Japan’s bursting supermarket shelves and myriad top-rated restaurants conceal a food crisis. The nation’s food self-sufficiency ratio is a dismal 40%. Its “food culture,” obnoxiously symbolized in the outside world by whales, dolphins and bluefin tuna, is an endangered species in its own right, incompatible with prevailing international norms and ecological realities. Not to mention a global population explosion that, together with rising standards of living in teeming emerging economies, places existing resources under heightened strain.
What to do? Simplify eating habits and compromise with prevailing norms, if only to avoid a potentially crippling isolation, counsels writer Kaoru Takamura in Shukan Post (April 9).
Takamura doesn’t claim expertise in either dietetics or ecology, but she sums up the evidence in plain sight. The dialogue, or shouting match, between Japan and much of the rest of the world on Japan’s “research” whaling, dolphin hunting and insatiable appetite for bluefin tuna regardless of rapidly depleting stocks, is “going nowhere,” says Takamura.
Concerning whales, the world simply isn’t buying Japan’s unyielding defense of its “food culture,” and if the annual whale hunt in frigid southern oceans is genuinely about research, “Japan had better produce some scientific research data that will convince the international community.” This, she says, it has so far failed to do.
The price it pays is to be tagged a “whale-killing country.” A century and a half ago -- the era of Moby Dick -- that might have been a compliment. Now, says Takamura, it’s “a discredit to the Japanese people.” Whether the main issue for official Japan is protein or national pride, “is our need for whale meat really so great as to outweigh the international isolation” that acquiring it brings?
Tuna for Takamura epitomizes Japan’s irrational “gluttony” -- also its dependence for nourishment on global, as opposed to domestic, resources. “Japan,” she says, “couldn’t last a day without imported food” -- meat, fish, vegetables, even processed foods like miso and soy sauce are largely imported -- “and yet we blithely stuff ourselves without giving this a thought.”
In 1970, she finds, Japan imported 26,000 tons of tuna; in 2002, 330,000 tons. Since then, regulations have brought the amount down to 200,000 tons. Even so, that’s 25% of all the tuna consumed in the world, and as for bluefin tuna, on which the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Qatar last month failed to implement a proposed export ban, roughly 80 percent of what’s left of it ends up in the Japanese market.
“Looking to the future,” writes Takamura, “the issue that makes me most anxious is food.” In 1995 the world’s population was 5.7 billion; it’s 6.9 billion now and headed for 9.1 billion by 2050. Will Japan even be able to feed itself, let alone indulge in a devil-may-care “food culture”?© Japan Today