Guest Post - Mike Lewis - Food Revolution in Japan #BookaDay

by: EJ on 05/28/2012
Posted in: Guest Posts

Congratulations to the weekend winners of  The Resilience Imperative in our Win a #BookaDay for the Month contest- @axiomnews, @GevoelVoorHumus, @green_ethics.

To enter all you have to do is retweet our contest tweet @NewSocietyPub or share this post on the social media of your choice using the SHARE THIS widget that appears above and below this post. Then, leave a comment on this blog entry to let us know you have done so. (If you don’t we won’t know you have shared!) We will randomly select a winner from each day's entries.

Finding out what’s happening internationally related to food security and sustainable living can be difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language. In this excerpt from The Resilience Imperative (from Chapter 6, “Seeking Pathways to Sustainable Food”), Mike Lewis tells the story of how the teikei movement developed in Japan.


 “Seikatsu” means “living people.” The significance of this for members of Japan’s Seikatsu Consumer Co-operative is a down-to-earth story of transformation in process. The cooperative’s humble beginnings involved women sitting together at kitchen tables talking about food. Some disturbing trends in their region bothered them — an increase in imported foods, the consistent loss of farmland to development, and the accelerating migration of farmers to the cities. They were also worried about the quality and safety of their food, a concern closer to their kitchens that was deeply rooted in the privation so many suffered in the post-war years.

 In 1965, this group of women approached a local farm family with an idea to address the issues of concern to them. The essence of their proposal was that the farmer would provide their families with fresh milk, fresh fruits, and vegetables, and the families would guarantee to pay a negotiated fair price. The farmer agreed so long as they organized a large enough number of people willing to commit to purchasing the farm’s production. A contract was drawn and the teikei concept was born. Translated literally, teikei means “partnership,” but philosophically it means “food with the farmer’s face on it.” Twenty years later, the teikei idea migrated to the United States, inspiring the first community-supported farm at Indian Line Farm.

 The heart and root of the movement is a collective purchasing model that seeks to make the co-op itself a “living instrument” for social and ecological change. The basic building block of Seikatsu is the Han (“small group”), which in local areas collectively plans and purchases food.  What emerged as an ideal Han consisted of seven to ten members, each representing a household that would participate on a voluntary basis. Today there are about 11 million members of Hans throughout Japan, most of them belonging to co-ops associated with the Japanese  Consumer Cooperative Union. Underpinning the Han concept within Seikatsu is a countercultural perspective on human time and how it can be used creatively to strengthen human connection with each other and with the environment. Han members consider time in relation to three forms of work: employed work, work for others (care and social support), and work for the collective good. For example, Seikatsu Club members view the time and energy required to shop in corporate supermarkets as a waste of time, better invested in realizing their goals of safe food, healthy farmland and farmers, and living more sustainably. Thus, through Seikatsu practice, cooperation has  become incarnated as a “living instrument.”

Founded with the aim of acquiring safe food at a reasonable price, the Seikatsu Hans concretely express their values by specifying strict standards for materials, production processes, packing materials, and environmental practices, which are then negotiated with producers. The resulting agreements are the basis for the pre-order collective purchase system, which in turn enables a well-planned production and supply system. The purchase of safe food at reasonable prices, the minimization of waste of natural resources, and the reduction of environmental impacts are among the generative results. More than 350,000 members now operate through thousands of Han groups, aggregating their purchase plans within one or another of the 32 Seikatsu Consumer Cooperatives (SCC). These in turn are affiliated nationally into the Seikatsu Union Club (SUC).

 Beyond ensuring high ethical and environmental standards in their own purchasing, they have actively campaigned to outlaw synthetic detergents and to foster a “genetically modified free” food movement in Japan. This civic  participation has evolved further through the establishment of independent local political parties to press Seikatsu goals. By 2006 there were 120 network parties with about 10,000 members, who had succeeded in electing 141 local councillors.

 It is little wonder that the Seikatsu movment received the honorary Right Livelihood Award in 1989. Considered to be the “alternative Nobel Prize,” the award was given to the “housewives’ movement” for its success in generating a form of “alternative economic activity against industrial society’s prioritization of efficiency.” The prize  commended the movement for its continuing interest in human health and the environment through its production of essential materials for living.  “Living People” indeed.



blog comments powered by Disqus