I had quite a surprise last week that I found hilarious and shocking at the same time. My work took me to the US, and for the 1st time I ordered take out food to eat while I was working from my hotel room.
Amongst the things that I ordered, I also wanted a drink so I initially asked for a can of Coke but quickly changed this to a cup of green tea as “I fancied a spot of tea.”
The photo shows the two pints of green tea that was delivered to me. The food that I had delivered was also enough to comfortably feed a hungry family of four. To say I was a little shocked is an understatement. Although it was hilarious to see the size of the food portions, this quickly gave way to concern and shock.
The size of the portions was great value for money, to be sure, but come on, let’s be realistic, how much can people really eat? A vast majority of it was thrown away. Even if I’d only ordered one item to eat, half of it would have gone into the bin. That half would represent a full meal for someone and if we think about the millions of people who buy take out food in the US everyday, I have to ask, how much actual food is thrown away every day? Now multiply that by a week, a month, a year, a decade, a century. People are starving out there in the world and this level of food waste is criminal.
When I was a child, I visited my Grandmother in the north of Japan. Being a city boy, the countryside was like visiting another planet - beautiful, vast, alive, ancient and new at the same time. It was the first time I had felt able to connect with nature properly, something I only had a limited sense of while living in the city. I felt a connection, a sense of oneness, as if I could feel the roots in the earth and could reach out into endless reaches of space. I was ten years old at the time but still feel the same now, only much more acutely.
I went along to ‘help’ her in the rice paddy fields and a range of other fields that grew crops such as potatoes and other root vegetables. She had worked these fields since she was in her twenties, from 5 or 6 am to 5 or 6 pm every day of the season, every year.
I had immense fun ‘helping’ my Nan and one of my uncles as I just tried to ‘walk’ in the knee deep muddy water of the paddy fields. At the same time, I couldn’t believe how much hard work went into farming. An old siren, presumably from the War years, was set to go off at certain times of the day to alert the farmers for many miles around that it was time to start the day, have lunch or go home. On one of the days that I was ‘helping’ out, I was given a bento (lunch box) that my Nan had prepared and I decided not to eat all of it, asking where I could throw the remaining rice away. The look that my Uncle gave me stopped me dead in my tracks, he was not a happy man! My mother explained that every grain of rice was precious, particularly if I understood how hard people worked to grow them. Images of my elderly Nan flashed through my young head - working so hard all day, back breaking work, never ending, never complaining. I looked at the bento box and finished it off, every last grain, being all the more grateful for the gift of food my Nan had given to me on that day.
Years later I would have the good fortune to visit the tea fields in the hills of Shizuoka with what was populated by what seemed like endless lush green bushes of leaves which were being hand harvested by women with large tea baskets on their backs. As I walked through each field, the women would pop up all at once, as if synchronised, and wave a happy greeting to me. Whenever I drink green tea, particularly from that region, I always remember them and wonder how they are.
Around the same time, I made a journey back to my Nan’s village again and as I was walking with an aunt, we ended up near their grain store. The fruits of their work, with nature’s blessing of course, lay there in small mountains of grain and I could still see my Nan working the fields in my mind’s eye.
I’ll be ordering half portions next time I’m in the US. Actually, I'll be ordering a quarter portion of tea as well.
Causes Ryoma Collia-Suzuki Supports
World Wildlife Fund
British Heart Foundation