I was planning to eat croquettes at dinner the other day, so I stopped at a local supermarket to buy cabbage as a garnish.

But a head of cabbage cost almost 400 yen ($2.55). According to The Asahi Shimbun, this exorbitant price—said to be at a peak now—is to be blamed on unseasonably low temperatures in late February, coupled with recent rainfall.

In any case, as the garnish was going to cost more than the main dish, I looked at other vegetables that might serve as a substitute. But I couldn’t find any with a price tag that could be considered reasonable.

In his book titled “Dan-ryu Kukkingu” (Dan-style cooking), author Kazuo Dan (1912-1976) reminisced about ersatz croquettes called “Taisho Korokke” (literally, Taisho Era croquette), which he ate as a child.

Made of “okara” (soy pulp) mixed with “surimi” (minced fish meat) and deep-fried, they were purchased from street vendors’ food carts.

“(The croquettes) came with coarse-chopped cabbage, and were doused generously with mustard and Worcestershire sauce,” Dan recalled.

The book was published in 1970, and he noted, “At today’s prices, you could probably buy two or three of those croquettes for 10 yen.”

That would be equivalent to about 70 yen today, which is definitely cheap.

I wondered what a “Reiwa Era croquette” would be like. But I couldn’t even imagine any low-budget recipe, given the steep prices of ingredients and seasonings nowadays.

And it has become just as difficult to prepare budget-friendly school lunches.

The government’s Public Relations Office recently came under fire for the photos of “school lunches of the Heisei and Reiwa eras” it posted on its social media platform.

Those lunches consist of five items, including the main dish, one side dish and a dessert.

But in different photos posted to reveal the more austere reality, a typical lunch consists only of a bowl of rice (or some equivalent carbohydrate) and a side dish or two.

An education ministry survey three years ago found that the average cost of a public primary school lunch was about 256 yen.

But the prices of crude oil and other commodities have skyrocketed since, not to mention that the Japanese yen is at a historic low today.

It is no longer realistic to put together a school lunch at that price from three years ago.

Schoolchildren must be served lunches that guarantee the necessary amount and quality, even if that means increasing the budget. And isn’t it inevitable that the government must bear that burden?

After all, children’s health is at stake.

—The Asahi Shimbun, May 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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VOX POPULI: Rising food prices shouldn’t reduce quality of school lunches

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21.05.2024

I was planning to eat croquettes at dinner the other day, so I stopped at a local supermarket to buy cabbage as a garnish.

But a head of cabbage cost almost 400 yen ($2.55). According to The Asahi Shimbun, this exorbitant price—said to be at a peak now—is to be blamed on unseasonably low temperatures in late February, coupled with recent rainfall.

In any case, as the garnish was going to cost more than the main dish, I looked at other vegetables that might serve as a substitute. But I couldn’t find any with a price tag that could be considered reasonable.

In his book titled “Dan-ryu Kukkingu” (Dan-style cooking), author Kazuo Dan (1912-1976) reminisced about ersatz croquettes called “Taisho Korokke” (literally,........

© The Asahi Shimbun


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