Article written by 2011 Abe Fellow Melissa Melby based on her project “Minding the Gap: Measuring Divergence in Understandings of Dietary Problems, Causes and Solutions between Experts and the Public in the US and Japan.”
Despite the growing popularity of food education and food literacy, the diversity and complexity of ideas about food education among people from different backgrounds have not yet been examined. To explore people’s understandings about food education and examine patterns among people of different occupation, gender, age, and household structure, we conducted in-depth interviews with 120 laypeople (divided equally by gender and six decadal age groups from twenties to seventies) and sixty dietitians in two urban areas in Japan. Participants were asked to freelist responses to the question, “What do you associate with the word ‘Shokuiku’ (food education)?” Responses were analyzed by principal component analysis. Dietitians and lay females tended to associate food education with several interconnected aspects including food knowledge, habits, and food system, while lay males tended to view it as school education targeting children only. The results suggest that the current food education framework may lead some lay males in urban Japan to believe food education and food literacy are only for children and not relevant for them. To improve effectiveness of programs for diverse populations, it is necessary to reconsider the current framework which focuses excessively on children as well as food consumption.