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#OnigiriAction with TABLE FOR TWO

Published: October 12, 2021

The WorldView Blog team recently interviewed Mayumi Uejima-Carr, president of TABLE FOR TWO USA, about the organization’s food education program and their upcoming #OnigiriAction campaign, which mobilizes individuals to share their unique onigiri “rice ball” creations online, providing school lunches to children in need around the world with support from generous sponsors. TABLE FOR TWO is the recipient of the 71st Health and Culture Award (Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare). Their #OnigiriAction Campaign received Japan’s Sustainable Development Goals’ Deputy-Chief award in 2019.

What can you tell us about Table for Two? How did it get started?

TABLE FOR TWO is a non-profit organization that started in Japan in 2007 and came to the U.S. in 2010. The mission is to tackle global good imbalance. About one billion people don’t have enough food, while about two billion people have some health issues caused by unhealthy eating. With the original program, we partner with places like corporate or school cafeterias to provide healthy menu items. If you purchase a healthy food item from their menu, it’s good for you and a small portion (like 20 yen in Japan or 25 cents in the U.S.) will be donated to a child in need to provide one school meal. It’s meal sharing, with benefits for both sides.

TABLE FOR TWO started with a group at the World Economic Forum, which organizes a Young Global Leaders conference and selects young leaders from around the world to discuss global issues and come up with solutions. At the conference, one group was discussing hunger issues. Another group was discussing obesity and health related issues. The three Japanese leaders attending this conference thought, “You know, that’s kind of connected… How about this idea?” Usually at conferences, people get excited about ideas and that’s the end, but they actually came back to Japan and found someone to start up and lead this new nonprofit. That’s how it began.

Tell us about #OnigiriAction.

Mayumi and some friends in a Wa-Shokuiku class.

#OnigiriAction, our fall campaign (October 5-November 5), started in 2015. We do the campaign around World Food Day on October 16, set by the United Nations as a day to think about food and hold events to raise awareness. Over 150 nations participate. As a Japanese nonprofit, we chose onigiri as a symbol because it’s a symbol of love and care in Japan. Many Japanese people have memories around onigiri – my mom used to make it for me for school lunches. It’s comfort food, something homemade.

How does #OnigiriAction work?

People take a photo of onigiri and post on our campaign website, or on your social media with the hashtag, #OnigiriAction. It’s free to participate and each post brings five school meals to children in need. Our partner organizations donate based on the number of photos. From the beginning, we’ve provided about 5.4 million school meals to children, so about a million every year just from this campaign.

According to the Onigiri Society, onigiri is made of four elements such as rice, salt, filling and nori (seaweed) or in some cases just two elements: rice and salt. It can be so creative! This year, we came up with a sub-theme in the U.S. called #StateOnigiri, because we want people from all over the states to join this #OnigiriAction. You can use special ingredients, or you can take a photo in front of a symbolic place, like a state capital, or with a favorite sports team… something representing your state. For example, New York is famous for bagels, so we can make onigiri like an Everything Bagel with smoked salmon and cheese inside.

What other programs is Table for Two involved with?

#EdamameChamp lets people around the world show off their
edamame skills and raise money for food equity.

#EdamameChamp is a spring campaign to promote healthy eating and provide food education opportunities. We organize #EdamameChamp events, which includes learning about soy and a chopsticks competition: How many edamame can you pick up in a minute? In two minutes, what kinds of creative shapes can you make just using chopsticks? We select the winners for each event and organize a final championship. People can take a photo of anything with soy and post on their social media with our hashtag, #EdamameChamp and then our partner organizations match each photo with a donation to provide our food education program to children.

In Japan, there’s a food education law - it’s mandatory. Children learn not just about nutrition, but also manners or appreciation toward food or food environment such as food waste issue. That’s how we created our Wa-Shokuiku -Learn. Cook. Eat Japanese! curriculum, because schools in the U.S. often don’t have enough resources to do programs like this. Wa-Shokuiku provides American students with the opportunity to learn the principles of Japanese cuisine and food culture, and gain the skills to prepare healthy, nutritious Japanese food through hands-on cooking activities. For many students, maybe they don’t like salads or raw vegetables, but when it’s cooked in a tasty way and also students are part of the cooking, like with Japanese style savory pancake okonomiyaki or miso soup, they enjoy eating a lot of vegetables. Miso soup with vegetables is actually one of the most popular dishes!

What are you looking forward to this next coming year?

We have been researching common core standards at schools in each state, to see how our program can align with those standards. That way, Wa-Shokuiku can be implemented in science class, or health class, as quick and effective ways to teach about food. We are hoping for increased food education opportunities here in the U S. It’s a big goal and, little by little, we’re moving toward that.

Get involved with #OnigiriAction now!

About the Author

Mayumi Uejima-Carr is the President of TABLE FOR TWO USA (TFT), a non-profit organization that started in Japan with a mission to both tackle global hunger and health issues related to unhealthy eating. As the head of TFT in the United States, Mayumi has been leading two unique award winning programs, “Onigiri (Rice ball) Action” and “Wa-Shokuiku (和-食育) -Learn. Cook. Eat Japanese!“ in the U.S., both featuring Japanese food culture to help tackle the critical health issues. Mayumi’s work with TFT follows a career in consulting and marketing with Accenture and Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company. Mayumi graduated from Keio University (SFC), earned an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Business and was selected as a fellow for the Executive Education “Leadership for System Change: Delivering Social Impact at Scale” at Harvard Kennedy School. She is a US-Japan Leadership Program Fellow (2017-18). She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, 11-year-old daughter (TFT Kids President:) and 8-year-old son.

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