This was the first of a new series of monthly learning and networking events, The Green Leaders Forum: The Future of Food @ British Council.
GREEN LEADERS PANEL
- Luke Poliszcuk, eQualC Sustainability Communications
- Hiromi Matsubara, biopio inc., greenz.jp/en
- Jacob Reiner, Earth Embassy
Photos from the event here
It was pointed out from the start that Japanese people basically did not eat meat for about 1000 years, since it was outlawed in the 680s to the early Edo era (and even then, animals like horses and cattle (oxen or cows) were too precious to eat, as they were useful for the economy in other ways). A lot of people joined the discussion to say how it can be difficult to be a strict vegan or vegetarian in Japan, as the dashi (soup sauce) often includes extracts from fish. But fish (and whales) were not part of the ancient taboo so the western-style concept of a strict vegan or vegetarian lifestyle in the modern western sense may be rather alien to Japan.
I did wonder what Shotoku Taishi and others said about food back in the 600s: It would be interesting to know more about why Japanese people avoided eating pork and beef for so long. But it may have other roots:
In 676 AD, the then Japanese emperor Tenmu proclaimed an ordinance prohibiting the eating of fish and shellfish as well as animal flesh and fowl. Subsequently, in the year 737 of the Nara period, the emperor Seimu approved the eating of fish and shellfish. During the twelve hundred years from the Nara period to the Meiji restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese people enjoyed vegetarian-style meals. They usually ate rice as staple food and beans and vegetables. It was only on special occasions or celebrations that fish was served. Under these circunstances the Japanese people developed a vegetarian cuisine, Shojin Ryori (ryori means cooking or cuisine), which was native to Japan.Source: Vegetarian News 1998
Hiromi Matsubara said she tries to promote "green" but in a business setting, it can be difficult: "You just have to be aware of where your food is coming from and be a little more imaginative."
During the event we also talked about organic food and - there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. It was hinted that this year, Japan is about to change in a big way. Some big companies are going for the "top-down" approach and may be introducing more certified organic food during 2010. One response was that we need to look at ecosystems and consider how our food choices are affecting people and nature downstream: "Is this a problem for resources, for the ocean, for the rainforests?" Genetically modified ingredients were also mentioned as a problem, since Japan imports so much food, an several people voiced concern about Japan's low food self sufficiency and the high dependency on fossile fuels.
I liked how three Japanese concepts were highlighted as keywords to the future of food:
* Shun 旬 - the seasonal food, harvested and eaten at the prime time, the very best moment to eat that particular food
* Teikei 提携 - the direct and close relationship between farmer and consumer, based on trust, without a middleman
* Mutenka 無添加 - using no artificial chemicals or additives, getting the "pure" taste of the food
Also, don't miss the British Council E-idea Competition:
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