On a Saturday evening in late July, Wine Aid for East Japan began, appropriately, with a toast. Now in its third year, the event, organized by professionals in the wine industry to raise money for charities in the Tohoku region, featured over 100 premium wines and a buffet showcasing ingredients from northeastern Japan. The opening remarks culminated in a catchy slogan expressing hope for Tohoku's recovery through food: Yo naoshi-wa, shoku naoshi (Changing the way we eat to change the world).

While wine was the main draw of the event, the focus was on Tohoku's farming and fishing industries, which have continued to struggle with the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. This year, Wine Aid's organizers had invited a handful of agricultural producers from Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures to introduce their products and mingle with the crowd.

The idea, says event director Hiroshi Miyagawa, is to "use food as a means of encouraging financial recovery" and to give consumers a chance to "talk face-to-face with producers." Guests murmured appreciatively as they tucked into plates piled high with rosy-pink slices of roast short-horn beef from Iwate Prefecture, baked salmon in cream sauce and squid-ink paella made with seafood from the Minamisanriku area.