Lundberg takes Tokyo

Hometown rice master Grant Lundberg was off to Japan on June 26 to introduce bento-box meals fortified with organically grown rice from Lundberg Family Farms near Richvale. As we reported a year ago, NRE World Bento tapped the Lundbergs to include the family’s quality rice in its lunchbox and rice-bowl-type meals. The partnership is proving profitable. The processing plant in Fairfield is already turning out a few thousand bento a day, and within a couple of weeks should be making 10,000 to 20,000 a day to ship overseas for sale starting July 17.

But here’s the latest: The bento folks have expanded their plan to include sales in the United States—perhaps as soon as six months from now. “I think the market in America is perfect for our healthy convenience food,” said Jeffrey Schnack, president of NRE World Bento.

Schnack, who will double as Mr. Lundberg’s translator while he addresses the Japanese, said the meals will be “tweaked” a bit to satisfy American tastes. (For example, taking the skin off the chicken and the bones out of the fish.) But ultimately, he expects they will serve a similar market: Hungry businesspeople or families who want good food in a hurry.Something crunchy is afoot at Cold Stone Creamery in downtown Chico. Like other ice cream shops in the franchise, the Cold Stone here has launched a summer promotion with a tie-in to CBS’s Survivor show: deep-fried, chocolate-covered crickets. “They taste like Crunch bars with legs,” reports Ted Thomsen, the manager. “They don’t taste like crickets.”

The crickets cost the same as a regular “mix-in,” but if you eat them you get a coupon for a free ice cream the next time you come in. Thomsen said he’s had a few takers from “all kinds of people.”

The promotion runs until July 27 and also includes the not-as-daring “dirt and worms” ice cream, which is just crushed Oreos and gummy worms. I vote that off the island.Fourteen makers of portable classrooms have just settled a lawsuit brought by As You Sow, an environmental group based in San Francisco. The group charged that the buildings contained, without warning labels, toxic chemicals prohibited under Proposition 65. As You Sow looked to 1999 state and federal data analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, which found more than two million schoolchildren attend schools where portable classrooms may expose them to such chemicals as formaldehyde and benzene that can increase the risk of cancer.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, the manufacturers agreed to pay $150,000, which will go toward grants, and also paid legal fees and $10,000 in civil penalties. Starting July 1, they’ll be making the buildings with less-toxic formaldehyde in the wood and none at all in the carpet glues and other adhesives. Ventilation will be improved as well.

Mary Leary, director of maintenance and operations for the Chico Unified School District, said that while the district buys portables from two of the defendants—Designed Mobile Systems Industries and Gary Doupnik Manufacturing—it is certain they are safe. The buildings are even aired out before they’re occupied.

"We have done testing of many of our mobile classrooms," Leary said, following teacher complaints of nasal and other problems. "All the tests have come back negative."