national policy and local regulations and also serve an educational purpose for the next generation and their parents. Drawing upon some precedent cases abroad that school lunch was used as a stepping stone to transform the society, he illuminated that incorporating “organic” into school lunch could contribute to ameliorating not only some of the problems of local agriculture, the environment, food culture and health, but also various other issues including poverty and food gap, divergence between food and agriculture, labor problems, distribution chain and scientific technology.
Then, Ms. Hiroko Suenaga from Shokuhin Kougai to Kenkou wo Kangaeru Kai (the association against food pollution and for health) in Hirakata City, Osaka, gave a talk on the current situation of school lunch in Hirakata City and its neighboring towns from the perspective of a parent of school-aged children. She started off with her honest thought and experience, stating that she hadn’t had much interests in school lunch, thereby rarely looked at the menus of school that her children brought home. She therefore interviewed her friends who have school-aged children and her own children, and visited school lunch centers in order to get herself prepared for this talk. In Katano City where she resides with her family, school lunch used to be prepared at each school, but then integrated into more centralized system – three school lunch cooking centers, and now into one big cooking center. Seven thousand meals are prepared each day, and currently there is no plan to incorporate organic products due to its higher cost. Yet, they have a policy to incorporate local vegetables and rice when available, and approx. 60% of rice used is produced by local farmers. On the other hand, in Hirakata City where her organization has been working for a long time, while there are two school lunch centers, twenty-eight schools have their own cooking facilities. They have a better reputation in terms of taste and quality compared to Katano City. Similarly, every elementary and middle school in the neighboring Minoh City prepares school lunch at their own cooking facilities. They look for and procure local vegetables from local producers and plan menus with whatever ingredients available at that time. Why does such a difference emerge? At the moment, she sees it impossible to induce Katano City to incorporate organic food into school lunch, and thinks it is the best and most plausible strategy to encourage more and more people to learn about the current situation, raise awareness, and get motivated to make a change after she contemplated to whom or which entity shall be approached to make a change. Through her research for this session, she was able to learn about the status quo of school lunch and arrive at the awareness. She highlighted in the conclusion of her talk that it would be important that children should be able to question why school lunch does not include organic produce while they eat at home in like wise, that parents and teachers should spend time talking about food with children and to motivate more fellow citizens and build a bigger network through the activities of her association.
The last presentation for this session was by Ms. Shinko Hamazaki, the vice-principal of Uradou Certified Child Center located in Takatsuki City, Osaka. She introduced how the center incorporates organics into lunch. Her own experience of pregnancy served as a boost for the center to provide meals using good ingredients and cooking methods and food-related education over 10 years ago. They produce vegetables in their garden learning from one of nursery teachers who is from a farming household, make miso every year that they use for meals provided at the center together with children, make toys out of seeds from vegetables and fruits and bones from fishes that they eat, and make cotton candy at their summer festival out of unrefined sugar, not granulated sugar. They also sell organic juice from Anzen Nousan Kyokyu Center Co., Ltd. (the safe agricultural products supply center) below cost so that children and their parents can experience and learn “authentic taste”. In the beginning stage, the school lunch nutritionist opted out of ideas not to use ham and bacon with lots of additives and milk, but they are making slow but steady progress.
The session ended with Q&A and discussion. One of the first questions popped out from the participants was how we can include those who are struggling to make ends meet into the organic and sustainable society. Even though everyone might simply love the idea of “organic” and “sustainable”, if they have to toil and can only think about tomorrow, it is difficult to take actions and thereby they could be left out. Then, the other participant explained about her situation in response to the question: She is a single parent and cannot afford a luxurious life, but it does not mean that she doesn’t care about what to put on a table. However, she knows some other low-income families spending money on beer and snacks, which could be spent alternatively on good food ingredients. She also has a difficulty in putting good food on a table all the time and sometimes eats too much snacks/junk food, so she tries to balance out by attending events like this and motivating herself. Having said that, she proposed that school lunch, which was part of everyday life for children and their parents, could be a driver to motivate people to seek for better food on a continuous basis. Other comments and suggestions from the participants included that information and experience on school lunch and food education at the Child Center shall be passed to the respective elementary school, and that the participant is planning to initiate a practical framework to send those who are interested in organic agriculture into the administrative positions through such efforts as an informational magazine.
This event took place in Shiga, but the FEAST Project organizes workshops and seminars on various topics including better school lunch in Nagano and Kyoto. We hope to tap into the inspirations and suggestions from this event in exploring the future of school lunch across Japan in the months to come.
(Translated by Yuko K./Photos: FEAST)