NICCO has been carrying out a special project that uses food to promote economic recovery and support community building. In the early stages following the disaster, NICCO had been running daily soup kitchens to feed evacuees, but as local restaurant owners began reopening temporary shops, they eventually switched their focus to the development of products that use famous Tohoku foods. NICCO worked with various funders, chefs from the “Soul of Tohoku” project, and food manufacturers to produce a line of products that can be ordered online. Six products were announced in the fall of 2011, and now an additional 5 products are being offered through the summer of 2012. The involvement of a renowned group of chefs brings not only outstanding culinary knowledge and brand image to the products, but the fact that these chefs are involved in product quality assurance—including the radiation inspections—helps assure consumers that the products are safe. As a result, the products are being offered at department stores throughout the country as well as online.
In addition to this economic aspect of the project, a second key element is to support community building among those in temporary housing through dinner parties and cooking lessons involving the project’s famous chefs. Neighbors in the temporary housing units generally were not neighbors before the disaster, so by holding events once or twice a month, NICCO is providing opportunities for them to get to know one another and build a new community—and to enjoy excellent food!