The internet is home to a growing group of bento makers, who enjoy sharing their ideas and results in various communities. While some of the community members may hail from Australia, Ireland, or France, chances are a good bulk of them will be American. The day my mid-sized city newspaper ran a lifestyle feature on a local man who makes bento for his kids (male bento makers do seem to be in the vast minority), I knew that what up to that point had been a fun and rather useful hobby for me had made some sort of splash on the American radar.
So, why do I put the time and effort into making it? A number of reasons.
1. Portion Control and Healthier eating:
The Western idea as to what a single serving is has gotten rather crazy in the last few decades. More often than not, I'll end up taking half of my plate home when I order out (and then turn the leftovers into bentos!) since there's so much food. Fast food doesn't keep well, so I tend to feel more obligated to eat the entire serving. Also, most of the places to eat around where I work are fast food, so if I forget/am too lazy to bring my lunch, that's what I end up stuffing in my mouth.
2. Culinary experimentation:
Somewhere, approximately around the time I turned 25, I started wanting to increase (aka, get some) my cooking skills. Come to think of it, this is also possibly when I started watching food network. Anyway, I love fish/seafood and eggs, while my husband believes that these things are possibly the grossest substance on earth. My drive to improve my cooking led to buying cookbooks, which, inevitably, included recipies involving these components. Packing my lunch lets me try out some of these recipies or enjoy my favorite foods on a smaller scale.
3. I'm a bit of a Japanophile:
Back in my youth, in either first or second grade at the latest, I read the book Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. The book included instructions for folding a crane, which I quickly memorized, and then replicated ad-infinitum. In second grade, the teacher banned me from using the classroom scratch paper to make cranes, since I had made so many. In later elementary school, I discovered that there was more to origami than cranes, and in 7th grade, was actually able to turn in some more complex pieces as extra credit. Gradually over the course of my life I discovered Japanese cuisine, culture, kimonos, and more. I had been drooling over bento boxes listed on websites, but their cost kept my poor college and post-college self from being able to indulge myself in good conscience. Then, reasons 1 and 2 intersected with a (unfortunately now closed) cheap online store, and I jumped in with both feet.
4. It makes me happy:
Seriously. Even though I pack my own lunches and have thus designed every element by hand, I still feel a little pick-me up at mid day when I pull out my bento box and open it up to eat. Crappy morning? Who cares if I have carrot slices shaped like flowers! My rice is smiling at me? Who wouldn't be cheered by that? Well, yes, I know lots of people wouldn't, but I don't make lunches for them!