How One Japanese Student Makes Solving Hunger Part Of What It Means To Eat

Every year, the Japan Association for the World Food Programme hosts a competition inviting Japanese people to write and think about the importance of food.

In a country where the large majority of people have enough to eat, the contest encourages all people – including children – to rethink the theme of “what it means to eat” and the very real challenges of hunger that affect many countries around the world. For every work submitted, US$0.35 is donated to WFP by corporate sponsors. Last year, nearly 10,000 works were submitted, providing enough school meals for approximately 14,500 children.

The most recent essay contest in 2011 featured a number of essays on the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which happened on March 2011 and left nearly 19,000 dead or missing. Below is a translation of one such featured essay by Ms. Eriko Takahashi, winner of the middle and high school division, who wrote about her experiences as they related to food during the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“To Eat is To Live”
Miyagi Prefecture, Oosaki City Furukawanishi Middle School 2nd Year Student
Eriko Takahashi

I live in Miyagi Prefecture. On March 11th of this year, I experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake. The season has since changed, and nowadays when people have begun to wear long-sleeve shirts, food is almost always sold. Buying food is no longer something to be happy about; it has become expected. Newspapers have inserts advertising items for sale regularly now, and I see my mother browsing through them.

When the earthquake struck, it was a cold day, with snow falling lightly. That food lasted for a while without going bad was a blessing among the unfortunate events. That night for dinner, I ate the crust of some bread that I had left uneaten for lunch. If you get a piece of bread that had lettuce or ham stuck on it, you were lucky. There was no electricity, so it was difficult to find the “lucky” pieces of bread by only flashlight. Other days we cooked brown rice and ate that. We weren’t trying to be health-conscious – we ate it because we had no choice – so it wasn’t very good, and at times I got stomachaches. Sometimes we rode for tens of minutes looking for food, and when we were lucky enough to get gasoline for our car, we lined up at the long lines at the supermarket to buy food that would fill our stomachs. What allowed us to bear the situation was the hope that we would someday overcome it, and believing that there were others more unfortunate than us.

My region is on its way to recovery, thanks to the support of people around the world. Just as I was feeling this gratitude, thinking about ways that I could be of help to others, I learned about WFP’s school meal programme. I am thankful that I can support the school meals programme as I imagine people smaller than me smiling and eating delicious school meals. I had never taken the words “to eat is to live” as seriously as I do now.