Sustainable Sweet [Spring] Talk at Taiko Udon

Here we are talking spring and sustainability in a new series for 2019 titled “Sustainable-Sweet-Talk”. This is an exciting new collaboration with local food expert, Hiroshima Food Snob, who in her mere eight years in Hiroshima has gone to university and run her own cool cafe and is now working as a writer, TV talent and translator- so exciting to work with someone so passionate and knowledgeable about Japanese food. We both love sweets, so even if we don’t eat sweets every time (although we likely will), focusing on sustainable innovation is always SWEET as in awesome if you don’t mind my dated slang.

HiroshimaFoodSnob and I will meet up regularly to introduce you to the best local events and eateries that have great products and services, like Taiko Udon above, which operate with a higher-than-business-as-usual-level focus on sustainability.

In this video, we introduce some great nature-based sakura viewing activities for travelers coming to Hiroshima in Spring. Read more about Spring festivals and events in Hiroshima on GetHiroshima

Rachel (Hiroshima Food Snob) has written a great introduction to Taiko Udon in Hiroshima city here.

From a sustainable business model, Taiko Udon is a great case study of innovation and business strategy. The owner attended many of the inbound marketing seminars by GetHiroshima/Jizo Hat and was keen to meet the new demand by international travelers to Japan searching for vegan Japanese dining options. Taiko-Udon now has created a menu filled with beautifully flavorful, plant-based soup broth vegan noodle options- relatively unheard of in most Japanese restaurants across Japan.

The owner is also keen to address waste issues by tackling chopstick or utensil single-use waste. Taiko-Udon provides more sustainable versions of the disposable chopstick for diners, created from locally sourced bamboo. But above and beyond the norm, Taiko-Udon also sells light, clean and beautiful wooden reusable dining sets in a foldable case for 500 yen. This is a great resource for locals and travelers looking for a portable “myhashi” utensil solution to the single-use problem.

In terms of sustainable-business operations, Taiko Udon ticks a lot of boxes: transparency of operations (good English and Japanese menu), seasonal varieties of food sourced from local areas, reusable cutlery, and caters to the needs of customers with religious, allergy or dietary restrictive lifestyles: the vegan options with 100% plant-based soup stock (dashi) is a welcome, sustainable innovation at a Japanese noodle shop.

The owner of Taiko says of his reasons to switch to a plant-based soup stock and sell reusable cutlery, “We do what we can do”. This is the absolute key to sustainable business success. First, make clear, realistic goals, then reassess progress, renew goals, & repeat.

Revive the Samurai Habit of Carrying Chopsticks

An elderly Japanese gentleman at a dinner party a few years ago leaned over and told me that he was impressed to see me using my own chopsticks. “You know”, he said, “you’re Just like the Samurai“, pointing to my chopsticks set. Ever since that encounter, I pull out my set of #myhashi with more pride and Samurai flair.

There has been a recent lull in the debate over waribashi as no one seems to think much about (over)using them. Really, how bad could using a few sticks of waste wood be, right? Pretty bad actually!

Although Japanese sourced waste wood may have been the source of disposable chopsticks fifty years ago, it is not likely the source of most waribashi now used in Japan. Data shows that beautiful forests are being cut down to supply the timber to meet the demand for more than 200 waribashi used per person in Japan each year.

Many of these deforested areas in Asia are then replanted with palm oil plantations which has been targeted as a leading cause of global warming.

When I look at the usual stock of waribashi on tables, however, I have no desire to put the cheap wood in my mouth as it would simply destroy my enjoyment of the delicious, high-quality food I ordered. In addition to wasteful deforestation, I know most of the cheap wood has been soaked in chemicals, from who knows where, that has picked up germs and dust from who knows what, during processing and shipping. I am surprised more people in hyper-clean Japan don’t seem bothered by this.

It’s actually an easy fix as there are so many great options of travel sticks or MyHashi around these days. My favorite pair I tweeted about below are from outdoor shop Montbell and cost less than 2,000 yen. They take a minute to put together, but they fit nicely into a little case, are really light and so easy to carry around and use.

The soba shop I tweeted about below is a long-time favorite. One day, I had the chance to talk with the manager who commented on my MyHashi, which gave me a chance to casually suggest the shop might start using reusable chopsticks. He said he was thinking about that as the cost of buying the higher quality, wrapped in paper versions he was using was expensive, but he didn’t want to use a cheaper version. When I suggested a nice, high-quality reusable option, his eyes lit up, but then he looked worried again. He said, “but many customers think waribashi is clean and nice to use, so I’m not sure it will work.” A few months later, I was glad to see he chose the reusable option. He told me he keeps a small stock of waribashi handy in case someone requests it, but he was happy to see customers transition easily.

I look forward to more Japanese eateries making the change and starting discussions with customers, but wouldn’t it be great to promote wider acceptance with some sustainability-lifestyle-choice focused PR campaigns in Japan? The AKB crew cooly pulling out their MyHashi could sweep the nation. The more boring, but effective option is government regulation. Major change would happen overnight if a 5 yen charge were mandated for passing out disposable chopsticks in eateries and convenience stores in addition to single-use plastic bags. Actually, we should expect the government to at least ban unhealthy imports of waribashi as a public health concern. Imported cheap disposable chopsticks from China were banned in Taiwan as they were found to have high levels of toxic chemicals. There may be grumbling at first, but customers will soon get used to the new status-quo and take pride in adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

FOO Chocolaters Aims to Balance the Needs of People and Planet

Tucked off to the left side of Hiroshima airport’s 3rd floor is a hidden gem, a chocolate factory and shop called FOO. This classy chocolate shop is something special not only because of its excellent products, but also for operations that follow high-level sustainability aims.

Continue reading “FOO Chocolaters Aims to Balance the Needs of People and Planet”