Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Ensuring the future of food
November 16, 2008 6:50 PM   Subscribe

A well designed Japanese video about food security
posted by oxford blue (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love how all the people seem to be dancing, and the men fighting over corn for corn from the biofuel jerks.
posted by oxford blue at 6:50 PM on November 16, 2008


err, that should say: "and the men fighting over corn from the biofuel jerks". Sorry!
posted by oxford blue at 6:53 PM on November 16, 2008


Reminds me of the Sims.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:01 PM on November 16, 2008


Brilliant. And you're so right, well designed. It was a bit dizzying in the zooms and how much complex information was packed into such a short amount of time but it was so beautiful and quietly playful that I surrendered to the input. It's nicely organized and I like the way it ended with logical, practical solutions, so people can be involved in making global changes by making more informed choices.

I looked up where it's from. Put out by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
posted by nickyskye at 7:04 PM on November 16, 2008


I thought the video was a little simplistic (how could it not be?). Anyway, I found a recent New Zealand press release that discusses MAFF/Japan's goal of increasing food self-succificiency here.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:08 PM on November 16, 2008


The dancing cows were a nice touch.
posted by birdherder at 7:19 PM on November 16, 2008


Other than the self-sufficiency concern, it was a great explanation of the problems of the modern diet (not limited to just Japan) but I also found the presented 'solutions' at the end simplistic.

Japan has little farm land with no where the capacity to feed its population (as the first 3/4 of the video explained so nicely) so encouraging everyone to create greater demand for domestic produce will solve everything because?
posted by tksh at 7:21 PM on November 16, 2008


The presentation of information is nice, but the conclusion lacks punch. Japan eats more western food but doesn't have enough arable land to support the population that grew from trade. The solution? Eat traditional food made in Japan and let people starve I guess.

But what else can you expect from a government ministry? I'm sure the same influence happens where I live.
posted by pwnguin at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2008


It has nothing to do with Japanese food security, but if you like the style of that video, check out Röyksopp's Remind Me.
posted by aubilenon at 7:34 PM on November 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


aubilenon, that is exactly what I thought of, too. Loved the illustration and animation in this, it is mesmerizing. Cool find, oxford blue!
posted by madamjujujive at 7:40 PM on November 16, 2008


I think the idea was that if Japanese people focused on eating the traditoinal diet of rice, vegetables, and fish, it would reduce its need for imports, and it was reasonable to get these resources from Japan. Considering that Japan is an island, using fish as a primary source of protein makes a heck of a lot more sense than beef or chicken.

I remember reading a study (linked from a post here on MeTa, I think) that talked about how one component of Egypt's increasing food problem was that grains which previously had gone towards making bread (the staple food in Egypt and source of something like 80% of the caloric intake of much of the population) were now going to supply an ever increasing cattle industry geared towards the wealthy. It made me feel pretty guilty about all the times I stepped out of my apartment for a kebab or burger.

I mean, it's pretty clear that part of the goal of the video is to shore up Japan's agricultural industry by encouraging increasing consumption of Japanese agricultural foods. Even if it is not a complete solution, it still makes sense. Japan isn't as well suited for growing huge swaths of grains or legumes. It makes far more sense to limit the use of soy, for example, in soymilk, tofu, or as a vegetable than to use it to make oils and fats that are just going to make the population fatter. Trying to get them to eat an entirely unusual diet would be difficult, but appealing to an idea of the "traditional" Japanese food means they win two ways: first because odds are good that after making this food for hundreds/thousands of years, the infrastructure (both man and organic) is probably better suited to it, and second by making this appeal rest on identity and security, rather than on the old "eat less red meat and fats, they're not good for you" mantra that, as we all can see, works oh so well in most developed nations.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:59 PM on November 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


Japan has little farm land with no where the capacity to feed its population (as the first 3/4 of the video explained so nicely) so encouraging everyone to create greater demand for domestic produce will solve everything because?

Because it's far more efficient, in terms of space and energy, to grow grain directly for human consumption than to grow it for consumption by animals that will then be fed to humans. Also, you don't need arable land for fish.

The main point of the video was that Japan needs to revert its diet to one its own land and waters can support. I'm a little surprised, and worried, that everyone seems to have filtered that out and only seen the "domestic consumption" angle.
posted by phooky at 8:04 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


(Ook, Deathalicious answered that more comprehensively than I did. I should use preview.)
posted by phooky at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2008


Japan has little farm land with no where the capacity to feed its population

The video, by merely stating an assumption, does not prove the assumption to be correct. I wonder if it is indeed possible for Japan to maintain food security if the target was to provide each person with an average of 2000 calories a day. Japan probably could. Anyway, MAFF's goal is to reduce the 60/40 import versus domestic production ratio to 50/50, and the Ministry seems to be trying to encourage Japanese folks to adopt a "traditional" diet to do so - more rice, fish, miso soup, etc. However, 50/50 is probably as good as it will get, until you think about the tremendous amount of imported food it takes to produce Wonder Bread, McDonalds hamburgers and Sugar Crisps. I'm pretty sure you could achieve 100% food security (even with Japan's relatively small amount of farmland) simply by cutting out junk food or luxury foods (indeed, no Japanese family will eat anything but Japanese-produced rice, but it's fair to say that the rice used at chain beef bowl restaurants comes from Australia or California). Cutting out luxury foods might seem insane and draconian, but with the population of the planet increasing "exponentially", in the future some tough choices are going to half to be made. But I would argue that Japan will be able to produce enough food for a minimal 2000 calorie a day diet from within its own borders.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:10 PM on November 16, 2008


Or what Deathalicous and phooky said
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 PM on November 16, 2008


Japan has little farm land with no where the capacity to feed its population (as the first 3/4 of the video explained so nicely) so encouraging everyone to create greater demand for domestic produce will solve everything because?

For one thing, the fact that they've not enough farmland to feed everyone is a static variable, but endless imports are not. If the imports fail or become unviable before the Japanese re-develop their farmland, this is pretty obviously a worse outcome (60% of the people suffer) than the opposite (maybe only 40% suffer). If they continue to allow domestic agriculture to wither, they will have less to fall back on.

Also, the whole "we'll revitalize our agricultural towns" thing is not a minor issue. Youth flight is a problem in Japan, as is an aging population which has been increasingly left behind in the rush to the cities. The idea that young people should live and work in furusato (home towns) again is positive on many different levels.

So no, it won't "solve everything", but it makes a lot more sense than using imports as staples, rather than as a supplement to a domestically-produced diet.
posted by vorfeed at 8:16 PM on November 16, 2008


The whole concept of eating more fish for protein, and less cows, suffers from the issue of depleted fish stocks. While chickens and cows have their own environmental issues, you can't just announce that we're all going to pillage the seas.

I wonder what the Canadian solution to this problem would be? Certainly we depend heavily on importing things like citrus fruits and bananas, but the country is so big that importing PEI potatoes to BC might as well be an international import, given the miles between farm and table. And that's not even addressing the diet of the people in the three territories, where the climate is a bit nippy as far as growing your own nosh.
posted by Phalene at 8:22 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I live in British Columbia, which has even less arable land as a percentage of its landmass than Japan does. On top of that, I live on Vancouver Island, which has just six days' supply of food. If there is some major problem with the ferries, we'll be in a lot of trouble.

The whole concept of eating more fish for protein, and less cows, suffers from the issue of depleted fish stocks.

The problem is, industrial culture typically targets the apex predators (as luxury foods), and such fisheries are unsustainable. However, the large pilchard, anchovy and sardine fisheries have quicker population replacement rates, and are better suited for our dinnerplates. Instead, pilchards and sardines caught off Peru, for example, are used to great fishmeal for fish farming and for cattle feed. It's huge waste.

The fish I like the most when I live in Japan are sardines, mackerel (imported from Norway, unfortunately), sawara, aji, and yellowtail. All are coastal fish that can be sustainably harvested.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 PM on November 16, 2008


This reminds me so much of this commercial.

Also, when I was in Japan I saw that processed, bleached white rice is universally eaten. I was told that sometime in the mid-twentieth century Japanese people switched from using brown rice to white. White rice has almost no nutritional value and is equivalent to eating Wonder Bread. Perhaps the Japanese government should also encourage their people to go back to brown rice.
posted by Titania at 9:14 PM on November 16, 2008


Japan has little farm land with no where the capacity to feed its population (as the first 3/4 of the video explained so nicely) so encouraging everyone to create greater demand for domestic produce will solve everything because?

Hokkaido is the same latitude as S. Dakota, plus Japan's population is going to start going down soon so if anything they should be encouraging more farming out in the sticks.

What it gets down to is that ag is, as we tend to forget, an important economic sector of wealth production, alongside mining and manufacturing, in fact it is a primary sector, alongside mining.

Also, this style of presentation is similar to Areva's ad, mentioned here in the blue 4 1/2 years ago now.
posted by troy at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2008


^ psych
posted by troy at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2008


Also, when I was in Japan I saw that processed, bleached white rice is universally eaten. I was told that sometime in the mid-twentieth century Japanese people switched from using brown rice to white. White rice has almost no nutritional value and is equivalent to eating Wonder Bread. Perhaps the Japanese government should also encourage their people to go back to brown rice.

Not true at all. White rice is neither processed nor bleached, merely polished. The problem is, farmers in Japan use a lot chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are absorbed by the rice bran, so one way to deal with that is to get rid of it. My wife and I ran a school in the country, and each autumn we received a couple of 25 kilo rice sacks as an "O-Rei." I would take the rice to a local coin-operated rice polishing machine to get rid of the bran.

Japanese white rice is a great source of protein, and, of course, carbohydrates, but it's caloric content and glycemic index-ranking is less than that of refined flour.

White rice is also a luxury food. Before the end of WWII, most Japanese people would have relied on millet, yams and taro root for carbs, and might have eaten white rice once a year, as a New Year's treat.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


From Wikipedia" White rice is the name given to milled rice which has had its husk, bran, and germ removed. This is done largely to prevent spoilage and to extend the storage life of the grain. After milling, the rice is polished, resulting in a seed with a bright, white, shiny appearance.

The polishing process removes important nutrients. A diet based on unenriched white rice leaves people vulnerable to the neurological disease beriberi, due to a deficiency of thiamine (B1). At various times starting in the 19th century many have advocated brown rice or wild rice as a healthier alternative. The bran in brown rice contains significant dietary fiber and the germ contains many vitamins and minerals (see whole grain). This is in contrast to the traditional view of brown rice, where it was associated with poverty and famine.

White rice is often enriched with some of the nutrients stripped from it during its processing. Enrichment of white rice with B1, B3, and iron is required by law in the United States.

posted by Titania at 9:34 PM on November 16, 2008


Watching this film made me think of Isle of Flowers, which is thematically similar but much more focused on the idea of waste.
posted by maryh at 9:52 PM on November 16, 2008


HALFBY!
posted by tellurian at 10:25 PM on November 16, 2008


American discussion of food. No, really.
posted by nickyskye at 10:31 PM on November 16, 2008


Before the end of WWII, most Japanese people would have relied on millet, yams and taro root for carbs, and might have eaten white rice once a year, as a New Year's treat.

I'm currently reading Tokyo Year Zero, by David Peace (highly recommend it, by the way) set in the immediate aftermath of WWII, in which it appears like half of the female population of Japan are trading sex for sandwiches and chocolate bars with the American invaders.

Given that, it doesn't seem surprising that the Japanese would be more sensitive to this stuff than most countries.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:41 AM on November 17, 2008


I would take the rice to a local coin-operated rice polishing machine to get rid of the bran.

I assume it's the same in Japan, but here in Korea, in the big grocery stores (or the small market-type thingies in the villages), you choose a big 'ol bag of the rice you want, unpolished, request the level of polishing you want (to retain say 60% or 50% or 40% or whatever) of the bran, and they do it for you on the spot with the superbranmachine.

Presto-bango, rice with exactly as much fibre as you want.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:02 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was funny that the couple reproduced at the end, probably offsetting all the improvements in diet self sufficiency they made. Or maybe the kids didn't get to eat until the end.
posted by Bitter soylent at 2:20 AM on November 17, 2008


Or maybe the kids didn't get to eat until the end.
posted by Bitter soylent


I saw what you did there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:55 AM on November 17, 2008


Also, when I was in Japan I saw that processed, bleached white rice is universally eaten.

When I was in Europe and the USA, I saw that potatoes are usually peeled before cooking and serving, despite the fact that the vast majority of the vitamins and minerals are just beneath the skin and are therefore discarded during the preparation process.

However, as Cecil says you should peel your potatoes before eating, then I'm gonna start peeling.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:00 AM on November 17, 2008


I found this interesting: Since 1993 Japan has been obligated by the World Trade Organisation to buy rice from the US and other countries, but hardly distributes any of it to Japanese consumers, instead warehousing it for about a year, then donating it as food aid (including previously to DPRK), or using it for industrial purposes (eg making sake, feeding cows). Despite a highly subsidised farming industry, rice costs four times higher than the world average.

I have made a point of trying to buy food directly from farmers while I have been here and they are almost exclusively very very old people. Anyway, sorry for rambling, that's a nice video Oxford Blue, thanks.
posted by mjg123 at 3:58 AM on November 17, 2008


Man I wish every once in a while the giant sky-box was lifted away from my house and a head-sized bowl of tempura soba just kind of floated down gently to the table in front of me.

i'm hungry
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 5:27 AM on November 17, 2008


you choose a big 'ol bag of the rice you want, unpolished, request the level of polishing you want (to retain say 60% or 50% or 40% or whatever...

My fancy Japanese rice cooker has settings for all these percentages, I wish I could take advantage of them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:12 AM on November 17, 2008


However, as Cecil says you should peel your potatoes before eating, then I'm gonna start peeling.

The "toxic compounds" he mentions in potato skins are present in only trace quantities, unless the potatoes spent a lot of time in the sun while they were still alive and growing. As he also says, sprouting and a green color are the danger signs to look out for. Every store bought spud you will ever consume has been grown by someone who grows potatoes for a living and doesn't leave them lying around on the surface, and has been processed, packaged, and checked by various people on its way to you. The chances you'll get a poisonous potato are minute. And, to top it all off, it'll be green! Don't eat the green ones.

So given all that, I wouldn't start peeling potatoes if you didn't before. Potato skins are yummy.

More info on solanine and green potatoes. Also, Snopes says it'd take 4 1/2 pounds of potatoes to collect enough of the toxin to do any harm.

If you grow your own spuds though, it's somethng to be aware of.
posted by rusty at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2008


Am I the only one who, when presented with the cheerful government animations, immediately expected it to get all sinister? It's like the opening to a Soylent Green remake set in near-future Japan.

Fruity Oaty Bars are people!
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Despite a highly subsidised farming industry, rice costs four times higher than the world average.

Japanese rice also tastes about four times better than any other rice. I'm not kidding. It's good stuff. California-grown Japanese rice just doesn't taste the same.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:43 AM on November 17, 2008


My contention with the ending of the video is that it was a too simplistic compared to the build up for its case.

Yes, the goal of the video is to point out the need for Japanese self-sufficiency and why transiting back to a traditional diet will help alleviate the need for heavy calorie import but the first three-quarters of the video demonstrate quite simply that it's not a single-facet problem.

Also, the whole "we'll revitalize our agricultural towns" thing is not a minor issue. Youth flight is a problem in Japan, as is an aging population which has been increasingly left behind in the rush to the cities. The idea that young people should live and work in furusato (home towns) again is positive on many different levels.

I don't disagree at all with the case for food-security but it's issues like this that was raised in the explanation of the problem but completely glossed over in the 'solution' — how do you reverse the social migration from rural to urban? And there were things that were not mentioned but are not insignificant, e.g. depleting fish stocks.

That's my (minor) disappointment to the video: it's ending was a let down to what it seemed to be building up to.
posted by tksh at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2008


I thought at first that this was an intro to some new edition of Katamari Damacy.
posted by Monochrome at 9:11 AM on November 17, 2008


The presentation of information is nice, but the conclusion lacks punch. Japan eats more western food but doesn't have enough arable land to support the population that grew from trade. The solution? Eat traditional food made in Japan and let people starve I guess.

They could always hunt more whales. I heard that a single whale can feed an entire Japanese primary school for two years.
posted by sour cream at 9:34 AM on November 17, 2008


I don't disagree at all with the case for food-security but it's issues like this that was raised in the explanation of the problem but completely glossed over in the 'solution' — how do you reverse the social migration from rural to urban?

The migration happened in the first place because agriculture was no longer a good career for young people, so they fled to the cities looking for work. If Japan can increase the popularity of domestic agriculture, and thus the price and demand of domestic foodstuffs, this will probably help reverse the trend in the long term. There are obviously other factors involved, but I think this is a reasonable first-step toward mitigating the problem.

Also, it's not "completely glossed over" if you understand Japanese. The English subtitles are just a summary -- there's some amount of detail that they are not translating. On top of that, the Japanese version comes with Part 2 (an exploration of the change in Japanese national eating habits since the American occupation) and a booklet.

This page of the booklet describes the reversal like so (my translation):
"Effective Use of Domestic Agricultural Resources
If we wish to make the future of our food certain, the effective use of our agricultural resources is more important than anything else. It's important to reverse the abandonment of our farms, and to use our farmland to its full capacity. We must listen to the voices of our farmers, so that they can make their needs clear. Also, we must train highly skilled and ambitious agricultural managers, and along with them, various others who can help them construct a plan for farming. It's vital to attract people of talent to the field, through the development, spread, and management of agriculture."

This sounds reasonable to me. If they make agriculture a modern career, modern young people will return to it. The next page goes on to mention that greater consumer demand for domestic products, along with cooperation between domestic farmers and the restaurant/fast food industry, will "return vitality to our agriculture". Taken together, this does seem to be a pretty decent idea, one which addresses the supply side and the demand side. The restaurant thing alone could be a big change -- if they can get local restaurants and chains like Lotteria and MOS Burger to serve less beef and foreign rice, in favor of domestically-produced fish/rice items, that could really improve the market for these.
posted by vorfeed at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2008


Even though the retail cost of rice in Japan is "four times higher" than other parts of the world, anecdotally speaking, it's still extremely uneconomical to grow rice in Japan - the government-set prices are too cheap. I lived in rural Japan for ten years, and farming was a secondary income while the farmers worked during the day in an office in the city.

Landholdings are small - in most of Japan, except for Niigata, Yamagata and Hokkaido, there is no agribusiness, so there are no economies of scale.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2008


Fair enough that I'm basing my opinion on the subtitles where were, yeah, pretty obvious in missing out on a fair bit of explanation.

I really do wonder how much job opportunities can be produced by a renewed focus on domestic food? I'm a city boy so my idea of modern farming is a minimal team of people or just a family operating acres of land with machinery. As in, even if the profits were great, not enough to net the rural migration the other way or enough inflow to keep the diminishing villages alive.

Or is there something I'm missing that'll create much more jobs than I thought?
posted by tksh at 4:02 PM on November 17, 2008


Landholdings are small - in most of Japan, except for Niigata, Yamagata and Hokkaido, there is no agribusiness, so there are no economies of scale.

Which is, again, as in Korea, at least in my experience, why fruit, vegetables and meat are so much better than in North America or Australia or other places where industrial farming is viable. I'd rather pay more for tomatoes that make your head explode, they taste so damn good, myself. The cardboard veggies back in Canada just don't compare.

Like in Japan, though, the ridiculous price of rice as a result of protectionist policies and the insistence of Korea to be self-sufficient in rice (although 70% of total food is imported, so it's more of a gesture than anything) is painful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:11 PM on November 17, 2008


« Older Your favorite rock typefaces....  |  Once Upon a Time... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments