“It’s Okay to be Different”

In Phase 1 of the project, we interviewed 25 youth from Chinese, Indian and Filippino backgrounds about their experiences of bringing food from their family’s culture to elementary school.

At the end of the interview, we asked: “If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say to them about the school lunch experience?” Here’s what they said:

Unboxing the Bentobox: Paper Published!

Our pilot project study “Unboxing The Bentobox” will be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Canadian Food Studies. We are thankful for the children and parents who took part in the study, and excited to share this news with you!  

The paper abstract: 

Bento, a Japanese-style boxed lunch, has a distinct cultural meaning for Japanese people as a medium of affective communication between children and parents. However, in Canadian schools governed by the dominant food norms, their culinary practices may stand out. We used an arts-informed participatory design to explore the experience of school-aged children (6-12 years old) of Japanese origin bringing Japanese food to school in Toronto. 

We conducted 2 arts-informed workshops with 16 children who created artworks about their lunch boxes, and 4 focus groups with 19 parents (all mothers). Children’s artworks illuminated a common aesthetic about “good” lunch that closely reflected mothers’ commitment to preparing nutritionally balanced and aesthetically appealing bento. Both children and mothers reported that the Canadian school food environment (e.g., short eating periods, snack times, built environment) sometimes misaligned with their food practices. Some families were compelled to modify their bento to accommodate children’s needs to fit in at school. Participants’ narratives also indicate the prevalence of stigma toward “junk” food that may perpetuate food shaming at school. A more inclusive, diverse, and culturally appropriate discussion on “healthy eating” at school can embrace children’s and their families’ intercultural food identities.

Also, check the video summarizing the article: 

Unboxing the Bentobox: Final Summary

Project Updates: #1

Hello from the Lunchbox Shaming project team! 

We have had a busy summer interviewing youth from three Asian communities about their school lunch experience when they were young. We are grateful that 17 people have already joined the study since July 2021 and shared their precious stories with us. 

What have we learned so far? 

Selected images of participants’ favourite foods growing up and packed school lunches.

Sadly, many participants experienced their food being shamed at school. We heard heartbreaking stories of participants being teased by classmates of “smelly” food, throwing away homemade lunches, or asking parents to pack “normal” lunches to fit in. But some also shared positive memories of their lunches being praised and adored, which opened up an opportunity to learn more about their food cultures. All interviewees also expressed deep appreciation for their families who packed their lunches everyday with love. 

In response to our question “If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say to them?” participants shared heartfelt messages for children who may feel less than confident about their lunches. 

It is our goal to analyze these stories and start a dialogue to make Canadian schools more inclusive of diverse food cultures. 

What’s next? 

We are eager to hear more stories! We are looking for 10-15 more participants, especially those who identify with Chinese or Filipino cultures. If you know anyone who may be interested, please pass our recruitment info!  

Unboxing the Bentobox: A Pilot Project

The Lunchbox Shaming project stemmed from a small pilot project (2020) featuring Japanese immigrant children and families in the Greater Toronto Area.  

In collaboration with a visual artist Sae Kimura, we conducted two arts-informed focus groups with 16 children (6-12 years old) and two focus groups with 19 mothers from Japanese background.    

We deeply appreciated participating children and families who shared their experiences at Canadian schools and inspired us to do the Lunchbox Shaming project. Also, children made AMAZING artworks about their school lunchboxes! 

While the study publications are currently underway, please stay tuned for more updates!