Japan is a country of people moving at a frenetic pace, including the
fast-moving transportation like the famous bullet train. For a quick lunch
the Japanese turn to something we may call a "TV dinner." The
Japanese call it a Bento box.
"It's typically associated with travel. It's a meal you take with
you on the run,' said Jeffery Schnack, president of NRE Restaurant Enterprise.
Now East meets West. Seven thousand of these ready-made meals are turned
out every day for Japan at a new plant in Fairfield, California.
"We started out looking for organic product in Japan and we were
not able to find enough supply, especially rice. So we found it right
here in California," Schnack said.
Last May NRE Bento became the first overseas venture for the company's
majority shareholder Nippon Restaurant enterprise. The move wasn't without
controversy. Japan's agricultural cooperatives were against the use of
foreign rice in the Bento boxes. And that concern by Japanese farmers
over the use of California rice, instead of their own, created a media
frenzy. NRE Bento has taken advantage of a loophole in the tax laws that
exempts processed foods from rice tariffs. NRE Bento has gone to great
lengths to produce the same strain of organic rice that satisfies the
fussy Japanese palate.
Lundberg Family Farms have been growing rice near Chico since 1937. While
their product is organic, they agreed to get a special certification to
meet the tough Japanese standards. Some three hundred tons of Lundberg
rice is used in the Bentos this year, alone. The other essentials of the
meal-beef, chicken and vegetables also come from California. Again, all
must be perfect in quality and even the way they're cut for the Japanese
NRE sells 80 thousand Bento boxes a day to train travelers in Japan. You
may be able to enjoy a Bento lunch. The company is strongly considering
bringing these meals to markets and convenience stores throughout the
United States, thanks to our growing taste for Japanese cuisine.