The Zero Cost Canteen (0円食堂) is part of the Popular Japanese television show: The Iron Hand Dash! ( ザ！鉄腕！DASH！！).
First aired by Nippon Television (NTV) in 1995, the show is still on air today, making it one of the longest-running TV shows in Japan.
To make sure the show remained popular, NTV invited the famous Japanese Idol group Tokio to host the show. In fact, it has been the highest rated show on NTV for several years now, making it one of the most influential TV shows in Japan.
In general, The Iron Hand Dash!! is a show that focuses on the relationship between humans and nature. Over the past 10 years, there have been several programmes focused on nature, the future, the Japanese environment and its well-being. For example, in 2009, they had a programme called The Iron Hand Coastline, where the hosts tried to clean up the water in the Tokyo Bay. By doing so they protected hermit crabs and clams from pollution and made sure that the Tokyo Bay was a safe and healthy eco system. This contribution to the environment led the hosts and the show to receive an annual commendation from Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
In 2013, they started a new programme called The Zero Cost Canteen. The Iron Hand Dash has consistently showed that they have been trying to design programmes that care about nature and sustainable development for future and needless to say, The Zero Cost Canteen is no exception. Due to the strict regulations of the Japanese food industry, every day, lots of food is thrown away due to their expiration date. The concept of this programme is to collect food that will be thrown away and make a meal from it, by which, the programme attempts to raise awareness of the problem of food waste.
Every week two hosts travel with a special guest to visit different regions in Japan. When they arrive they visit local stores, supermarket and farms (if they go to the countryside). Their main task is to investigate the condition of the local food market, and try to find out what kind of the food is wasted most in that region and then attempt to negotiate with locals to get free food to cook.
Basically, the host and the guest must collect food that would otherwise be thrown away but that is actually in good condition, thus getting food without paying. The food that they collect is normally related to the local food industry. For example, they collected cracked eggs in Saitama County, where, according to Japanese food regulations, these eggs are deemed not fit for sale. Saitama County is one subsidy of Tokyo Urbanization and has a long history as one of the major food suppliers to the east Japan district. The amount of food that is thrown away on a daily basis during the process of food production is serious, especially when it comes to the chicken industry. By attempting to save eggs that are in a good condition, but not pretty, they hope to change people’s opinions on ugly eggs.
In Zero Cost Canteen, the canteen actually refers to the vehicle that the team travels in, which is equipped with a kitchen, including a fridge, stove, oven, ventilator, microwave, and some basic ingredients. After collecting the wasted food, the team has to cook a meal in the vehicle. Sometimes they cook traditional food, sometimes they can be quite innovative. The show’s website has a special section with the team’s recent recipes. With the website, the canteen is not only a TV show but also potentially more than this, a project advising people on how to save food.
As an important TV show, the Zero Cost Canteen has become very influential around Japan and beyond. In the comments page on their website, we can find many different people showing their appreciation for the show. Ms. Satoshi, a 19 year old girl, comments that collecting unsold food to cook a meal is so impressive that she will try to do the same. Another lady, Ms. Yui, around 29 years old, comments that she saw on the show how to cook flounder (a type of fish) when it is past its expiry date and having tried it, she says it is delicious. Mr. Yo, comments that he has been watching the show since high school and thinks that the programme teaches people to make good use of the nature. He himself has personally learnt a lot from the show.
It is obvious that this show is using its power and influence to change Japanese society’s views on humanity, nature and the future, as well as raising people’s awareness about an important part of our daily life—food, which is nature’s biggest gift to us all.