My grandmother always says to me "mottainai." For example. if I leave a few grains of rice on my plate, she says. "Mottainai. Eat all grains." If the elbow of my sweater has gotten worn out, she says, "Mottainai if you throw it away. I will sew on patches."
The word mottainai is used when you are wasteful with food, or when you throw away things you can use. Wangari Maathai, who got the Nobel Peace Prize, introduced this word to the world. That's why this word symbolizes the "3 Rs": Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Looking back through time, it is clear that we waste things. Japan is only 40% self-sufficient with food. We buy 58 million tons of food from abroad, but we throw away one third of it. The amount of food thrown away could have fed 50 million people in developing countries. We shouldn't buy so much food from abroad if we're just going to throw it away.
I think students at our school have mottainai spirits. That's why we have three interesting things to make the way of thinking about food better.
First, we all eat school lunch in the dining hall. During lunch, more than 100 stuendts prepare the food together, eat together, and clear the table together. As a result, we all become good friends. Eating with many people is a lot of fun. Sometimes we exchange things with each other if we have food we can't eat.
Second, before we start eating with "itadakimasu," someone from the student council tells us the information about the day's menu.
"We can eat cucumber all year round, but the best season for it is summer. We can taste it in the main dish. Let's eat everything. Itadakimasu." This custom makes the menu each day special. Students take interest in ingredients. They try to eat everything and don't waste the food as much.
Third, a dietician from the faculity for school lunch gives a lecture on eating. We gained the knowledge for good nutrition and learned how we should eat for a healthy life. We also notice the efforts put forth by the staff of the facility. The dietician told us, "We, the staff, feel happiest when we find nothing in the vat after school lunch." We understand many people are involved when we get food, so we are grateful for both the food and the people.
The word mottainai means not only saving food but also thanking others: the farmers who grow the food, the people who deliver to our place, and the people who cook the dishes. Throwing food away means that we abandon relationships with those people.
The word mottainai is well-known to the whole world. It is important for us Japanese to carry this word to the next generation and practice it in our daily lives.