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Consider the Bento Box ....


In my job as a university chef I’m called upon to create bento box suppers for visiting Japanese dignitaries from time to time.  I enjoy making them up, but they are time consuming and I always agonize over getting the cuisine right.  I love Japanese food in particular and the Japanese culture in general. I enjoy their aesthetic of balancing nature, art and the practicalities of life; the focus on beauty and functionality working in harmony.  I like the minimalism and detail melded together.  I’m always worried that I’m not getting things right, and it does no good to ask the guests for honest assessments.  True, I’ve received some good, constructive criticism over the years, but never anything direct and blunt.  Just recently its dawned on me that culturally this is probably as good as the feedback will get from my Japanese guests.  I’m a slow learner and should have seen this before.  I’m so used to American clients who have no compulsions about letting you have it if you open the door just a little bit.

We are a culture of entitlement and confrontation.  The contemplation of beauty and harmony with nature are considered weak and effete. The pursuit of artistic endeavors is considered a fool’s game for dreamers, which is odd given the utter failure lately of those who value the pursuit of victory in business and the accumulation wealth as an indicator of life worth. Truly, in American culture, those who hold the money call the tune and recently they’ve decided self-delusion and hypocrisy sound best.  This is why people of small means seem to be getting more pleasure out of simpler things like a well made Japanese dinner tray with a unique name and interesting food inside. Something that’s beyond the ken of those who cover everything in diamonds and gold thinking, the more it costs the more beautiful it is. Particularly if you use other people’s money to create this garish, empty beauty, for it is about power and the amount of wealth more than any thing else.