by Danielle Rippingale
The people who produce and grow our food are a vital and yet often unrecognized part of our daily life. Farmers in Japan are facing many challenges with competitive pricing of imported foods, an aging farmer population that is leading to abandoned farmlands, and youth favoring pen over the hoe as their tool of trade.
Japan’s already low rate of food self-sufficiency is further taxed by the strict standards fresh produce must meet in order to go to market. In Japan, ‘irregular’ vegetables (those that are too big, too small, or oddly shaped) must find niche markets or risk going to waste. Ironically, while they may look perfect, Japan’s ‘model vegetables’ come with higher environmental and health costs than the organic ones that might have nibbled leaves, a crack in the skin, or be packaged without plastic. It is deplorable to think of the estimated five million tons of produce that annually fail the aesthetics test and don’t go to market.
To overcome this prejudice, the organization Vegetable Equality sought to bring irregular vegetables to the market and change industry and consumer habits. Sadly, the business and its anticipated irregular produce delivery service just recently folded. I spoke with founder Mitsuko Mori and learned that the dozens of farmers who were prepared to sell their irregular produce through Vegetable Equality feared their reputations for perfect produce would be damaged, and the demand from customers for rock bottom prices for less-than-perfect, organic produce was economically inviable.
To support local farmers and buy healthy, organic produce, visit the wonderful farmers markets during the spring, summer and autumn months. During the winter you can find organics at dedicated organic stores in Tokyo like Gaia (www.gaia-ochanomizu.co.jp) and Natural House (www.naturalhouse.co.jp), or get your organics to your table by ordering home delivery. If you are worried that home delivery is detrimental to the environment, research by the Logistics Research Centre in Edinburgh indicates that successful home delivery compares favorably with conventional shopping.
Check out these online delivery systems that either specialize fully in organics or have organics to offer:
Konohana Family offers uncertified organic vegetables, rice and other delicacies from a farm near Mt. Fuji. The brown box of seasonal vegetables is available in large (10 kinds, ¥2,100) or small (5 kinds, ¥1,050). Delivery to Tokyo is ¥750 for up to 20 kilograms, so see if you can coordinate your order with a friend or neighbor to reduce your transport cost and footprint. Don’t miss the delicious organic rice items including crackers and mochi. Check www.konohana-family.org for an English brochure and order form.
Radish Boya is a long-standing food delivery service that works with local farmers to produce low-pesticide vegetables, organic vegetables, and additive-free foods. Customers receive a box filled with in-season and available fruits and vegetables. Check www.radishbo-ya.co.jp for details (Japanese only).
PAL system operates in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Saitama and offers a range of organic products. Check www.pal-system.co.jp for more details (Japanese only).
For organic pantry items, visit these quality and user-friendly sites to find everything from baby food to baking supplies:
Tengu Natural Foods Order your healthy and delicious organic goods for baking, drinking, cooking and cleaning from this wonderful Saitama-based business. No minimums or membership required. Check www.alishan.jp (Japanese and English).
The Flying Pig The perfect solution for those who don’t have a Costco membership and can’t spare the half-day excursion, this independent reseller of Costco products will do your shopping for you and deliver to your door (at a markup of about 20 percent). Search for ‘organic’ to find various household and personal care products. Check www.theflyingpig.com (in English).
Foreign Buyers Club (FBC) To order common American food items that are readily available through this Kobe warehouse, visit the deli and learning center area and search for ‘organics.’ Check www.fbcusa.com for an English catalog.
Pre-cycling Choosing products that come in the least amount of packaging possible or packaging that is reusable (such as carrying you’re own chopsticks or silverware to replace disposable versions at take-out places, carrying a reusable bag, or reading magazines or newspapers online).