Conclusion: Gender Implications of Food Nationalism

By using the case of post-Fukushima school lunch politics, this chapter has elaborated the relationships between gastronationalism, disaster, and citizen activism and had shown the gendered discourses that shaped the dynamics among them. In this concluding part of the chapter, I would like to discuss more generally several themes that are worth exploring with regard to the relationship between sexual order, food, and nationstate. How does the gender perspective enrich our understanding of gastronationalism?

Firstly, because food and food preparation are commonly understood to constitute an essential part of the reproductive work shouldered mainly by women, social relationships around food - including gastro- nationalism - need to be addressed from a gender perspective. The case of the Fukushima accident raised a profound paradox. Preparation of [1]

good food has historically been a core of proper Japanese womanhood, which explains why many mothers felt more concerned about food safety issues after the nuclear accident than fathers.[2] School lunches are a particularly poignant case as it is food fed to children - another feminized realm. Yet, when mothers tried to voice concerns in public, they were strongly chastised for spreading harmful rumours rather than being praised for the dutiful conduct of their maternal responsibilities. It appears that mothers are still expected to focus on the preparation of ofukuro no aji (mother’s taste) as yasashii okasan (gentle mother), rather than engage in political actions as radical citizens that might disturb the existing politico-economic establishment.

Secondly, gastronationalism, that is, viewing food through a cosmopolitan prism, features nation-states as the protectors of gastronomic traditions and foodways. Increasingly, food-related standards and rules are set internationally, among nation-states. This endows the nation-states with critical power to set and negotiate international rules and norms. For instance, when import bans were issued on foods from particular prefectures based on concerns over radiation contamination, the negotiation fell on the shoulders of the national government. This elevated role of the national government as the guardian of national foods tends to obfuscate the government’s failures and complacency in facing the food safety challenges, as in the case of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Beyond the case of the nuclear accident examined in this chapter, the interpretation of the state as the protector of patrimony requires critical analysis. For instance, the framing of the state as the protector makes it difficult to see how for instance participation in free trade regimes has accelerated challenges to domestic food producers by inviting cheaper imports and by reducing subsidies to domestic producers. The idea of ‘patrimony’ — the inheritance from one’s father — is worth dwelling on here; while gastronationalism showcases the nation-state as the ultimate guardian of food traditions and foodways, we need to ask whose traditions, food practices, and knowledge are valued. Given male dominance in politics and economics in Japan, women’s knowledge and labour that is essential to local foodways might not be fully recognized and rewarded.

Gastronationalism privileges the protection of local foodways as a national project by the state, but the real praxis of transmitting and preserving foodways takes place on the ground, by producers and consumers, and not necessarily via the market place.

Thirdly, gastronationalism envisions food as an international commodity, making it difficult to raise questions about its quality from within, as it would be seen as infringing on the nation’s treasured pride. As we have seen, food safety concerns after Fukushima by the Japanese were interpreted as a reflection of a lack of patriotism, rather than as a patriotic act to provide the safest and most nutritious foods to Japanese children. Furthermore, the questioning of food quality - as in the case of women’s concerns regarding the safety of school lunches - tends to be silenced by what I call ‘food policing’; in the name not only of national interests but also of science.[3] This is because the food quality debate is increasingly scientized and tends to boil down to scientific and technical parameters. As the prevailing stereotype of women is that they are weak in technical and scientific matters, scientiza- tion of food quality issues tends to marginalize women’s concerns. Their concerns are, as in the case examined in this chapter, rendered trivial because women are labelled as being unscientific and irrational.

The Fukushima nuclear accident posed serious challenges to the idea that Japanese food is safe, ofhigh quality, and something ofwhich Japanese people can be proud internationally. This chapter has shown how postdisaster nationalism and gastronationalism exerted complex influences on how the Japanese government and politico-economic elites tried to resurrect it from its tarnished reputation, with gendered consequences.

  • [1] Samuels, ‘Japan’s Rhetoric of Crisis’, 2.
  • [2] Tateno and Yokoyama, ‘Public Anxiety’.
  • [3] Kimura, Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists.
 
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