The great gyoza scare of a year-and-a-half ago supposedly made the Japanese public more concerned about food safety, but in the meantime a much more momentous scare happened: the worldwide recession. Consequently, frozen gyoza (pot stickers) from China — the main culprit in the food scare — is back on shelves and selling better than ever for no other reason than that it’s cheap.
Japanese consumers have always been noted for their discerning tastes in food, and the food distribution structure exploits this belief by limiting the kinds of foods that are available, in particular produce. Up until recently, fruits and vegetables that didn’t adhere to standards of size and shape were rejected by wholesalers because it was believed that people wouldn’t buy them, though the real reason is that enforced uniformity allows them to keep prices higher. But smaller and discount food stores have been openly selling this “irregular” produce and people buy it because it’s less expensive and tastes just as good as the nicely shaped stuff. So now many major supermarkets are also selling this non-standard produce, too.
The next frontier for the anti-food waste crusade is processed food that has passed its use-by date. In Japan, there are two kids of expiration notices printed on packaging — shomi kikan and shohi kikan, which respectively correspond to the English terms, “best-by date” and “use-by date.” Shomi kikan literally means the product “tastes best” before the printed date while shohi kikan means it must be “consumed” by the printed date.