Ecological & Functional Lunch Boxes
A two-tier bento made to fit in one’s bag for the commute to work.
The Japanese love of bento has extended to a passion for lunch boxes. Today the number and variety of cute and functional lunch boxes only continue to grow. For example, there is a slim lunch box that is designed to fit neatly in even a narrow bag. While it may be only 7 cm wide, it is a two-tier box. In the summer, you can add a little refrigerant to keep the food fresh longer.
Another facet of bento that Japanese people like is that they are good for the environment. Small aluminum cups are often used to keep side dishes apart. And recently, edible cups made from materials such as kelp or seaweed have become popular. This reduces waste, something that Japanese who care about the environment find attractive. There are even lunch boxes friendly to the environment, aligned with the Mottainai Campaign spearheaded by Nobel Peace Prize winner and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who used the Japanese concept of mottainai, which frowns on waste, to promote the concept of environmental protection. Parts of proceeds from the sales of such lunch boxes are contributed to tree-planting projects.
|Edible food cups made from seaweed. © felissimo||
Edible food cups made from kelp and bonito. © felissimo
Fresh Is Best
Rice tastes best when cooked freshly and there is even a lunch box for people that want to eat rice fresh from a rice cooker. This cylindrical bento carrier, measuring 15 cm in diameter and 25 cm tall, contains a small rice cooker. Simply close the lid, turn it on and 35 minutes later you have freshly steamed rice. In addition, two containers that keep side dishes separate sit atop the rice cooker portion, a design that also serves to use the steam from the cooking rice to heat the side dishes as well.
A lunch box that can cook rice, making it possible for users to enjoy freshly cooked rice with warm side dishes.
A toasty lunch with a lunch box designed to keep its contents warm. (Illustrations Dick Bruna © copyright Mercis bv, 1953-2013 www.miffy.com.)
Freshly cooking rice can be quite a challenge, but for people who want to eat their bento warm, there are lunch boxes that keep food warm. These containers are made of stainless steel and feature a thermos-like structure with a vacuum layer for insulation. This is designed to keep food and liquids, such as soup, warm to keep users toasty even when it is cold outside.
Bento Day: DIY Box Lunch
Ordinarily, parents make the bento their children eat, but there are many Japanese elementary schools that have a “bento day” on which students make their own bento to bring to school. On these days, schools do not offer kyushoku lunch services and students can be found in their home kitchens cutting and preparing their own lunches early in the morning. Doing so teaches children how hard it is to make a bento and they naturally feel a deeper sense of gratitude toward their parents.
Students show off the bento they made themselves on “bento day.”
As the concept of “bento day” has gained popularity, more and more books with recipes for children to make bento have appeared. Some children have even been known to make bento using these recipes and to present them to their parents.
Bento are truly an integral part of life in Japan and every Japanese has precious bento memories. For example, it is not uncommon for students to open a bento to find a message that says “Do your best” when eating a bento at school entrance exam venues. Bento packed full of parental love are important in Japan and play a role in nurturing a society of people that feel gratitude toward others.