Welcome to the blog for Colgate University's interdisciplinary course on food. This is the place to keep up with what students in the course are experiencing in their work at Common Thread Community Farm and through their everyday encounters with food.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


As Professor Henke told us in class before, rice is an important staple of many Asian people, including the Chinese and the Japanese. Although rice remains the most important staple in Japan, rice consumption has been in decline since 1963. The Japanese are eating an increasing amount of wheat-based products, such as breads and noodles, partly reflecting the westernization of their diet.

Annual per capita rice consumption, 1960-1999

                                    Source:MAFF, 2001

I grew up in Nagano Prefecture with my parents and grandmother. Both of my parents were working full time, so that it was my grandmother who look after me since when I was just a baby. She always told me, "Don't waste rice, even one grain of rice!  If you waste it, you will go blind!" I don't know if any scientific connection between wasting rice and one's vision, but I do know that producing rice involves extremely hard work, especially when farmers did not have any agricultural machines and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. My grandmother's generation remembered well that they didn't have enough food during and right after World War II.  Rice was hard to make and was hard to obtain.

There is a Japanese expression, Mottainai. My grandmother used it all the time. If I left food on my plate, she would tell me, "Mottainai! Finish up all of it!" Even today Japanese children are brought up, constantly being told "Mottainai" from their parents, grandparents and their school teachers.

It's hard for me to explain what "Mottainai" means; according to Wikipedia:

"Mottainai" is a Japanese term conveying a sense of regret concerning waste.  The expression "Mottainai!" can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted, meaning roughly "what a waste!" or "Don't waste." In addition to its primary sense of "wasteful," the word is also used to mean "impious; irreverent" or "more than one deserves." ...Mottainai is an old Buddhist work, which has ties "with the Shinto idea that objects have souls."  Mottainai has been referred to as a tradition, a cultural practice, and an idea which is still active in the Japanese "cultural DNA", which has become an international concept. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mottainai).

Little kids play at paddy field in my home town, Matsukawa village, Nagano, Japan.

A quasi-public agency, the Advertising Council of Japan, used to run an education television advertisement for children, called "Mottainai Obake (ghost)," around 1982. I found the ad on YouTube. There are no English subtitles; so let me explain the outline of the story here.

One day, a monk invites several children for dinner at his temple. At the table, the children leave lots of food on plates, saying laughingly, "I don't like (Daikon) radishes," "I don't like beans," "I don't like fish," and "I hate carrots!" As night falls and the children at sleep, ghosts with vegetable faces and in kimono appear and haunt them, saying "Mottainee-, Mottainee- (= Mottainai)." The children are all scared to death. Next morning the children ask to the monk about the ghosts and he explains to them, "That is Mottainai Obake (ghost)."  After that incident, the children correct their eating behavior, leave no food waste, and live happily ever after. The ad ends with a caption saying "Value (cherish) Food."

Enjoy the "Mottainai Obake" video!

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