School lunch and Africa
Miss Kawano remained as our teacher for three years. I was unhappy, and the stress and the damaged gut caused an eating disorder.
We had a school lunch system that Japanese public schools were proud of. Still traumatized by the post-war scarcity, adults taught children to finish the food they were served. If they did not finish, teachers either forced the food on them until they were sick, or made them stay past the lunchtime into the cleaning time (kids did cleaning in Japan,) or shamed them for underappreciating the abundance that their generation made possible.
I wanted to tell them that I was NOT a spoiled child who didn’t appreciate food, but I just could not eat. If I forced myself to eat, the food would regurgitate, which would be very painful to my body. I had rather starve than eat.
Though once famished, Japan grew to become one of the world’s wealthiest countries by the 1980s. We’d see TV ads for the charity organization, showing footage of children in Africa. Their limbs revealed the shape of bones, but the stomach was protruding from malnutrition. They’d be staring into space with their large eyes as they were held in mother’s arms, oblivious of the flies landing on their face. The voiceover said that some millions of children were starving in Africa, and a few hundred yen a month would provide them food and water.
The adults would tell children we had to finish food because children in Africa couldn’t eat even if they wanted to. So we asked then why they didn’t send them food from Japan, and they’d mumble a reply that it was logistically complicated. It didn’t make sense that they could get to Africa to film the wretched children but couldn’t feed them, while they forced us to eat until we vomited.