Politics and food choice in Japan
To the editor,
The Ari LeVaux article regarding food safety and nutrition (Telegraph, Dec. 22, 2011) drew my attention and I would like to share what the Japanese government has done to raise awareness about food, nutritional issues, and local food consumption. Americans may find it interesting.

Similar to America, Japanese society beginning in the 1980s started to see the deterioration of the diets of the Japanese people, the emerging problem of overweight children, and issues of food safety. They were especially concerned about their fading food culture due to the prevalence of Western food. The national government wanted to protect this food culture due to its uniqueness and health benefits. In response to growing public concern about these food-related issues, the Basic Law of Food Education was created in 2005.  It is regarded as an unprecedented law in the sense that it was the product of the collaboration of multiple ministries of the Japanese government. Its purpose was to improve the diets of Japanese citizens of all ages. The law promotes acquisition of knowledge about food and nutrition and encourages parents, educators and the community to collaborate and promote food education. It also fosters collaborations between the private sector and the public domain.

Unlike the United States, Japanese public schools are primarily funded by the national government and they follow the guidelines of a national curriculum. Approximately the same time the food education law was being created, the Ministry of Education began to strongly encourage public schools to work directly with business people, including those in the food industry. Do you know what happened? Before the Basic Law of Food Education was publicized, a leading potato chip maker realized its product would be targeted as unhealthy and in 2003 started providing “snack lessons” at public elementary schools. During these lessons, corporate “instructors” told children that snacks are necessary and potato chips are not a problem as long as an appropriate amount is consumed.
Furthermore, in 2005, the year the Basic Law of Food Education came out, McDonald’s Japan started providing educators with a free DVD for a food education program for school-aged children. Ironically, these two companies claimed their activities would equip children with appropriate knowledge and help them make better decisions about healthy diets. They indicate that the purpose of their activity is consistent with the national movement of food education.

Many critics showed strong concern about the companies’ business intent at tax-supported schools. The media began reporting mixed feelings about the intention of these companies, and in April 2009, the national government sent a strong message to all public schools, requiring them to hire nutrition teachers who would be responsible for providing quality food education. By doing so, schools would not have to depend on corporate instructors for food education. Having had personal interviews with nutrition teachers, I found them critical of these snack and fast food makers’ educational programs. They tended to want to keep them away from their schools. It will be interesting to see what these nutrition teachers ultimately do with these currently very popular corporate food education programs.

While recognizing the side effects of these corporate food education programs, I must point out that the national movement made a positive impact on Japanese society. More Japanese are now educated about food and also fully appreciate their locally grown fruits and vegetables. They are choosing local instead of imported foods that are potentially unsafe. In a sense, everybody becomes food police watching food choices and safety issues. Local food consumption dramatically increased nationwide, and local farmers are now flourishing.

Recent statistics revealed that for the first time in two decades, the trend of overweight children was finally reversed. The media reported the diets of children significantly improved and they are hopeful for the future. Now the private sector and all levels of government work together under the name of food education. Unlike Americans, who value individualism and do not appreciate government regulations in their lives, the Japanese society has a collectivist orientation, which contributes to the success of this national movement of food education.

I realize that regardless of where you live, food education is a global movement that everybody is concerned about, and each country deals with food issues differently. What is common is that we all want healthy lives and our diet is the key to our health. Therefore, we need to educate ourselves about foods in order to have a quality of food choices. The food education law in Japan is just one example of the global efforts regarding food choice.

– Kaori Takano, International Business teacher, Fort Lewis College

Poking holes in the bag-it campaign
Dear Ed,
I’m currently using a friend’s apartment in southern California, thus I have to walk the dog on a leash several times a day. Good thing I have some plastic grocery bags to pick up the poop.  My wife uses the plastic  grocery bags to clean out the cat sand box. Went to the convenience store last night for some ice.  Good thing it came in a plastic bag or it would of melted before I got home.  Newspapers are protected from the heavy dew with plastic bags.  Who wants to read a soggy newspaper?  Why bother picking up your dry cleaning and throwing it in the back seat and have it get dirty again because there’s no plastic bag protecting that favorite blouse?
Unless and until the local tree-huggers remove the PLASTIC ski boxes on top of their Subaru’s and PLASTIC kayaks (both of which screw up the aerodynamics of the car leading to poor gas mileage),  I can’t take this move to ban plastic grocery bags seriously.
– Dennis Pierce, SoCal

Getting into GOOOH
To the Editor,
2012 will be one of the most important election years in the history of our country. We have accepted the pitiful performance of our political representatives far too long. Congress’ approval rate is now 10 percent. It is the most dysfunctional Congress since the civil war.

We cannot get them to balance the budget, we have a colossal debt, the economy is in the gutter, and the list just goes on. Projections show the gridlock is likely to continue after this election as the Senate will continue to be subject to filibuster. Only a House of Representatives that is willing to take a stand can force significant change.

The American people must step up to find and elect House representatives who will stand up for the country. We cannot afford to let the hoopla of a Presidential election distract us. A new president and a few new seats in Congress is not enough. We need a complete overhaul, and we can do that in 2012 through the grassroots, nonpartisan efforts of “Get Out of Our House Now,” aka GOOOH. We need people now to help select a House candidate in their district.

This is it folks. If you do not engage, what comes next could be more painful than anything we have ever experienced. The time to act is now. Go to Goooh.com and join the process to ensure the future of yourself, your families, friends, children and grandchildren.
– C.C. Rice, Texas City, Texas