Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Crafty Moms Ruin Lunch

The Japanese like things small and compartmentalized, e.g., hotel rooms, train berths, and video game levels. Thus they have popularized bento, a traditional form of single-serving, portable meals served in (of course) small, compartmentalized boxes. Basically, you put some rice here, some fish there, some picked vegetables in these adorable little spaces, and voila! Artful Japanese food to go. (Voila is not Japanese, of course. But I couldn't figure out a way to spell that Japanese sound Speed Racer always made when he discovered a huge boulder in the path of the Mach 5.)

They lost me with the pink stuff and the things that look sliced tentacle.
Now, bento-style lunches are the new thing among America's moms with time on their hands (a group to which I aspire but cannot realistically imagine belonging). Ignoring the fact that bento is basically a sack lunch without the multiple Ziploc bags, the crafty moms of this country, bless their hearts, have rallied around two essential components of the concept.

The first is the box. In Japan, bento can be served in anything from disposable takeout containers to traditional black lacquered boxes (which, according to Wikipedia, actually inspired the design of the IBM ThinkPad, thus satisfying my daily requirement of strange random knowledge). Japanese bento boxes can also come in bamboo, clay, or metal varieties. To the American crafty mom, this all boils down to one thing: Cute little boxes to buy!

Bento boxes are popping up everywhere - in stores, online, on crafty-mom blogs. Typically they look something like this model I found at Laptop Lunches:

See the darling little compartments? See the matching silverware? See the $41 price tag? Seems kind of pricey for something that's going to end up in the lost and found three weeks after school starts.

You can get cheaper options, however, like this quite adorable panda-shaped box that I found on Amazon:

D'awwww! For $12.99, I'd actually consider this for my own lunches. Honestly, though, if I were going to do the bento thing, I'd probably rely more on this traditional form:
Which is why I'm not a crafty mom. They won't even let me into their symposia with aesthetic sensibilities like this.

The second essential component of bento that's making American moms wet their aprons is the opportunity for self-expression. Now, admittedly, I'm not a foodie. I don't swoon over radish roses. My idea of decorating a cake is taking the big jar of sprinkles that's divided into four colors and giving each one a good shake over the top. Although I enjoy cooking, I feel my obligation in feeding my family ends at edibility, not artistic presentation. So while I appreciate the cuteness of kyaraben bento, in which the food is arranged to look like animated characters...

I mean, who wouldn't want to bite the head off that?
...I cannot for the life of me imagine trying to get Precocious Daughter's lunch to look like a damn Pokemon while simultaneously tracking down clean socks and not forgetting to use the bathroom in case there's a traffic jam on the way to work. (This is a real fear of mine, along with running out of gas, which is why I can't wait until they develop a car that runs on urine.)

But for crafty moms, packing a lunch filled with creatively rendered foodstuffs must be something akin to winning an Olympic gold medal while simultaneously reaching orgasm and fitting into skinny jeans. Or so I surmise, based on the existence of crafty-mom blogs like Or as I feel the need to call it, Really and truly, I'm not mocking the mom who writes this blog. You've got to click through to see some of her bento creations. They're amazing. But you may as well ask me to become Prime Minister of Pakistan as to try to duplicate any of them on a school morning or any other morning for that matter.

It is too Spongebob! It's square, isn't it? Get in the damn car.
But now you've got your crafty moms buying cookie cutters to make star-shaped sandwiches and laying out tiny fruit salads that look like Justin Bieber and fashioning cartoon characters out of pimento loaf and toothpicks. And then carefully packing their creations in color-coordinated, eco-friendly boxes made of locally sourced materials. All so they can trade it away for PDaughter's Little Debbie Swiss Roll, which I artfully took out the box and stuffed in her lunch bag next to a turkey sandwich and a fruit cup.

As you may have gathered, I'm no stranger to being one-upped by the crafty moms. The ones whose vacation pictures nestle in elaborately themed scrapbooks and not on a hard drive. Or serve individually decorated cupcakes that didn't originate in a clear plastic box. The ones who put this font on everything:

AKA Cheerleader Serif.
 I concede defeat at their crafty hands without rancor or resentment. I am who I am, and they are who they are, and just because you can't see my love for my child in the form of yearly expenditures at Michael's that equal the GNP of a developing nation doesn't mean it's not there. It's there in a crappy old-school sack lunch, but it's there.

To prove my point, my parting shot is not at crafty moms, but at The Dallas Morning News, which inspired today's post by running an article about bento. Now, what I find appealing about the idea of bento is not the gotta-buy-that trendy boxes or the styling and staging of the presentation, but that the menu traditionally consists of lean protein, rice, and raw veggies. In keeping with its own aesthetic sensibilities, the Morning News ran this picture of a Dallas-style bento lunch.

A hot dog, a cupcake, and a spork. If that doesn't define suburban-Dallas bento, I don't know what does.

That cupcake totally doesn't look like Pikachu, by the way.


  1. My favorite is the squished hot dog. Who wouldn't want that for lunch?

  2. It's wrinkled, too, as if Mom had grilled it a couple of days ago. But it fits in the cute box, dammit!

  3. What a hilarious column! Yes, the bento boxes are totally cute but kind of impractical. My kids may not be thrilled with their PBJs in recycled bags, but at least they don't get the cold Indian meatloaf I've seen in some kids' lunches at school.


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