Bento teasing?

sad_onigiri.pngYou’ve assembled a colorful, nutritious and cute bento box. You can’t wait for lunch time. You open it up and… you attract a crowd of classmates or coworkers, curious about your lunch.

Has this happened to you? It certainly has to me. At first it did bother me, especially if I packed a bentos or an onigiri picnic basket for a train trip. It’s amazing how strong soy sauce and nori seem to smell in an enclosed train compartment! Swiss people are generally polite and reserved, so rarely do they out and out stare - though on a couple of occasions I’ve had an old lady enthusiastically point at my bento, asking this or that. But, these days I don’t mind it at all. Well maybe a little bit, but not much. And people who know me, or The Guy when he takes bentos on the road, are used to our unique lunch boxes, and perhaps even a bit envious! (The sandwiches sold in the train are expensive and pretty sad…)

But what if it’s your kid’s bento lunch getting all that attention? I don’t have kids of my own, and my niece and nephew live in Japan where their bentos attract no undue attention of course. But I’ve been reading on some blogs by some Japanese moms living in other countries, about their kids’s cute, carefully assembled bentos attracting too much, sometimes unwelcome, attention. Some kids even ask their moms to stop making Japanese style lunches, and stick to plain, non-attention grabbing sandwiches and such. One little boy was teased by a schoolmate who said his onigiri looked like poo (because it was covered with nori, presumably). Another little girl was bullied by older kids. Kids can be cruel, for sure.

I also remember reading some time ago on a blog (I wish I’d kept the link, but I can’t find it anymore) about a girl in her late teens, who had a Japanese mother who would make her beautiful bento lunches every day when she was in elementary school somewhere in the U.S. In her case it wasn’t her classmates who made her feel conspicuous, but her teacher. Every day, the teacher would insist on drawing attention to her bento, pointing out how beautiful it was, how exotic, and so on. The girl in question remembers hating that unwanted attention. I was a rather shy kid growing up myself, and I know that I drew attention anyway (I was the only Asian at the school I attended for several years in England for instance) so the last thing I would have wanted was that kind of attention placed on me. I remember one time when we had a school picnic. My mother made me some onigiri with tarako, my favorite filling then, and some chicken karaage. But when it was lunchtime, I was so shy about eating my onigiri in front of the other kids that I pretended that I’d forgotten part of my lunch, and just ate the karaage. (Fried chicken after all is fried chicken.) By the time I got home, the poor onigiri were smooshed flat. I threw them away quietly, burying them at the bottom of the kitchen garbage can. (If my mom is reading this, now she knows…)

I hope that kids these days have been exposed a lot more to ‘exotic’ food and are more accepting, though the stories from those Japanese mothers say otherwise. Or are their stories the exceptions?

How do you feel about this, especially if you have kids? Do your kids like bring exotic (as in, not the plain sandwich-and-bag-of-chips/crisps lunch) lunches? Have they been teased - and if so, how did you, and your kids, deal with it? It doesn’t have to be just Japanese-style bentos either - what if you pack a Mr. Bento full of fragrant curry or soup, and so on?

(See also: Embarassed by bento lunches? discussion on the flickr bento boxes group.)

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Dude, as a kid, I got picked

Dude, as a kid, I got picked on for eating burritios in school. In California.

I’ve now got a degree in Educational Psychology (specializing in Cross-Cultural Education), and let me tell you, kids will find some reason to pick on each other. I had a student who was being teased for bringing PB&J to school, for chrissake!

I fear the teacher you mentioned who was always bringing attention to the student’s bento is a victim of the last 15 years of ‘diversity education’, which can be summed up best by one of my grad school teachers who once told the class without a hint of irony, “It is wrong to judge someone by their culture and assume that because they are from a certain ethnic group that they will behave in certain ways. Now, will someone tell me what they picked up from the book reading that Latinos do at home?”

Bento Teasing?

My daughter always took her lunch to school and the teachers and kids all wanted to know what she had in her lunch box. Rumour was her mom was a great cook… We lived in China and then in the states and back in China again so she had many different culinary experiences in her lunches. Of course the kids wanted to find out what was in the lunch that I had made homemade. My daughter now in University said that she always had to lick her food quickly so no one would grab it and eat it themselves, the teachers included especially the single teachers. I had no idea until she told me this Christmas when she visited us in China. Her little brother now 10 goes to a school that we have to buy the lunch no one can bring their own, perhaps this is easier on the kid? When we lived in the states my husband also took lunch to work, usually leftover from our dinner the night before. All of his colleagues would ask if his wife was Asian because, his lunches were thai, malay, chinese, vietnamese, indian with an ocassional western lunch thrown in. He would say no and point to our family photo on the desk and say, she is the blonde one with the blue eyes.

I remember hating my lunches when I was in school and usually traded the bologna or ham sandwich for PB&J and I would just eat the obligatory apple or orange that mom put in it. I would toss the sandwich especially egg salad or tuna because they smell before I even made it to school. By the time I was in Jr high I told mom to just give me a piece of fruit and that was all I needed.

Kids around the world have the same experiences. It really is a small world!

oops— I meant to comment

oops— I meant to comment on this post earlier, but somehow it slipped away from me….

Lunch, next to gym (phys. ed. class) was the most stressful time of day at school for me. When I was in elementary school, I had a red plaid metal lunchbox with a thermos. I loved getting hot soups in my thermos. But I got made fun of for bringing the box, first when everyone had themed boxes from TV shows, and then when everyone brought brown paper bags. I caved into peer pressure and told my mom I wanted to “brown-bag it.” I also enjoyed getting onigiri or the rare occasion of sushi (from NYC!) for lunch, and got made fun of for that, too. As a kid, I longed for the squishy white-bread sandwiches, but my mom wouldn’t allow them, saying they were unhealthy. And she was right.

I particularly remember in 3rd grade, one girl sat next to me eating what looked like peanut butter and jelly on a flat cracker. I asked her what her lunch was, and she said she had matzo- it was Passover. As I was already sensitive to being made fun of for my lunch, I couldn’t help but marvel over something different from someone else’s lunch.

Re: oops— I meant to comment

Yeah, I've had teasing from both bento, and matzah sanwiches (i'm jewish).... lol.
~~~Onigiri!!~~~
~Tohru Honda~

Actually, I just got made

Actually, I just got made fun of my bento at work on Monday. I don’t do a grand bento, and sometimes it’s no more than a more typical American lunch put into a Lock n Lock set. Usually my co-worker kind of makes fun of it, but in a jealous way, if that makes sense. Like she laughs at it but I know she wishes she had a lunch like that, particularly since she’s asked me several times where I got my containers. Well, she wasn’t there on Monday and I asked my boss jokingly if she wanted to make fun of my lunch in my co-worker’s place, and showed her my lunch (which was cereal in the undivided container, milk in the juice container, and then an orange, salami, brie, and carrots in the subdivided containers. Like I said, not really a bento).

She asked me why I needed to compartmentalize my lunch, like I had obsessive compulsive disorder and that’s why I had those containers. I wasn’t expecting that one. Who knew that using organized containers was a sign of having lunch issues?

I pointed out to her that my lunches are at least completely waste free, which considering she tries so hard with the organic and is a vegetarian and all, shut her up. :)

That was me...

Reading through these comments, I’ve just realized that I was one of those kids that ate from my Japanese classmates’ bento! When I was 9, my family lived in NYC for a year and there were about a dozen Japanese kids in my class whose fathers had been transferred there for work. I don’t remember how it started but at lunchtime, a couple of the Japanese girls taught me some Japanese (counting mostly, I think) and “rewarded” me with what I now know must have been onigiri. Not sure if I showed interest in the food or the language first but I enjoyed both. Now that I think about it, it all sounds a bit canine. Oh, well. :] I took Japanese language as an elective at university so it can’t have been all about the food, right?!?

Sometimes I bring bento to

Sometimes I bring bento to school, but not often. Mostly I don’t because if we bring a container or lunch box we have to carry it around outside, which is pretty annoying. I do get teased sometimes, though. At my school, we eat in our gym, so instead of having to be with people in our class that are likely to tease us we can sit with our friends in groups. Still, I’ve brought onigiri to school, and my friends have asked why I had rice instead of a sandwich, and why the rice had mold on it. They thought that nori was mold. For the next week, I got called mold-eater (and when they found out what it was, seaweed-eater O_o). Still, I have gotten some good reactions. My friend’s boyfriend saw me eating sushi, and he asked if he could have my lunch. I brought edamame to school, and one of my tried some and liked it. The rest of my friends took the pods and threw them at people. My friends are weird…

Reverse situation - an American lunch box get the same reaction?

We are thinking of sending our half Japanese-half American daughter to Japanese elementary school in NJ. I am an American mother, who works full time. I do not have the knowledge or the time to make a good bento for my kids. I AM really good at making a PB&J in a brown paper bag. I fear if we sent our daughter to a Japanese school that she would be teased because her bento or lunch is not good enough…

I really doubt that your

I really doubt that your daughter will get teased - after all, NJ is still in the U.S. last time I checked! :P Even if the school was in Japan I doubt she’d get teased in any case (plenty of kids bring sandwiches or rolls etc. for lunch). Of course I can’t guarantee she won’t be teased about something, since kids are unpredictable, but on principle I highly doubt that her brownbag lunch would be the cause.

in comment to bento teasing.

I am an american student in high school and I have been interested in Japanese culture for most of my life. So I thought bento would be a great idea, I was wrong. I had spent the sunday night before the school semester started preparing little tidbits of veggies and such to make it easier on me in the morning. I went to school the next day with what I thought was the best bento I could make. I sat down at the lunch table with my “friends” and started eating. One of my friends threw the first stone, she said,”what the hell is that?!” After she said that she started calling anybody that was close and saying, “look at her chink food!” Before I knew it almost the entire lunchroom was standing behind me saying stuff like,”are you Chinese?” and “are you in the retard class?” I felt so bad I never took another bento to school, but people still call me “chink breath.”

Oh dear, I’m so sorry that

Oh dear, I’m so sorry that happened to you :( Some people can be so cruel…it’s usually because they are jealous or insecure. I’m really mad for you! If I saw those kids I’d give them a piece of my mind!

i wish

I wish I could have more cultured friends, but until that day I will just have to deal with being the oddball. I am glad though that I can get online and talk to people that don’t think i’m taboo for having some kind of originality in this world of hamburgers and french fries!:D Thankyou for your comment! ;D

That person isn't your friend

I don’t know if you’re of Asian descent at all but “chink” is not an acceptable word to use towards a friend whatsoever (we won’t mention what one Chinese person might say to another Chinese person behind closed doors; that’s between them, but the way your story is framed, I don’t believe your “friend” is Chinese). This is on par with a person seeing another person eating Latino food and asking them if they’re a s, or if they’re eating soul food, a n*… these are not acceptable terms.

Plus, bento isn’t culturally Chinese, so not only do your friends sound racist, they’re ignorant to boot (though the two are closely tied together).

not just them

It wasn’t just those people I used to be friends with, but a bunch of people I don’t know. And they were not trying to be ethically correct, they were trying to be socially sound. You know the “bandwagon” way. I’m not friends with them anymore anyway.

Hmm

I just noticed that part of my comment came out bold, it wasn’t meant to (think it’s because I wrote s[asterisk]). Just wanted to clarify I wasn’t emphasizing that, I think they’re all on par.

Well, I’m glad you’re not friends with them anymore if only because I find that super offensive and horrifying. I look back on my childhood and I see things that I was too ignorant to realize were so horribly racist; maybe that’s a good thing but at the same time, they were also missed opportunities to educate the ignorant. (My grade school best friend’s father used to tell me “All of y’all look alike to me, so I just call all of y’all Bruce Lee” guffaw guffaw. He was also a minority and you can bet your ass that he would not have appreciated me making any number of comments I could have - it was the 80s and racism was really rampant… But I’m going off on a tangent, sorry. I hope you wound up going back to bento, because it’s so much fun and so delicious :) (I have snarled at people at work who have said to me “Oh you bento because you’re Asian”. lol.)

I like to think of myself as cultured

Growing up in a town where different means the same as Leper, I tried not to show my individuality. But as I started reading all these facinating books on the cultures of others I realized maybe there was a way to share my individuality with the world:FOOD! Everyone can find some type of acceptance with food, because everybody eats. I have some type of natural skill when it comes to cooking, although I have never been able to figure it out. I have always tried to share that with the world!;D

Re: in comment to bento teasing.

I am chinese?
And i dont understand why they call us 'Chink?'.

I am quite lucky i come from a Multi Racial country.
We have japanese food as FAST FOOD here.

Japanese people used to be chinese people.
If what i remember is correct ...

But you shouldn't be friends with them.
How they respect other cultures show how bad they respect others.
Which is a very important quality in a friend.

Not necessarily teasing...

but I’m always being questioned about whether or not there is enough food in by bento to fill me up. My co-workers don’t seem to realize the amount and variety of food that can be packed in my bento. I have calculated that my bentos are in the calorie range of a lean cuisine, but instead of prepackage frozen entrees, I have a homemade meal that is well balanced, healthy, filling and nice to look at.

Not necessarily teasing...

but I’m always being questioned about whether or not there is enough food in by bento to fill me up. My co-workers don’t seem to realize the amount and variety of food that can be packed in my bento. I have calculated that my bentos are in the calorie range of a lean cuisine, but instead of prepackage frozen entrees, I have a homemade meal that is well balanced, healthy, filling and nice to look at.

No problems here

I’m a teenager in my last year of high school, and I make my own bento most days. It attracts a bit of attention and some strange looks, but for the most part it’s just shrugs and whatevers. Maybe the people at my school are just more tolerant? We have a lot of asian and east indian people in my school.. I don’t care whether they stare or not anyway, as long as I enjoy it!

I suppose it depends on the environment

I’m a teenager in my second last year of high school and I like to bring bentos to school. I’ve never yet been teased about my lunches, in fact bits of it are frequently stolen, because our school lunches are so inferior in comparison. One guy who sits at lunch with me always comments on how much care I take into assembling my lunch and then humourously goes on to say his ham sandwich is superior :) I think the only ‘snarky’ comment of sorts I’ve received was “Oh, you’re so fanciful, bringing bentos. Does that make you think you’re actually Japanese?” (I am Asian, but not Japanese, eh). I guess my lunches don’t draw much attention to me since I attend an international school and we’re all ‘exotic’ in our own ways. Sadly, my mother has lately banned me from making bentos because she says I ought to focus on my studies more than my food TT But putting together a bento is so fun! ^^

Wow…I hope your mom

Wow…I hope your mom changes her mind! What better life skill is there to learn than how to make delicious, nutritious food? :) (and she sounds a lot like my mother used to be…Asian mothers eh :))

Just the oposite

My brothers freinds are a little obsessed with Japanese food. So on the ocasions I make him Bento’s hes happy for 2 reasons. I don’t make lunch for myself so often (because up until yesterday I had no lunchbox), but last time I brought onigiri in my freinds where happy to eat their share.

I bento when I was still in

I bento when I was still in kindergarten but stopped in mid of 2nd grade. Basically, I was ashamed when I bring lunch to school because bento-ing seem childish at that age. Having your own pocket money made you seem more grown up and buying food in the canteen was the “it” thing to do. I then started begging my parents for pocket money and would feel more “superior” on days when I have more. Hahas.. Most kids in my home country do not like bento-ing because of this I guess, besides, food is cheap there (but not healthy of course).

Now, adult and nutritionally more educated, I go back to bento-ing when I’m not busy. As you know.. uni students..

Just the idea of Bento

I’m a 14-year old junior high kid, living in the western US, and I don’t even have to bring a bento to be made fun of. I just mentioned the idea of bringing a bento the other day, and most of the people I sat with were just fine with it and asked if they could try some of it when I brought it.

But apparently I mentioned it just a bit too loudly, because people from the next lunch table over promptly started mocking me; they said things like ‘you’re gonna make your food out of raw fish, disgusting,’ ‘if you eat that, I’ll bet your eyes will get all thin and pointy,’ and ‘don’t come anywhere near me with that nasty Jap food’.

I was quite offended, but due to that I’ve become dead set on bringing something this week.

The lack of acceptance in teenagers is something that has always bothered me, but even more so when it pertains to what other people are bringing for lunch. It doesn’t even effect them, so I don’t think that they should care.

Immaturity

I’m pretty impressed with you, Diana! You sound very mature and collected for your age! When I read about your part of the story, I couldn’t help but get a little riled up from the comments that you’ve gotten. Being a different race is sometimes difficult/annohing (for my case), but just being teased over a lunch is just ridiculous - especially for junior high kids. I would’ve given a piece of my mind with a snarky comeback, haha. I’m curious, when you bought your bento (judging from when you posted your reply), what were the reactions like?

For my story; luckly I’m always surrounded by many classmates that were always so fascinated with things. When I was in elementary school, there weren’t many asian kids enrolled at my place. I bring things like fried rice/side dishes in my little bento box. I get really curious looks and was always asked to try some of the food. I remember one time I was in first grade, I bought some eggrolls to school. The kids around my table (excluding my friends), gave me some pretty strange looks. They’ve never seen an eggroll before. And unfortunately, the girl that likes to bully for “no apparent reason” sat near the table I occupied at. She pointed out and shrieked, “Ew! Is that yellow rolled up paper you’re eating?! You’re a gross dummy! You have a gross mom! I bet she doesn’t care. Where’s your sandwich and chips? Only cool people eat sandwiches and stuffs like those!”

Okay, I’m typically a calm kid. But oh no, I wasn’t going to take that. fingersnap My group of buddies and table mates did not approve either. Haha! I’m so happy to be surrounded by majority of good people. :’D They backed me up, but that didn’t stop her. I guess my little bully didn’t expect me to stomp near her to lash out, “Gross?! My mom loves me more than your mom loves you! She COOKS for me, and makes my lunch look pretty! YOUR mom only puts goop (it’s pb&j) on bread and throws in chips! That’s boring! I’m better!”

She shuts up after that. I passed some of my eggrolls around my table and to my friends. They were kinda skeptical at first, but they loved it after they gave it a try. I didn’t want to, but I gave some to the girl that picked on me, to her dismay, she admitted that my food tasted good. Point for me! Afterschool I heard her complaining to her mom, “Why can’t you make me a bento?! Setta’s mommy does!” Wahaha!

To this day, my friends still steal some of my food from my “less cute” bento. It’s scary how 80% of the people I know mirgrated from elementary to middle school, and to high school with me. The rest of my classmates still want to trade lunches with me and say I’m lucky to bring home lunches that looks amazing (and the fact they love asian cooking, introduced by me, yay). It’s so funny and cool to see them so excited when their parents pack them lunches and they bring it to class to show off. It’s becoming a rare “hot trend” for older people. :D

Re: Bento teasing?

My daughter has eaten so many different kinds of food since she first ingested whole foods, so at home *all* food is pretty normal. Once I started making her first grade lunches, it seemed pretty good to me to pack japanese-style lunches for her, being that it's her all time #1 favorite thing to eat. If you can put soy sauce on it, or it has tobiko on it, or some nori, then she's a happy camper. Quickly though, I noticed she wasn't eating more than a few bites of her lunch. Then I noticed that her school account was dwindling too quickly (I pay for her to eat hot breakfast there - it means an extra hour at work!).

She finally fessed up. The other kids thought that she was gross for eating rice with fish eggs and seaweed. For her, it's really comfort food. So I switched to american style lunches, and have been slowly re-introducking some her other favorite things, hoping that the other kids get used to it, and quit picking on her.

Still no luck with the onigiri though. T_T

Re: Bento teasing?

I know some kids at the school where I teach would definitely make fun of other kids over something like this, but many of them would also be very accepting. At this point, the kids I take to lunch are getting really into my bento habit. There is a cluster of girls wanting their own boxes, and they have them all picked out to hit their parents up on payday. One girl is Hmong, one is African American, the others are white. My school is pretty diverse, but the thing is most kids eat the school lunch. Even most of these kids who want to start packing boxes eat school lunch usually, though one of them does bring awesome lunches of sandwich fixings and they are out of the ordinary for my group..... pumpernickel bread, pickled peppers, and so on. One thing that helps is that we have a "closed lunch" so we go with our class, and though other classes are all around us, we are basically seated together and my particular lunch group this year is sweet. As far as what goes in my bento, they just think every little thing looks yummy and cute, even asparagus. Other teachers......that is another story. I DO get picked on by some other teachers. Most of the comments center around my lunch looking small, or the fact that I pack weird food. Primarily, others say my lunch is cute.

Re: Bento teasing?

Oh....I forgot to say in my last post....

As a kid, what I got picked on for at school was not a lunch item, but the smell of a food already eaten! We always ate ramps, and though other kids in WV ate them, too, if you smelled like them it was a major problem, and a big indicator to some that you were poor since you were eating wild foods. Still, I loved those things. I can remember trying every folk method out there to try to totally disguise the smell. Some teachers imported from other areas were the rudest! They would announce to the entire class NOT to eat them. If you have not heard of them, they are more or less a very strong wild leek. They are great!

Re: Bento teasing?

Ramps sound very similar to what is called Bärlauch (bear leeks, or wild garlic) here in Switzerland (see wild garlic pesto). They're considered a great spring delicacy, and a big deal is made out of them every year when they are available, sort of like the fuss over the first strawberries, or asparagus, etc. Maybe ramps just need some new marketing! :)

Resolution

Nice comeback, Setta. -^^-

Since it's been about two months since I posted that, I suppose I had better give the results. Though I don't remember just what I brought on the first day after the teasing, I recall that it had loads of vegetables in it, even for a bento, but not anything too exotic. Apparently people around here are just so surprised that people are capable of eating things like broccoli that they started being quiet soon after.

At this point, the school-lunch ladies have made it a hobby to stop by and check what I brought for lunch, and occasionally ask how I made it. I wouldn't be surprised if they started marketing some vaguely Asian stuff in their one-dollar snack store.

Re: Resolution

I'm so glad things turned out well for you Diana! Good for you! :)

Re: Bento teasing?

In the fourth grade, when I moved to a new school, I got a lot of bento teasing.... you know, "rice eater" and "ewww! seaweed!!!!", elementary kinds of things. However, my new friend, Allie, was very interested in Japan and it cuisine, and she started packing bentos too! Allie was pretty popular in our class, and pretty soon, the teasing stopped. Within a few days, it simply became bento interest, a lot of the kids had never seed asian food before (I live in a rural community in Virginia's tidewater area.... think Guinea.) In the end, everything turned out fine, and I made a lot of new friends. However.... I think I was lucky, compared to a lot of people out there. I just wanted to share my story. :D

~~~Onigiri!! <3~~~
~Tohru Honda~

Re: Bento teasing?

Thanks for sharing your story Tohru! I guess it just shows that most kids are followers. You and Allie were/are certainly leaders. :)

Re: Bento teasing?

I come from an Asian country.
In my country , [SINGAPORE] we are quite multi racial.
So we dont really have such incidences.
Our canteen is a mixture of indian/chinese/malay food.
With the occasional japanese eel thrown into the mix.
We bring lunches to school sometimes.
From curried rice , to fried 'wantons'

I guess people just dont respect other people's cultures , or either that are jealous they do not have such caring parents to prepare such warm hearted meals for them!

I guess some people are just not 'open' to new ideas.
Luckily , my father has traveled to many places thus opening new things to my tastebuds.

I once said i ate pita bread and my friend went 'WTH is that?!"
I was not shocked , but when i told her i ate cous cous [is that how you spell it?] she was like "WHAT is that?"

Okay maybe its just my thing.

I am not sure about America and the UK and such.
But in most asian countries , we are quite exposed to a variety of cultures and foods.

But maybe not those western ones.

(:

Re: Bento teasing?

But i DO eat western food.
Its usually called 'high class fining' if you eat ribs and stuff ....

I feel really bad for all of you who get teased by your friends.
I am glad for Diana.

In Singapore , we dont get picked on about our food.
I guess we are quite lucky.

Kids are mean maki , they really are.

Re: Bento teasing?

When I was a kid, "Lunchables" was a very popular product, and if your parents bought that for your home lunch, you were part of the cool kids. My parents were very busy and frugal so my lunches were a) not disposable (Tupperware container, regular silverware) and b) leftovers. Really, the antithesis of Lunchables! We ate fish nearly daily since my relatives have been traditional fishermen for generations, and I recall distinctly once I brought leftover cold rice, cold panko-fried fish, and some vegetables. A classmate leaned over with wide eyes (she having chips etc) and not unkindly commented on how unusual that was.
As my parents were busy they also handed over the responsibility of making home lunch to my sister and me way earlier than anybody I know (probably around age 8). If you woke up too late to make lunch or forgot it at home, tough luck. One summer we went to a day camp that required home lunch daily, and we were the only children who prepared their own food. The easiest thing to prepare was Spam musubi as we always had leftover rice, and we would tag team, one kid cutting up and frying the Spam and the other pressing out the musubi, to be toted in a very uncool soft cooler.
But, I grew up in Hawaii so although my lunches were decidedly "uncool", it wasn't because it was some icky foreign food, but rather the normal boring everyday food. I guess home lunch time was time to break out the expensive and rarely eaten treats like Lunchables and potato chips. I remember fervently wishing my mother would relent like all the other parents and buy me Lunchables or white bread or make me things like carrot sticks, but now I understand it was tough love.
In college now, it is harder to bring lunch as there is only one "public" microwave available. It's actually supposed to be used by food-purchasers only. I just stand there looking innocent as my spaghetti or whatnot hums away. I then pluck it out and stroll nonchalantly away. It is really the only time i feel somewhat stigmatized for bringing lunch.

Yeah, I get it too.

I'm in my last year of high school here, and I've been packing bentos for myself on occasion for nearly 2 years. My first year was comprised mostly of yummy onigiri and little healthy snacks in clear plastic containers, but this year I've gotten more fancy.
At my school it is incredibly uncool to bring lunch to school that is anything other than a sandwich, chips, and a soda. Though I do eat lunch by myself for the most part, I can't stand the attention my little bentos get. No one would ever approach me about them, but rather stand at a distance and stare. I won't eat my lunches in the cafeteria, because it's strange to be in there all alone. I do try to eat my lunches outside in the nice sunshine and fresh air, but people still seem to find me and stare from a safe distance away. I've now gotten to a point where I eat my lunches in a bathroom stall in the winter and at a remote part of the campus for the warmer parts of the year. I just can't stand all the stares I get.
There was only ever one time that someone approached me about my lunches, and she was kind of cruel. I really do hate getting stared at for eating my bentos though. ^.^;; I wish I was in a more diverse and accepting community where I could just eat my little lunches in peace. If only I were so lucky.

Re: Bento teasing?

My kids aren't old enough to be self concious about their lunches (they are three) but the staff at creche are impressed. It's a very multiculural place, between the staff and children they speak about ten languages there, and are used to 'diferent'

My husband's workmates are bemused, but he's not bothered because his lunch is nicer than theirs, and we're saving so much money. I get a lot of comments on my Kitty bento so I'm thinking of getting an alternative for when I start my new job, maybe something that looks a bit more grown up.

Re: Bento teasing?

I know this is an old post but I just encountered this exact problem. My 9-year old girl came home with a bento full of food because the kids teased her about her octopus shaped hotdogs. They're hotdogs!! She came home and said they teased her because she didn't have 'normal food'. I asked what normal food was and she promptly replied, "American." I explained that other kids were probably jealous and her food was made special for her, not like a lunchable.
Maybe nine is too old for cute lunches and I have to wait until my 4-year old is in kindergarten.

Re: Bento teasing?

when i was a kid i had similar problems with my leberwurst sandwiches, which are quite the opposite of "exotic" here in germany. leberwurst is a meaty sandwich spread made from liver- a little like paté, but not as fancy.
a teacher sniffed the air one time and told the class that it was very rude to bring smelly food like leberwurstbrot, adding that turkish garlicky stuff like the spiced beans other kids brought along was somehow indecent as well. she asked who had that smelly sandwich pack and exiled my lunch to the hall, where our coats hung, and ordered the room to be aired thouroughly. in february. the room was freezing! there was some teasing after that, but luckily there were more smelly-food-loving people around. a huge tin of crunchy pre-fried onions was bought, which was hidden in the classroom cupboard. everybody added a generous spoon of that to their otherwise rather innocent sandwiches- for a while, we must have been the stinkiest class ever! every day, that teacher was like "phooooey, what IS that smell???? open the windows or i won't teach!!!" and we just giggled and exhaled extra deeply as soon as the window was closed again.
she walked in one day while we were prepping our sandwiches and ran of to complain about "those turkish kids" (hey, i'm german!) being "disrespectful". apparently, she was told by the other teachers to shut up about it, stop being so racist and pass out breath mints for the harder cases, and we were told that smelly food in reasonably air tight containers was ok after all but collectively stuffing oneselves with fried onions for olfactory reasons was not!

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Wow, what a nasty, racist teacher! And ignorant too - I mean, liverwurst is not exactly Turkish! Grrr. People like that make my blood boil.

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I'm dealing with this one a lot, right now. My son's teacher actually made the comment, "I don't know how he eats the things he does." Um, isn't the basic apparatus fairly universal? Other kids will tease him sometimes, too, especially about the nori he likes to pack in his lunch. But a lot of it has been jealousy over his cute bento box and the little picks I send with him.

The teacher, though, sends a note home almost weekly about some problem or another with his lunches. Since I know he's not the only one who still struggles (in kindergarten) to open his lunch containers at times, and since I find it unlikely that a busy teacher could be sending home 10 or more notes like this every day, I suspect that it is the contents of his lunch she objects to. He still likes his lunches, though, and the comments only seem to galvanize his determination to carry them. He recently asked for a Harry Potter bento, lol. I'll always defer to his preferences, as long as it doesn't interfere with healthful diet.

The thought is intimidating...

Hi, Maki!
I've finally re-discovered your blog in time to take the recipes and stories to heart, since I've finally started cooking more in our family.

My family of 3 is Filipino, with myself being a 2nd generation Canadian since my parents immigrated here when they were fairly young. Since grade school, I've always had "different" tastes due to my upbringing at home.
Sticky rice, chicken adobo, bola-bola (a sweet soup with dango-like balls of dough and scores of sweet yam, etc) and champorado (not sure on the spelling of that, but it's like chocolate rice) were staples growing up. Most filipino cooking has a very strong smell and, naturally, features rice more than bread. But in elementary, my mom was very involved in my school (which was a very small and tight-knit one to begin with) and we had a few other different nationalities present, so my classmates actually asked my mum to bring in some of her homemade food every now and again.

But in junior high and high school, I ran into a few more problems.
There was less diversity in my junior high school and there were a few incidents where I either threw out my lunch in favor of Pizza Pockets or instant noodles, or packed myself a sandwich instead of allowing my mom to make a lunch for me. Our social teacher in grade 8 tried to incorporate a bit more cultural diversity through food, but my mom's sticky rice (which used to be a hit) was now "too sweet" or "mushy".
High school, though, was more a story of my own laziness than anything. But that's not to say I didn't run into the "smell factor". Though my friends didn't insist that I sit far away from them, they were clear when they thought something from my lunch smelled or was disgusting in their view.

Now, in University, I'm facing more a problem of intimidation than any actual situation.
Our faculty is small and our student lounge is about the size of a generous open-floor plan loft - with the same easy circulation of air and smell. Since I study in French, you can count the number of Asians in the whole building on one hand at any given time (mind you, it's a small building) and most of the students have a really small scope when it comes to food. So smell and "exoticness" are really noticeable here. Add to that the fact that my culinary tastes are always "gross" to at least one person I know at all times.

The past few weeks I've been slowly weaning some worldly foods into the corner where my group of friends and I gather - some miso soup last week, some chicken adobo later on and today was some delish shiitake mushroom onigiri and another bowl of miso soup. So far, so good. Though my friends did raise their eyebrows a bit, no one really said anything and a few commented on how the soup looked and smelled nice and the cuteness of the onigiri.

But I highly doubt I'll be able to pull off a Pikachu-shaped bento box, ha ha!
Likely gonna be tupperware for me! (Which is really fine, because my bag is a monster for tearing things apart).

Thanks again, Maki! Your blogs and stories are always really fun and informative to read.
PS: Your dessert section is a hit even among my friends - this weekend, I'm planning/being "strongly encouraged" to try out the Caramel recipe you posted. :)

Re: The thought is intimidating...

Hi Mouse, thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment - and good luck with your studies, and your bentos :)

Re: Bento teasing?

Hi, I'm Nadja, a 21-year old student from Austria. When I started studying, I started to cook for myself. My first meals were literally inedible ;), but now I'm a pretty good cook, I think, although I still can't produce an edible Wiener Schnitzel!

My boyfriend has a full-time job at university. Normally he and his colleagues share the cooking at lunchtime so he gets a nice and fresh meal every day - however, mostly consisting of meat, meat and... meat. I'm no vegetarian, but I try to eat meat only twice a week (because it's freaking expensive if you want to buy good meat). Of course I want him to eat less meat, too!
Sadly I couldn't convince him to take a bento with him every day yet, but once or twice a week he gets fed up with his colleagues' cooking and then I prepare him a bento box. I don't own a real bento-box yet, so I just use food containers from IKEA and some lockable custard moles for Austrian-styled potato salads or fruits. At first, so he told me, he was a bit ashamed of opening his bento at lunchtime, but his colleagues love his food! Very often they ask him if I could make a bento for them, too :D I try to make my bentos look nice and fresh and I also use lots of saisonal vegetables and fruits, so I think they feel rather bad with their unhealthy pizzas and kebab... Hihi~
I also make bento lunches for myself, but only when I'm not back home until lunchtime (As a student, I can usually eat my lunch at home, so I prefer too cook freshly.) Once a week, however, I take a especially nicely prepared bento with me and show off in front of my friends. ("Loook~ at my food!") At first I was laughed at and people talked about me and my "weirdness" behind my back, but after a while people started to envy me and some even wanted to try my food. One girl even asks me regularly to show her my food, because she can't cook and is so impressed by my cooking. I'm not quite sure what she'll say after easter when I will present my first "real" bento-box! :D

Re: Bento teasing?

My son (non Asian) is facing some teasing over bento (with mostly healthy American foods) by a few kids in particular. This is crazy because we have kids from just about every nationality in our school.

I've been working on helping him with some responses and all but one has come to accept it. He's tried to tell my son that my son has asthma because he eats so many healthy things. While it's a no brainer for adults, how does one explain long term health benefits to a little kid and what asthma is like to a kid who doesn't have it? I've left it pretty much at telling my son, "I make you bentos with healthy foods because I love you. Healthy foods will help you grow better." I help in the classroom and I know the kid pretty well. He doesn't have a clue what a bully he can be and in the next moment he'll be really sweet.

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I really love the thoughtful comments here - thank you everyone for sharing! ^_^ Who knew that a little box of food could cause so much discussion and reactions?

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I am easing my husband and son into Bento by buying their boxes in time for a local Anime Convention. We will all be carrying our Bento boxes instead of buying convention food. Since there are always "bento to buy" at the convention, they won't feel out of place. Packing our lunches for the days of the convention will more than pay for their boxes. We will also be using them when we take day trips this summer.

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This has been very interesting reading. I am American of Irish descent. I grew up with very American lunches never was teased over my lunch grow up (although there were plenty other things I was teased about, kids can be so cruel). Anyway, my dd, a very picky eater was introduced to Asian food in middle school and liked it. In the last couple of years she developed a deep fascination for Japanese culture and requested that I start cooking some Japanese foods. She went online and purchased her own bento and I have learned to do some bento for her. Many times with leftovers from dinner sometimes I cook things specifically for her bento if there are not leftovers available. They are not always particulary "artsy" but I try hard for a pleasing presentation. She is very happy with the lunches I have packed and it has been wonderful. My picky eater who has not grown since middle school and whose weight had dropped dangerously low has grown a half inch and is back up in the proper weight range since I started to prepare her bento regularly.
She has not mentioned any teasing from her lunches. However, I do have a co-worker who thinks I am trying to "turn Japanese" with all the Asian leftovers I bring for my lunch. I don't eat the variety that my dd does but I do enjoy my lunches. I suppose I might not get as many comments if I ate my lunches with a fork but I enjoy using my chopsticks. :)
Also, I work in an elementary school, which is very culturally diverse and many of the Japanese students bring bento lunches. I have not observed any teasing regarding lunches. But like I said the school is very culturally diverse so there are many different kinds of lunches in the lunch room. We have students from China, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, India, Greece, Germany, African Americans and European Americans. We have students who are strict vegetarians, students who keep Kosher and students who will eat nothing but junk food. Food teasing is thankfully not an issue that I have seen in our lunchroom.

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