Spending lots of time at your schools, for many teachers, means you’ll end up eating there pretty regularly, namely during lunch time. Among the many delightful differences between Japanese and American public schools is the public school lunch.
Growing up, I was definitely one of the “brown-baggin’-it” kids who brought lunch from home as an elementary schooler. Even on the days when mom was rushed for time, public school lunch just couldn’t come close. As I became a high-schooler and got more into nutrition, while my lunches weren’t as tasty as when mom made them, I realized the only way I was going to get the protein and things I needed was to make my own stuff. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I ate cafeteria lunch.
When I say public school lunch, what images come to mind? I’ll tell you what pops in my head—and I’m not trying to be funny or cruel, but I see I a heavyset woman with plastic gloves and a hairnet taking a ladle, dipping it into a giant metal vat of mystery goo, plopping it onto my plastic, yellow-and-white tray as I travel down the assembly line of “mysterious goodness.”
Don’t get me wrong: I think public school lunch is essential (in the U.S.) because there kids who, sad to say, who might not get to eat otherwise. Sometimes I would look at school lunch, look at my own, and feel sad for the kids who had to eat the school food.
Teaching public school in Japan, though, I almost never saw anyone carrying a lunch from home, unless there was a day on the calendar (generally specified in advance) where everybody knew to bring their lunches. Nearly every kid would eat the school-made lunches. If kids had food allergies, the school would be notified and the staff would make adjustments to that child’s lunch (crazy, right?)
Having eaten public school lunch in the U.S. and here in Japan, I have to admit that I think Japanese public school lunches (給食, kyushoku) beat the pants off the lunches I remember at my elementary school (except for maybe pizza day).
Why? It comes down to healthier ingredients, more balanced meals, and the cozy feel of a small group. Click below for pics and more!