2005年11月14日 月曜日

Bento Meet Silicon Valley

by Mizuko Ito



A few weeks ago I received an email in my inbox asking if my kids would be interested in trying out some laptop lunch boxes. Laptop lunch boxes? Intrigued, I emailed the nice folks at obentec in the affirmative. Is this my first product placement for my bento blog ? Much too fun an opportunity to turn down, particularly as an offer coming from a small health-oriented and environmentally sound mom and mom operation. And a chanpon product inspired by Japanese bento boxes to boot!

Last week two laptop lunch boxes arrived! My kids were even more excited than I was with the new bento tech. Even though my bento blog has been on hiatus because I am in the midst of a web redesign, I did blog my first laptop lunch.


Laptop lunch boxes are a clever integration of the aesthetics of bento with the social progressivism, health orientation and design aesthetic of the San Francisco Bay Area. The compartments fit together in bento fashion, but are packed in a carrying case that looks like a cross between a laptop case and a soft American kids lunchbox. The deluxe set (which I was lucky enough to get) also comes with a plastic water bottle and a knife and fork. Maybe if I had started off with laptop lunches rather than standard Japanese bento my daughter may not have felt as strange during kindergarten lunch hour.

Reading the obentec web site and their commitment to reducing waste and promoting health made me realize how different my lunch packing habits are from the American mainstream. I have always used Japan-origin reusable containers and utensils and only pack things in disposable plastic for field trips when the school insists on it. But judging from the mission of laptop lunch boxes, this is far from the norm in the U.S. I have also never considered my lunch packing habits to be specifically "health-oriented," but more a commitment to packing stuff that tastes good that my kids will like. And I do want them to grow up knowing and loving Japanese food. I've always wondered about whether kids really like lunchables which seem to oddly appealing as well as unappetizing. But my kids have never asked for one or a bologna sandwich for that matter, so I've never given them much thought. Laptop lunches though are a direct response to these tendencies in American lunchbox culture, addressing the wishes of the progressive American consumer with a nod to Japanese bento culture. The web site includes pleas to sustainable lunch box packing, as well as vegetarian recipes and warnings about the rise in childhood obeisity.

While far from supersized, the compartments are larger than a Japanese bento box, forcing me to rethink some of my packing habits. Rather than pack a snack separately, I've been packing it within the laptop lunch. This seems to work pretty well. I find that the ideal lunch for the laptop lunch box revolves around a sandwich or sushi and features mostly dry food. The designers decided only to provide watertight lids for one large container and the dip container to mimimize the frustration of hunting for multiple lids. But this means I can only pack one wet item. This doesn't work for all meals and makes me realize that I pack a lot of juicy fruit and saucy dishes. For hot meals I still use my Zojirushi thermal bento, and for onigiri I pack them in my special sankaku containers. I confess I have over fifteen different bento box variants that I rotate through on a regular basis. The laptop lunch box though is different enough to my usual combos that I think it will invite some new lunch packing innovations.

I'm still in the the learning phase with my obentec, but I like the new addition to my repetoire and the kids have really taken to the cool Americanized design that still contains the kinds of foods they like to eat. The little details are enough to warm a Japanese mom's heart - the little sauce container, the compartment for cutlery, and the way everything fits tightly from the inner compartment to the outer insulated carrier, minimizing spills and keeping everything compact. Plus, laptop lunch boxes are guaranteed lead-free and feature the American-style convenience of diswasher safe-ness. I can't tell you how many Japanese bento boxes I've ruined because a lid went into the wrong dishwasher rack.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2005年11月14日 06:54


Good morning! I love the way you write - it's just like having a conversation. Your kids are so good looking. We are going to try the new lunchbox.
If you'd like another healthy item to look into, I'd love you to check out my website - www.healthychanges.org - and read / listen to doctors talk about JuicePlus (17 fruits, vegetables and grains in a capsule, chewable or gummy form). It's made a huge difference to the health of my family (so much so that I made it my business. Now I get to help other families get healthy too, and it allows me to be here for my children while they are young and need me).
Where are you located? I'd like to give you complimentary tickets to attend a 1-hour presentation on family health the next time one is happening in your area. I'm in North Carolina.
Best wishes,
Sue Huber

2- Ruth

Going to a school with a large Japanese and Japanese-American population my kids suffered from bento-envy until I finally figured out how to make a comparable American lunch. Laptop Lunchboxes were my saviors. Thanks for the site, I use your photos for ideas when packing my kids' lunches, they definitely prefer a more "Japanese style" and I run out of ideas.

We are a chanpon family. My wife was born and raised in Kyoto, I in Southern California. In the course of our life together we have lived in Japan and the US, though it seems we've settled for the US. We would like to eventually make it to what seems like chanpon nirvana, Hawaii.

My daughter started school in a very small (pop. 850) town in Iowa where ours was the only non-white population. Onigiri drew a lot of attention. Laptop lunchboxes would have been great.

4- Mich

You mention that you pack your onigiri in
"special sankaku containers" - can you tell me more about these containers for onigiri? Anywhere I might be able to get them? THANKS!

5- david

I came to you from a Google ad (for the product at Golden Orchard.) We use wax paper bags because rumor has it that plastic containers leach carcinogens into food.

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