Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Bento Subculture ... or, What the Hay?

Feeling a little superior as a mom? Does your child fit in with his/her peers by carrying the most fashionable lunch gear available? Think you know how to pack a nutritious and visually appealing lunch?

No matter how adequate you think you are, today's post should knock you down a few notches. Because unless you let a little literary influence or love of pop culture guide you in your lunch-making, then, sister, you are going about it all wrong.

An alert reader forwarded this to me earlier this week. I might as well have been reading Sanskrit. What is this? Lunch ideas? Social networking for kindergarten moms? A plug for miniature Tupperware?

But I read on. And then I Googled. I typed "what the hay is Bento?" And I quickly learned about the 3:1:2 “Spinning Top” nutritional guidelines put out by the Japanese government (3 parts grains, 1 part protein, 2 parts vegetables). As I read on, I realized this was how Molly Ringwald ate her lunch in Breakfast Club. I just didn't know it had a name. Or a full-tilt following.

"Since I'm not feeling well, all I could think to do was put a sticker on her banana that says 'I'm always at your side', " writes one Bento mom.
Oh, yeah, and prepare some veggie shumai, mini crab cakes and stir fried veggies.
Gosh, what does she do when DOES feel well? Grow the banana and harvest the crabs?

Unless you're incorporating a scene from Where the Wild Things Are into the design phase of your child's boxed lunch, you may feel inadequate as a mom. And well you should.

I read the following excerpt from a Bento post and was overcome with exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Read on:

Today's lunches were, unfortunately, a lesson in how important pre-planning is. I usually spend 10-15 minutes thinking of what I'm going to do the night before, then 5 minutes writing it down and gathering up the boxes, accessories, and utensils I'm going to use and pre-staging them -- then in the morning, unless I'm doing something really elaborate, assembly is only about a 10-15 minute process (not counting waiting time -- for instance, it's half an hour or more from the time I pop my rice cooker in the microwave till the time I use the rice, but that's time I'm in the shower or otherwise doing something else, so it doesn't factor into the prep time), and even fairly elaborate things are under 30. Last night, however, we got in late, and I was tired, and if I'd been puttering around in the kitchen I'd have felt obliged to actually do the dishes and didn't wanna, so I blew it off and went to bed without pre-planning. Mistake, because this morning I had to think while sleepy, not my forte, and then put everything together, and even these two simple lunches took pretty close to half an hour. It'd have been under 10 minutes if I'd planned it out last night, plus I'd have realized all my ranch cups were in the sink and not had to last-minute wash one.

Personally, I don't know how she forgave herself. I'll bet she never lets that happen again.

I am not making fun of Bento lunches. I am upset that the folks at Lunchables can't produce such a thing for adults. I am envious of women who have this much energy, this much creativity, this much time.

I feel a little full of myself when I use a flower-shaped cookie cutter on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I don't like to boast, but when February rolls around, I've been known to use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Sadly enough, I've never thought to photograph these creations. But perhaps I should. They are something to behold. Or, at least I thought so, until I realized that I set the Bento bar fairly low. Way down low, in the plain brown bag. Between the Cheetos and the plastic-wrapped sandwich.