On November 10th, 2018, we organized a workshop titled “What does school lunch mean to society?” as part of Organic Seminar Series at Patagonia Kyoto hosted by Tsukaisute Jidai wo Kangaeru Kai (The Association for Ethical Waste Disposal Awareness) and its affiliated company limited, Anzennousan Kyokyu Center (Safe Produce Supply Center Ltd.) and co-hosted by RIHN and Working Committee for Shoku to Nou no Mirai Kaigi Kyoto (Food Policy Council Kyoto). Prof. Takayuki Dewa from Faculty of Letters, Ryukoku University started off the seminar with a lecture on the issues around and background of free school lunch services in Seoul, South Korea. This was meant to be a catalyst for or stepping stone to the following role playing game in which the participants were assigned one of four roles – children, parents/guardians, school staff, members of city council/prefectural assembly (hereinafter, local policymakers) – and envision the ideal school lunch from their assigned perspectives.
In many areas in South Korea, school lunch is provided for free. At the same time, with their policy of providing “high-quality food” to children for “free of charge”, they use “environmentally-friendly farming products (親環境優秀農産物)” which is equivalent to “products of the environment conservation type agriculture (環境保全型農産物)” in Japan and cities directly manage their school lunch system; they do not outsource school lunch to the private sector. And, counting both free and paid services, currently over 90% of elementary, junior high and high schools provide school lunch services. School lunch services today in South Korea go back to the grassroots movement, which made a big push to the following election. Prof. Dewa explained that free school lunch services were one of the contested grounds in the 2009 national election – while the left wing stood for free school lunch for everyone, the right wing argued only for the poor and underprivileged. This was also a reflection of their dissidence on the ways welfare should be framed – universal or selective. As stated, free school lunch services were originally the policy of the left wing, so the opposition group brought up a referendum. However, now that ten years have passed since then and free school lunch is thoroughly entrenched in South Korean society, it is a policy that the right wing cannot nullify any more. And, although it started out in Seoul, it has gradually spread to other regions and is currently available in wider areas across South Korea.
Workshop participants were highly interested in South Korea’s progressive efforts on school lunch and, therefore, Prof. Dewa’s lecture was followed by a lively discussion. Needless to say, not everything is perfect in South Korea and school lunch can also shed light upon negative aspects of life there. For example, direct management of school lunch system is the consequence of an accident caused by outsourcing to the private sector. Another example is that extremely intense exam wars to get into university means a prolonged time that they spend at high schools, which consequently led to providing school lunch after junior high school level. And, the image of rural and fishing villages as “poor areas” is deeply rooted in South Korea compared to Japan, thus public procurement in the form of school lunch can serve as a public policy. But still, the dynamics in South Korean case might have inspired and excited the participants that school lunch is taken as a societal and public issue, which led to the civil movement and then put a huge impact on the following election – not as an issue that only involves students, parents and schools as in Japanese case.
In the workshop in the latter half, the participants “completely” threw themselves into the assigned roles of the role-playing game and engaged in an avid and enthusiastic discussion. At the end of the day, four teams presented various ideas on how an ideal school lunch should look like: children’s team voted for “school lunch that children can make their own choice, not imposed by adults”, parents’/guardians’ team for “school lunch that can function as a stimulus for conversation”, school staff’s team for “school lunch that teachers can relate and can be replicated at home” and local policymakers’ team for “school lunch that responds to the citizens’ needs and can be taken as their pride as well”. Children’s team demanded that they should be able to decide what and how much they eat and also suggested that a buffet style lunch could make it easier to utilize local and organic farm products that vary in amount and form. Parents’/guardians’ team discussed that ideal school lunch should be able to link people such as parents with children, among students etc. For school staff’s team, an ideal school lunch uses ingredients procured from areas where children are familiar with, functions as an opportunity for children to learn about food culture around the world, and eases a sense of loneliness and produces a warm reaction for those who eat alone. Finally, local policymakers’ team proposed that cooking facilities should be available for kodomo shokudos or children’s cafeteria to use and serve meals for those who are in need during summer holiday in order to attract more people to live in the area, and school lunch should be composed of the menu that citizens would like their children to eat. In the following discussion, the participants argued that such aspects of hygiene and safety were on the front burner and time was always a pressing issue on the ground. Putting themselves in the shoes of someone else might have given the participants a chance to further understand how school lunch are linked to other elements in society and thereby put a significant impact on society.
We, people, are connected to others and to the environment through food. Thus, thinking about better food means creating better local community. We plan to hold the sequential workshop series of “What does school lunch mean to society?” and look forward to welcoming more and more people to join!
(Translated by Yuko K.)