Thursday, October 4, 2012

School Lunches (In US & Japan)

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. 
This one is from October 9, 1996.

I did not eat school lunches when I was a student. In America, most schools have lunch programs, but they are not mandatory. Everyone doesn't get the same exact meal; you are free to choose it. I was always a "brown-bagger" who brought my lunch.

At every American school there is a kitchen and a cafeteria. The kitchen staff are usually people who have nutrition or hygiene licenses. Students are not allowed to enter. Students who want to eat the school lunch pick up a tray and get in line to receive the main course (usually with meat), vegetables, fruit, milk, and a dessert. Staff members serve them. School lunch fees are paid monthly. Students who do not eat the school lunch go into the cafeteria first and eat their brought lunches. There is no group start or prayer or anything like that; everyone is on their own. The cafeteria holds all the students at the same time, unless the school is very big. Then lunch-time might be divided into two periods.

When I was in elementary school my mother made me lunch every morning. After I got to Junior High I started going shopping with her for my own lunch foods and learned how to make things on my own. In High School, it was totally my responsibility to make my own lunch. This was quite a responsibility for a student, but it was a good education for me.

I know that school lunches are a good system for a well-balanced meal. However, as a brown-bagger I was able to develop an interest in cooking and nutrition. Even now, I love to cook.

This is another one of my articles that doesn't mean too much to my American audience. So let me tell you a little bit about how the Japanese School Lunch program works.

First of all, each class stays the same all day. Unlike in US schools where the students move, in Japan the *teachers* go from room to room to teach. The kids stay put. So at lunchtime, the home-room teacher with student helpers bring food TO the kids. Each kid has to have a school lunch. There are no brown-baggers in Japan. The kids eat at their desks. There is a group "Let's eat!" (itadakimasu) greeting before everyone starts eating at the same time. When everyone is done, there is another group greeting, "We're done!" (gochisosama deshita)

This is why the fact that I "had to" make my own lunch for five years surprised so many Japanese people.


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