Eat Seasonally, Eat Healthy – Japanese Food Culture

As I promised last week, my post for this week will be about Japanese Food Culture.

A characteristic of Japanese cuisine is that seasonality is emphasized. A good Japanese chef prepares artistic dishes with fresh, tasty seasonal ingredients that he finds at the moment.

Image There are many benefits of eating seasonally. Foods are tastier and more nutritious in season, and their abundance grants economic advantage. Eating seasonal food is also healthier since the natural cycle of produce is perfectly designed to support health requirements; less pesticides and synthesized fertilizers are required for food in season.

Consuming seasonal food also help build harmonic environments at home and in community, which is emphasized and appreciated by Japanese people as well. The variety of seasonal food encourages households to create home-made dishes base on available ingredients, and the communication at dining table is essential for a happy, harmonic family. Purchasing fresh seasonal food at local farmer’s market links people in the community together. The invisible chain between customers’ support and farmers’ reputation ensures food security.

Eating seasonally also makes environmental sense. Less chemicals are required for the growth of seasonal food, and our food requirements are less responsible for contamination of water and degradation of soil. Fresh seasonal food is more likely to be found locally, and thus “food mileage” is reduced, and less petroleum will be consumed. [10 Reasons to Eat What's in Season]

Seasonally is so deep-rooted in Japanese food culture that it is more of a philosophy than convention.

… eating seasonally is about more than just taste; it’s about deepening awareness of there and now, about building a deep texture into life that goes hand-in-hand with the progression of the cycles of nature. [Quote]

Japanese cuisine is also among the healthiest food culture globally.
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Japanese people consume 45.9 kg of meat per capita annually, which is 38% of that consumed by Americans. [Data]
Japanese people get more of their daily required calories from seafood and vegetables.
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On average, Japanese people consume almost four time as much of seafood as American people do. They often consume fresh raw fish, which provide similar amount of protein comparing meat while avoid contributing to the intake of saturated fat. Many cold-water fatty fish contain large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which is unsaturated fats that benefit the heart. [Read More] [Data]
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As a result, much less people in Japan suffer from heart disease comparing to that in America. The rate is lowered to 28% of the rate in America. [Data]
Reports also show that the Japanese diet includes
many vegetables, often about 5 times more than that of a typical American meal. It is arguable that eating large amounts of vegetables explain the reduced incidence of cancer among the Japanese. [Read More]
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Since most Japanese people follow satisfactory, balanced, healthy diets life-long, their rate of obesity is only 10% of that in America. Japanese meals are served with smaller portions, and dining etiquette is greatly emphasized. Consuming seasonal food also contributes to satisfaction and prevent people from over-consumption.
Why not go to farmer’s market this weekend and make yourself and friends a healthy, fresh, tasty seasonal dinner? You can also go further and decorate the dishes, and you are granted to taste the flavour of the beautiful nature.
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7 thoughts on “Eat Seasonally, Eat Healthy – Japanese Food Culture

  1. Eating seasonally was both healthy and practical for people in the past. I agree with you on many benefits you have mentioned about seasonal food, especially the freshness of seasonal food, which improves the sensory characteristics of food greatly. With all due respect, however, I don’t think that the Japanese are relatively more healthy than are Americans should be credited to Japanese people’s seasonal diets. For example, you have implicated that higher meat consumption has led to higher obesity rate in the US, but do Japanese eat less meat just because they eat only seasonal food? Besides, you have mentioned that Japanese eat more fish. Is fish really distinctively seasonal?

  2. I think it’s a great idea to eat more seasonally and locally. Last Thursday, I went to the lecture by Alice Waters, who has a restaurant in Berkeley that serves only local, seasonal food. She obviously strongly believes in this concept and she feels that it is healthier as well because the food is grown in the right place at the right time and receives all the nutrients it is supposed to. Her restaurant opened in 1971, so she was one of the pioneer’s in this local, seasonal food movement. The director of food services for the LA Unified School District was also there and he was talking about the changes occurring in LA schools recently. He said that most of the food comes from within 200 miles of the LA area and they are also trying to make everything healthier so the kids cannot choose the more processed unhealthy foods. The last person on the discussion panel was a woman who works to help improve the quality of healthfulness of UCLA food. She discussed the changes in on campus food, with the new Sproul Dining Hall (which is now the test kitchen at Hedrick). This lecture made me very optimistic about the future of our food in America as I feel we are beginning to adopt better eating habits.

  3. I didn’t know Japanese cuisine focused on seasonality, that’s very interesting. This is mostly because I have no idea what fish, fruits, vegetables, or meat are in what season. Also, is this seasonal diet emphasized only in Japan or also in America? I don’t think I have noticed a change in menus at sushi restaurants in America.

    Although it is interesting, I have to agree with Zihao. I’m not sure if most of the health differences observed between Japanese and Americans are due to eating seasonally.

  4. I definitely believe that eating seasonal food is healthier an fresher for people in general. One of my best friends in high school was Japanese and for dinner her mother would only cook with the fresh produce that she would buy at the local Japanese market. Every time I ate over her house I always felt like our meal was fresh and healthy, and I always felt content afterwards. I wish that I enjoyed seafood. I know that it is proven that seafood is a healthier meat option, but the smell and thought of fish makes me feel sick. I know that I cannot eat seafood, but I think that I will try to make a conscious effort to eat seasonal foods now rather than modified foods.

  5. Eating local food is definitely healthier for people because the crops are grown in the right place at the right time. Usually in Japan, traditional meals are brought out in small amounts, and each food of the course represent the season that it is served in. During the wintertime, the majority of the food in traditional Japanese restaurants are hot pots full of seasonal vegetables, like tomatoes, and fish, which are produced primarily during cold weathers. Whenever I go back to Japan and visit ryokans (old-fashioned Japanese inns) with my parents and grandparents, their vegetables served are usually grown locally in farms and gardens owned by the inn. Also, Japanese meat tends to cost way higher than American meat because Japan produces way less of it per capita/per year, so red meat is rarely in traditional Japanese meal courses (which really does suck).

  6. I agree with all the points brought up above and in the original post. I would also like to point out that in addition to the quality of the food and our health eating seasonal foods is also good for the environment. This is because when food that is NOT in season is desired in a certain region of the world, it must be transported across the globe to its final destination. So eating seasonally saves resources in terms of transportation and fossil fuels.

  7. I personally enjoy Japanese food, especially sushi and the Undo. I heard that Japanese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, and I think I found the reason why Japanese food is healthy from your post. Eating more seafood and vegetables give us the same intake of calories and nutrition as the other food. And eating seasonally and locally avoid the intake of chemicals in the food. We should learn something from the Japanese people to have a more seasonal diet in order to maintain a healthy body and to avoid diseases such as heart disease and obesity.

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