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SECOND HARVEST JAPAN ~ Delivering "Wasted" Food to Those Who Need It ~

Ms. Rumi Ide, Head of the PR, Corporate Communications/Management Team at Second Harvest Japan. We spoke with her at the group's offices in Asakusabashi.

Ms. Rumi Ide, Head of the PR, Corporate Communications/Management Team
at Second Harvest Japan. We spoke with her
at the group's offices in Asakusabashi.

October's Close Up introduces Second Harvest Japan, the nation's first food bank service. Despite still being edible, food is disposed of for any number of reasons (a practice known as "food loss"). Food banks are organizations that accept such loss and deliver it to facilities and individuals that need it. In Japan considerable volumes of food are disposed of annually (between five and eight million tons). However, there are also many people who are unable to obtain enough food to secure a sufficient calorific intake. On this occasion we spoke to Ms. Rumi Ide, the Head of Corporate Communications at Second Harvest Japan. With her we discussed the group's activities in accepting food loss from food industry companies, farmers and individuals, etc., and delivering it to orphanages, women's shelters and the homeless, etc. These activities are undertaken in accordance with the principle of "Food for all people".

Q.Please tell us about the establishment of Second Harvest Japan.

A. Our founder, Charles E. McJilton, got involved with supporting the homeless in Tokyo's Sanya while an exchange student at Sophia University. He also came to the following conclusions courtesy of his own experiences of living in a cardboard house along the banks of the Sumida River for a period of 15 months: "Although the homeless have to confront the issue of where to live, their first priority is food". It was this that led him to establish Japan's first food bank in 2002.

Q.Are food banks an idea that is generally accepted overseas?

A.Food banks started in the United States in 1967. According to data on the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) website, there are food banks in at least 36 countries. Furthermore, food banks are not just limited to advanced nations; activities are also being undertaken in developing nations such as India.
According to a food loss report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), some 130 million tons of food is thrown out annually despite still being edible. This figure equates to one-third of food production worldwide. Because in developing countries transportation, refrigeration and freezing facilities are not sufficiently established, significant food loss occurs when food produced on farms is transported. In advanced nations by comparison, food loss can easily occur at the stage between distribution and delivery to consumers.

Food drives are conducted at various events in different regions to encourage people to bring along and donate surplus food. © Second Harvest Japan© Second Harvest Japan

Food drives are conducted at various events in different regions
to encourage people to bring along and donate surplus food.
© Second Harvest Japan

Q.What does "food loss occurring at the stage between distribution and delivery to consumers" mean? Could you describe this in more detail?

A. If you consider Japanese food manufacturing as an example, the period between the manufacture and expiry date of food is divided into thirds. "Delivery to retailers occurs during the first-third", while "Sales to consumers occur during the second-third". Such ideas represent the basis of established business practice. Food that exceeds these limits is either disposed of or returned to manufacturers. Thus, such practices make a significant contribution to food loss. Delivery deadlines also exist overseas, however, in the United States producers have up until half the time until an expiry date to make their deliveries. In Europe this timeline extends until two-thirds of the time until the expiry date, while in the United Kingdom the figure is extended even further to three-fourths. Considered in this light, the so-called "one-third rule" in Japan is rather severe.

The One-Third Rule (for a 9-Month Shelf Life)

There are numerous other reasons for food loss in Japan including leftover products, inventory write-downs, faulty packaging, incorrect labeling, specification non-conformity and fresh produce surpluses, etc. We have companies and individuals donate to us food that is destined for destruction despite still being edible, and we provide it to people who have trouble feeding themselves. To the homeless we offer hot meals through Harvest Kitchen, to economically-disadvantaged individuals and families we distribute food supplies via Harvest Pantry. We also have Food Banking that delivers to facilities and support organizations, etc. Additionally, in aiming to achieve adoption of food banking principles, we also undertake Advocacy & Development. These four strands represent the basis of Second Harvest Japan's activities.

Q.In providing both meals and food to people, what are you especially conscious of?

The meal service conducted every Saturday in Ueno Park. It is made possible through the efforts of numerous volunteers. © Second Harvest Japan

The meal service conducted every Saturday in Ueno Park. It is made possible through the efforts of numerous volunteers.
© Second Harvest Japan

A. Concerning the economically-disadvantaged, there is the tendency for vegetable consumption to take a backseat within their diet. Thus, we make sure to include vegetables when preparing meals for them. We also try and give both fruit and vegetables to persons who visit our offices to pick up food. Concerning orphanages where much thought is given by staff to providing the children with nutritionally-balanced meals, the children are ecstatic if we are able to deliver things they like such as confectioneries and ice cream, etc. Moreover, when we had received Indica rice we have distributed it to foreign recipients, and we also try to supply people cut off from lifeline services with easily-eaten processed food because their circumstances prevent food preparation. Accordingly, what is required in each case is very much dependent on the recipients of our services.

Q.I have heard that there are a large number of foreign residents who use the Harvest Pantry service?

Food is handed over in person and conversation is made with each recipient who visits the offices. © Second Harvest Japan

Food is handed over in person and conversation is made with each recipient
who visits the offices.
© Second Harvest Japan

A. About 70% of Harvest Pantry users are foreign nationals. Some are introduced to us by refugee support organizations; we also receive local government tipoffs regarding "people experiencing difficulties". For those who don't understand the Japanese language, we supply them while communicating in English and French. While it might be said that the ratio of Japanese users is small, it would be inaccurate to assume there are few needy Japanese. Some don't receive assistance because queuing for help is seen as being embarrassing; others don't want their neighbors to discover their circumstances. Although you might believe there are "no people in Japan who are concerned about a lack of food", approximately one in every six (some 20 million people) live on a monthly salary of less than ¥100,000. It is also estimated that approximately 2.3 million people are not consuming food that is both safe and sufficiently nutritious.

Q.What have you become aware of when offering support to people?

A social-contribution vending machine located next to the Second Harvest Japan offices. A certain percentage of the money spent buying drinks from it is donated.

A social-contribution vending machine located next to the Second Harvest Japan offices. A certain percentage of the money spent buying drinks from it is donated.

A. I have become aware of an increasing number of young people among the poor. Living in Internet cafés and fast food restaurants that operate 24 hours a day, such people aren't represented in homelessness statistics. In that they constitute an "invisible population", they are difficult to identify and approach. However, there are certain forms of nutrition that their bodies require because they are still young. Accordingly, I want such people to make full use of our Harvest Kitchen and Harvest Pantry services.

Q.What activities are focusing upon at the current time?

The Cooking Class for Kids! is a confectionary class for children and mothers taught by professional pastry chefs. © Second Harvest Japan

The Cooking Class for Kids!
is a confectionary class for children and mothers taught by professional pastry chefs.
© Second Harvest Japan

A. We are focusing on responding to the poverty of children who are still growing up. In the United States food banks have been filling the backpacks of children from poor backgrounds with food to carry home on weekends. Here at Second Harvest we also commenced our own backpack program in 2012. Furthermore, in conjunction with a hotel, we have started offering our Cooking Class for Kids! This is a program that targets single-parent households. It is more than just providing food to participants. Rather, the idea is that they learn some confectionary-making skills. They also get to take home what they make.

Q.Finally, please offer a message to our readers.

Ms. Ide: "I want each and every individual to do what they can to eliminate the waste of food."

Ms. Ide: "I want each and every individual to do what they can to eliminate the waste of food."

A.Food loss isn't just an issue for business. Households also generate similar amounts. Rather than reaching to the back of shelves at supermarkets to obtain the newest inventory when shopping, I want people to change their consciousness and instead select the products they can actually eat within expiry dates. Stocking up on disaster rations can also result in food loss. Thus, I feel that using a rolling-stock method whereby stocks are used little-by-little and replacement purchases are made accordingly represents a good approach. If food is left over in the home even after adopting such methods, I would ask that people cooperate in food drive activities by bringing along any surpluses they have. If food items still have one month or more on their expiry dates, we would be very grateful to receive them because it gives us enough time to "match" necessary food items with where they need to go.
On October 15th (the day before the United Nations' mandated World Food Day); Second Harvest Japan will hold a symposium. The theme for discussion at this year's 7th Food Bank Symposium is "what constitutes an ideal food bank that is able to respond to the needs of business and facilities"? We would strongly encourage anyone who is interested to attend the symposium.
Apply →http://2hj.org/symposium/ (in Japanese only)