Table for Two

Table for Two

An ambitious Japanese NPO tackles nutrition problems in the first and third worlds


Originally published on on November 2009

Photos courtesy of Table for Two

Photos courtesy of Table for Two

It’s become a cliché to juxtapose the expanding waistlines and diet-related health problems of people in industrialized countries with the high occurrence of malnutrition in the developing world. But even if this comparison is simplistic, no one can deny the global imbalance between the haves and have-nots.

The World Food Programme estimates that there are over a billion undernourished people in the world. They suffer from stunted mental and physical growth, an increased risk of infectious diseases, and reduced life expectancy.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that first-world nations, particularly North America and Europe, have ballooning obesity rates. The rate in Japan is still relatively low—less than two percent—but is steadily rising due to changes in diet and lifestyle. With higher BMIs resulting in greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, any increase in the obesity rate represents a serious health problem.


It might seem like the scourges of malnutrition and obesity would require separate solutions, but the innovative Japan-based NPO Table for Two (TFT) is tackling both at once.

“The idea is to address the global food problem—obesity in the advanced nations and famine in the developing world,” says Masa Kogure, director of TFT International and author of the bestselling Japanese book Niju-en de sekai o tsunagu shigoto (“Connecting the World Through 20 Cents”).

TFT subsidizes the cost of nutritious food for needy Africans with a surcharge on healthy lunches in Japan. This elegantly simple idea is the brainchild of six Japanese entrepreneurs, hailing from both the public and private sectors, who originally presented it at the World Economic Forum in 2006.

The participants, which include companies, schools, hospitals, public ministries, agencies and other groups, offer special TFT menus in consultation with a registered nutritionist.


“Healthy, well-balanced meals are our goal, and we allow a lot of freedom within that framework,” says Kogure. The only requirements are that they must be less than 800 calories, have a good nutritional balance, and include a lot of vegetables.

The price includes a ¥20 donation to TFT, which can be paid either by the employee or subsidized by the participant organization. This might not seem like a lot of money, but it’s enough to provide one healthy meal for a needy child.

As Uichiro Niwa, president of TFT participant Itochu Corporation, puts it, “A child dies of hunger every five seconds. With the cost of a cup of coffee, we can help ten children survive the day.”

TFT donates the money to schools in Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi, which are then responsible for periodically reporting on the distribution of school meals and the health of their students.

“[The schools chosen] are poor and in need, and located in politically stable environments,” says Kogure. “It is also essential that we have a reliable partner to distribute school meals.” An added benefit to the program is that school attendance increases when parents know their children will be fed.

TFT’s twofold approach seems to be catching on. Currently, the group works with about 150 organizations in Japan, including such well-known companies as IBM and NEC, with further expansion into the US by the end of the year. (In April, Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona became the first US partner.) TFT has also expanded its efforts to include partnerships with online shops, restaurants and convenience stores. According to Kogure, the group has raised over ¥20 million to date and has provided about a million and a half meals to African schoolchildren.

It looks like a little empathy and the desire to drop a dress size can work wonders after all. As TFT says on its website, “[You] are not eating alone; ignoring time and borders, you are eating at a table together with children who are less fortunate. We believe that this sense of unity… is critical for the well-being of our world today.”

To find out more about Table for Two, see To set up a Table for Two program at your workplace, email