Unboxing the bentobox: An arts-informed inquiry into Japanese families’ experience at school lunchtime in Canada
Bento, a Japanese style boxed lunch, has a distinct cultural meaning for Japanese people as a medium of affective communication between children and parents. However, in Canadian schools governed by the Anglo-Western food norms, their culinary practices may stand out. This study employed an arts-informed participatory design to explore how school-aged children (6-12 years old) of Japanese origin and their parents describe their experience bringing Japanese food to school in Canada. We conducted arts-informed workshops with 16 children who created artworks about their lunchboxes, and focus groups with 19 parents (all mothers). Children’s artworks illuminated a common aesthetics about “good” lunch that closely reflected mothers’ commitment to preparing nutritionally balanced and aesthetically appealing bento boxes. Both children and mothers reported that Canadian school food environment (e.g., short eating periods, snack times, built environment) sometimes misaligns with their food practices. Some families were compelled to modify their bento to accommodate children’s needs to fit in at school. Meantime, participants’ narratives indicate the prevalence of stigma toward “junk” food that may perpetuate food shaming at school. A more inclusive, diverse and culturally appropriate discussion on “healthy eating” at school can embrace children’s and their families’ intercultural food identities.