Monday, January 28, 2013

Japan's School Lunches: A Better Way

I was talking with a friend the other day and she mentioned that she and her husband are leaning toward sending their daughter to private school—despite the financial burdens it would present—for  one major reason: food.

My friend understands the deep troubles inherent in our food system and how these issues trickle down to public school lunches. She is drawn to certain private schools because of their dedication to a mostly-organic, nutrient-dense diet, one diametrically opposed to the corn- and soy-based foodstuffs that dominate public school fare.

True, we are taking new interest in public school food, but the breakfasts and lunches are severely lacking. As long as we are more concerned with not exceeding pulled-from-thin-air fat and calorie levels instead of providing nutrients, no true progress will be made.

Nutrient-dense whole milk from grass-fed cows? God forbid! Let's give little Mikey low-fat milk from hormone- and antibiotic-laced cows that eat genetically-engineered and pesticide-laden corn and soy instead! Our Mikeys and Susies, in their prime developmental stages, are losing out on so many levels.

But do we have to live within such a dysfunctional, bifurcated system of nutritional haves and have-nots?

An article ("On Japan's School Lunch Menu: A Healthy Meal, Made from Scratch") in yesterday's Washington Post should help us realize that there is an alternative.

Since the 1970s, Japan has instituted a proactive, common sense approach to school food. It has spent the time, money and effort necessary to concretize a system that has most likely saved the country an exponential amount of time, money and effort in the long term. In my opinion, healthier, smarter and better-behaved children more capable of becoming productive members of society are the by-product of healthier school food.

According to the Post article:

"Japan’s system has an envious payoff — its kids are relatively healthy. According to government data, Japan’s child obesity rate, always among the world’s lowest, has declined for each of the past six years, a period during which the country has expanded its dietary education program.
"Japan does struggle with childhood and adolescent eating disorders, and government data show a rise in the number of extremely skinny children. But there is virtually no malnutrition resulting from poverty. Japan’s children will live on average to 83, longer than those in any other country, according to the World Health Organization."
Most of the food is cooked—yes, actually cooked, not reheated—on site and there are no low-fat options. (Author Gary Taubes, in "Good Calories, Bad Calories" dissects our idolatry of the low-fat diet, despite there being no studies conducted on the subject.)

Whether she knows it or not, my friend seems to be choosing private school over public because private's ideal of food is closer to the Japanese model. This from a Japanese government director of school health education, courtesy of the Post article:

“Japan’s standpoint is that school lunches are a part of education, not a break from it."


1 comment:

marukusuboy said...

I've been living in Japan since 1995 and now have two daughters in elementary school here. And food is one main reason why I've stuck around so long (and will probably never leave). Back in 2011, I wrote an article for work about Japanese school lunches (it has some nice photos and videos, too). I hope you'll have a look: