Fast-food malaise spurs drive to slow down, eat naturally

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OSAKA — After watching people so enslaved in a world of speed and efficiency that they try to save time by gulping down fast food, Kushin Ota started a citizens’ group aiming to enhance the quality of life by looking at the way people deal with food.

Ota, 50, who runs the company Seikatsu Design Kenkyusho, which conducts research on people’s lifestyles, thought something was going wrong in this society, where mass amounts of food containing various chemical additives are being produced, consumed and dumped, posing a threat to the environment. He started the group EG Fund earlier this month.

It seeks a lifestyle in which people can eating their meals in a leisurely manner, appreciating local cuisine that uses produce in season and supporting farmers who conduct organic agriculture by purchasing their produce.

“How and what people eat is closely connected with maintaining a healthy life, both physically and mentally,” Ota said. “It is our task to pass on to the next generation the value of eating meals slowly and appreciating natural ingredients.”

Specifically, Ota’s group provides members with information on farmers whose agricultural products and techniques are environmentally-friendly.

To purchase such goods, farmers’ names and addresses can be found on the Web at http://www.seikatsu.org/ Reports on people in Japan and abroad leading lives that meet the concept of the group’s activities are also provided, along with information on seminars and events such as visits to farms. Ota says members must establish their own satisfactory and meaningful lifestyles by learning from other people’s experiences. In addition to posting information on the Net, the group plans to publish a monthly hard-copy newsletter.

The membership fee is 750 yen a month, (9,000 yen a year). Ota hopes to gather 10,000 members so it can be possible to make the group a “zaidan,” or nonprofit corporation.

As a preactivity of the group, Ota organized an outing last month to a farm in Katsuragi, Wakayama Prefecture, where Akihiko Senou, 33, began organic agriculture three years ago after quitting a job at a newspaper. He grows about 60 kinds of vegetables a year and keeps 100 chickens in a 0.7-hectare plot he rents.

In addition to having his produce sold at a local co-op store, he directly distributes his produce to consumers in Tokyo and Osaka. Wishing to expand the number of customers, he has high hopes for EG Fund’s activity.

“I have few opportunities to meet consumers, so I hope the group’s activity will enable me to reach out to many people who want my organic produce,” Senou said.

Ota said that the people participating in the event took great thrill in gathering eggs from Senou’s chicken coop.

“It must have stimulated deep, hidden native senses,” Ota said. “I think that having such experiences also contributes to enriching one’s life.”

The concept of EG Fund is based on ideas such as “slow food” and “ishoku dogen.” Slow food, an international movement that started in Italy in 1986 and spread to 35 countries, questions the validity of fast-food ideas, saying they have affected people’s lifestyles and are a threat to the environment. It urges the rediscovery of the local cuisine and a fight against the standardization of fast food. Ishoku dogen, a notion that originated in China, means maintaining one’s lifestyle by eating healthy, mostly seasonal locally grown produce.

The group’s Web site holds a lot of information on Italy. Ota said this is because the slow food movement started there, and the life of people living in Umbria, which is called the heart of green, is a lifestyle that the group seeks.

“I have a friend called Gigi living in Umbria. I have learned from him how to live a simple and happy life,” he said. “I hope they will be useful tips for other members.”

For more information, visit the Web site or e-mail the group at EG@seikatsu.org