Mairead Kelly is an ex-glutton turned health conscious writer who, every once in a while, can still be found eating dinner over the kitchen sink. Follow her posts to stay up-to-date on her journey into the world of quality lunch gear, and her interactions with folks who are transforming the way we think about the ethical, environmental, and cultural dimensions of eating, health, and nourishment.
The Takenaka Bento Box pictured above comes in five different color ways.
Simply put, my family was too busy to eat right. Getting all seven of us around the dinner table was like an edible solar eclipse, save birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. More often than not we’d grab snacks to eat in the car or order take-out on the way home from Sunday school and soccer practice. At 11-years-old, I could eat a small calzone by myself. At 12, I could almost polish off a whole pizza. It was a slightly sad scenario, yes, but still one with lots of humor. My brother, the oldest, liked to joke that my mother didn’t allow food in the dining room. My mom often gazed at us stragglers milling about the kitchen as we drained Frosted Flakes straight from the box, gasping, “it’s a wonder you all don’t have rickets.”
We all had—and still have—the standard amount of fingers and toes.
It’s been roughly a decade since the heyday of my family’s erratic mealtimes and almost eight years that I’ve been living on my own. Now, at 25-years-old, I often debate the idea of a Brussels sprout tattoo. It’s a poor analogy, yes, but meant to highlight a truly massive change for me, one brought by lots of time and a bit of maturity, travel, a slew of vegan and vegetarian friends, and the realization that came sometime during college: eating poorly can take years off your life. These days, mealtimes are about attitude and practice, where preparation and presentation are every bit as important to me as remembering how to chew.
Enter the bento box, Japanese culinary staple turned reformed snacker tool. The design is a derivative of 5th century seed boxes used by Japanese farmers, and usually features multiple compartments for traditional dishes like rice, pickled vegetables, and fish. Despite its roots, the name, “bento,” originates from biàndāng, a phrase coined by the Chinese Song Dynasty between the 10 and 13BC. As the first government in history to issue paper banknotes and detect true north using a compass, it’s only fitting that bento mean, “convenience.” After all, who would have time for sloppy sandwiches and pudding packs when you’re busy inventing gunpowder?
Today, the iconic little container finds lunchtime limelight across cultures, including those within the U.S. And while the dishes you’ll find inside may vary by region, the emphasis on a balanced meal does not. My own bento box has been a massive plus in helping me keep an eye on my eating habits and the produce section of the grocery store, and cover the nutritional bases by packing each section with a different type of food. The cliché “variety is the spice of life” rings true with bento, as I take simple delight in tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and even raw broccoli. Of late, I’ve also been taking the time to get creative with lunchtime—think veggie egg rolls, quinoa salad, and black bean burgers—which is no small feat considering my Pringles and Pop tart heritage.
Moving away from the traditional rectangular bento box, the Sanyoshi Lacquerware Bento Bowl is a round lacquered bowl that is innovative, portable and stylish. Perfect for packing a work lunch, a meal on a long flight, or for a picnic with friends.
Years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that an ancient Japanese practice would have such an impact on my mindset, but it has. I’ve been using my bento box for about a year now, and these days, lunchtime is practically meditative. Bento boxes just make food more special—and what is there to argue about the good in that? Mindful eating, the notion of being “present” during mealtime, is one strategy to reconnect with the food we put in our bodies. It’s all so that when we do eat, we’ll be able to give our food the attention it deserves.
- Mairead Kelly