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Spaces of uncertainty in the food supply after Fukushima

Nicolas Sternsdorff Cisterna
Harvard University

(Note: This post is based on research in progress, and I welcome feedback on how to proceed with this material.)

Tanaka-san (a pseudonym) is the head of one of the food coops based in Fukushima prefecture. We met at a consumer rights event, and I have visited him a few times to talk about the state of food safety in Japan. Coops are a strong force in Japanese food retailing  — a little over 30 percent of Japanese households belong to one. There are many kinds of coops, and the one that he runs has strong positions on food politics: they are against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP — a free trade agreement that could liberalize the Japanese agricultural sector), seek to reduce the use of additives and preservatives, and are concerned about the use of post-harvest pesticides in some imported crops. At the same time, they promote local products, and try as much as possible to support farmers and producers in Fukushima prefecture. To him, eating local does not mean Japanese products (kokusan), but to eat products from his prefecture. Moreover, as many coops do, they promoted their products as safe, reliable and healthy alternatives to the industrialized crops that are featured in supermarkets and the additive-heavy lunch boxes at convenience stores.

The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant put Tanaka-san’s coop in a difficult position: how to continue sourcing safe food for their members in the face of radioactive pollution? One of the first things they did was to set stricter safety standards than those of the government for the amount of permissible pollution in their products. Immediately after the earthquake, the government raised the limit to 500 becquerels per kilo (bq/kg), which many consumer groups and food activists denounced as being dangerously high. They reasoned that the WHO, Ukraine and Belorussia have much lower standards (around 30-100bq/kg, depending on the product), so the government was potentially putting people in harm’s way. For Tanaka-san, the question was also one of balance: it was fine for him to set tight standards, but set them too low and he risked driving out of business the local farmers that supply his coop. They settled for 50bq/kg (1/10 of the government standard), but also at the bequest of their members, started selling a Western-Japan vegetable set. The reasoning was that those members who could live with the risk of acceptable levels of radiation in their food supply could support local farmers, while those who found the risks to be inadmissible could ask for vegetables grown far away in Western Japan.

I last saw Tanaka-san during the first week of March 2012, and asked him about safety standards now that the government is poised to reduce them to a maximum of 100bq/kg starting April 2012. He told me that they will continue upholding stricter standards than the government, but that at any rate, most crops these days test as 不検出 –Not Detected (N.D.), which means that no radiation was found.

The meaning of 不検出 however, is a contested space. There are now numerous testing centers in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo where consumers, farmers and anyone willing to pay the fee can have their food measured for radiation. In addition, many food companies, distributors, retailers and even restaurants have purchased radiation testing machines. On the one hand, this gives consumers greater certainty that the food they are purchasing has been tested and shown to be within safe levels (especially since government testing has sometimes failed to catch products that exceeded the maximum levels). On the other, testing cannot offer total closure on the question of food safety.

It turns out that not all testing means the same thing. To begin with, different machines are capable of different levels of accuracy and detail. And secondly, the longer one leaves a sample inside the machine, the more accurate the reading becomes. For example, the machines at a testing center in Tokyo can detect radiation up to 10bq/kg in 20 minutes with one machine, and up to 20bq/kg in the same time with the other machine. If one leaves the food inside for less time, the machine can only detect higher concentrations. On the other end of the spectrum, leaving it inside for several hours can yield detailed results of up to 0.5bq/kg for some machines. Moreover, some of the people running these centers have told me that results vary even depending on who prepared the samples. Food is pushed into plastic containers that are then placed inside the machine, but technicians have told me that different people press the food with different strength, which can lead to different readings (if more product ends up in the same space, it can register more radiation that if less of it was pressed in).

N.D. is a measurement in flux that cannot conclusively determine whether a product is free of radiation. What it does is show that under the conditions in which a product was tested, it showed no radiation above a certain level. For example, one could use the machines to test whether something is below the current government level of 500bq/kg. On the upside, this means that the product does not need to sit inside the machine for long, freeing up the machine to do a lot of testing. On the other, it means that the product may in fact have radiation but since it showed as N.D., it can be anywhere under 500bq/kg.

For people looking to eat below a certain level, this might be an acceptable amount of indeterminacy. So long as the product is below their safety standard, then it should not be a problem. For people like Tanaka-san, he can offer an acceptable level of risk but cannot guarantee the absence of radiation. Under the present testing circumstances and the cost involved, Tanaka-san aims to offer products that test below 10bq/kg. There are consumers, however, for whom this level of indeterminacy is still unacceptable. In October of 2011, Vladimir Babenko from Belorussia gave a presentation in Tokyo on how to protect children from radiation, based on his work after the accident in Chernobyl. During the question and answer period, one person asked him what he thought was an acceptable level of radiation in food. Babenko turned the question back, and asked this woman:

“If I put a bottle of milk in front of you and tell you that it measures 200bq/kg, would you drink it?”

The woman and much of the audience loudly said no.

“Then, what would you like it to be?”

“I would like it to be zero,” she emphatically responded.

“Well then,” Babenko concluded, “then that is your safety zone. You need to decide for yourselves what your level of risk is.”

[MAP of Japan/affected region]

Even if something tests as N.D., this might still not be enough to convince some consumers of the safety of those products, especially some of the parents of young children that I have met at food safety events. For these parents, an absolute zero is the ideal. However, as one of the technicians at a food testing center in Fukushima city told me, “zero is just impossible,” by which he meant both that food in the affected areas might have trace amounts of radiation, and that the testing cannot offer that level of assurance. For those people, Tanaka-san offers the Western-Japan vegetable set, and I have heard from other consumers both in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo that their rule of thumb is not to buy anything east of Nagoya or below Hokkaido.

One of the main themes I have seen since I begun fieldwork in Japan is a desire for determinacy among consumers. To be able to have a clear sense of what can be safely consumed, and what should be avoided. The circumstances, however, do not offer a black and white choice, but rather variations of grey. I suggest that the space between zero and N.D. is one of the places from where this indeterminacy emerges. This is by no means the only source of uncertainty, but it illustrates how these spaces of uncertainty after Fukushima affect food practices in Japan.

Nicolas Sternsdorff Cisterna is a PhD Candidate in social anthropology at Harvard University. He is currently conducting fieldwork in Japan on food safety after Fukushima.

15 Comments
  1. Craig D. Nelson permalink

    This is a very interesting exploration of the social construction of risk in the aftermath of a disaster.

    I’m curious to hear any observations you might have about how savy consumers are about the risks of radiation. You mention that parents are rightly cautious about feeding potentially affected food to their children since radiation affects them more strongly because their cells divide more rapidly than adults, and I would assume that pregnant and nursing mothers would be similarly concerned. However, are the consumers and coop owners that you talk to more cautious about the different types of risks associates with different types of foods? Bearing in mind that I’m a historian with no scientific training, not all radiation is the same. Some tainted foods can be treated by something as simple as washing, whereas others should not be ingested at all. For example, strontium can replace calcium in milk, and when it’s ingested can be incoroporated into bone.

    Are people broadly aware of the distinction, as you put it, between 0 and ND? Are people, in your experience, generally willing to accept the government guidelines, or do many seek out places offering a stricter standard? Has the government’s role as an authority being compromised by perceptions of complicity in the accident? If so, does this extend to both the national and prefectural governments?

    • Hi Craig,

      Thank you for your careful reading and the thoughtful questions!

      There are definitely people in Japan who are not particularly concerned about the effects of Fukushima on the food supply, and who by extension live by the government standards. I have found this to be a difficult part of my research — to try and get to those to whom this is not such a big deal. Most of my fieldwork has been with people and organizations concerned about food safety, so they tend to fall on the “very aware” and “active” end of the consumer spectrum. I have asked Tanaka-san, and other food retailers/distributors, and it is hard for them to fathom why some people are not more concerned.

      I started thinking about the space between 0 and ND after meeting an organic farmer from Fukushima who sells at farmers’ markets in Tokyo every weekend. He has all his crops tested, and brings the certificates with him, which all show ND. In spite of that, he has lost 80% of his clientele, just by virtue of being from Fukushima. He just didn’t get it why people were still afraid of his products even though he had the certificate with him. There are certainly more factors at play here, such as the circulation of vicious rumors (不評被害) that hinder the possibility, but I wanted to think about what other factors contribute to the uncertainty, and for people who have immersed themselves in the world of food testing, they are aware of what the machines can and cannot tell us.

      As for the government, among the groups I have done research with, there is little to no respect for their authority. The overwhelming feeling I’ve gotten from my interviews is that they think the government is more interested in protecting the nuclear industry than the health and safety of citizens. For prefectural governments, thank you for pointing to this to me — I haven’t looked much at this. I know that people in Yokohama were upset that the the city council was reluctant to accept stricter testing of school lunches, but i will have to do more research on this.

      For cleaning products, the knowledge is certainly being circulated. There has been an immense amount of books published on how to deal with radiation, and tips on how to clean products (primarily soaking them in salt-water solutions). I still have to do more work though on how and whether this knowledge translates into different cooking practices at home…I’ve had a couple of conversations about this, but I need to expand this part of my research.

  2. Kristina Buhrman permalink

    As hinted in your introduction of Tanaka-san, food safety was an issue of concern for many in Japan even before March 11, 2011. GMOs in particular–but concern also included issues of disease and contamination, such the BSE-related ban on American beef, 0-157 E. coli outbreaks, and the 事故米 (jiko kome) Chinese rice contamination incident. Some of these, I would think, would have been factors that led Tanaka-san to become involved with the food coop movement. How much influence this history might have on perceptions of radiation danger could be instructive to tease out, particularly for those who are coming to this issue from a nuclear power perspective, and not the food-chain/food-safety or foodways one.

    Interestingly, the BBC Food Programme just did a short episode on food safety history and monitoring at the government level (apparently originally de-centralized and done on a local level). For comparative purposes, the program can be listened to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01cj83h

    I was struck, in comparing the two, how different political-economic motives lead to uncertainty. In the BBC program, the concern was how austerity and privatization were going to effect food safety. As you show in your description of how the monitoring works, the interface between technician and machine is equally important. (And as Craig Nelson points out, not all sources of radioactive contamination are created equal. I’m assuming the machines only measure amount, not type or source?)

    • Hi Kristina,

      Thank you for your comments.

      You’re totally right that food safety is not a new concern among consumers in Japan. GMOs, BSE, imports, mislabeled products, etc., were salient concerns before Fukushima. The main tension I’ve seen on this regard is people in the food safety movement (coops, consumer federation) trying to get people to remember that there’s more to food safety than just radiation. I’ve been to a few coop meetings (a different coop from Tanaka-san) where they told us not to forget additives and GMOs! Of course we’re all concerned about food safety, she said, but other things can still be dangerous.

      There is a similar concern here that if Japan joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, it would have to liberalize its agricultural sector much more, and the influx of cheaper imports would both kill the domestic industry, but also expose consumers to less safe food.

      For the machines, you’re right that it depends on the machine what it can tell you. The more basic ones are capable of giving you an overall radiation reading, but the more sophisticated (and expensive) ones can disaggregate the results by compound, and show how much Cs 134, Cs 137, K-40 and others are present.

      Thank you for the link! I’ll listen to this show later in the train.

  3. Nicolas, this is great stuff. It is eloquently told, and it draws upon a lot of classic work in STS, such as work on the inherent epistemological limits of technological testing as well as work on the importance and inescapably idiosyncratic nature of tacit knowledge. There is a large amount of literature on these topics by folks such as Harry Collins, Trevor Pinch, Donald MacKenzie, and many others. I’d be happy to offer a list of specific suggestions to you by email. I was particularly reminded of some recent work by John Downer, who has worked specifically with testing for aircraft safety standards (and thus might also be relevant to Chris Hood’s work as well).

    Food safety is an emotional and quite literally intimate issue for people in any society. I might suggest that it is an even more explosive issue in Japan than elsewhere. A French friend of mine who visited me a few years ago was quite stunned by what he observed, and he opined that Japan is “even more of a foodie culture than France.” Recently there has been some news about Japan surpassing France in restaurants with Michelin stars, but even more than that is simply the amount of obsessive attention that is paid to food in everyday life, by the media, and so on.

    I mentioned elsewhere in this forum that I watched an NHK documentary about people living in and around Minami-Soma, in Fukushima Prefecture. One of the people profiled was a dairy farmer. His income has plunged to 20,000 yen per month (roughly $250 or so). He mentions that three other dairy farmers in the area have committed suicide in the last year. This particular man cannot sell his milk, even when it tests as having very low or even “ND” levels of radiation, for the reason that you mention that people just don’t want to buy milk from Fukushima Prefecture, regardless of what a Geiger counter or a scientist says. On the other hand, I saw another report about a man in Nagoya who has started a shop selling only products from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. I do think that there are those who see buying such items as a doable form of “shien” (“support”), but I suspect the majority will remain distrustful of Fukushima food products in particular for a long, long time. (And let’s not forget that Japan already imports about 60% of its calories, in part because so much of its small area of arable land has been urbanized. The sidelining of one productive prefecture is a potentially significant loss, not just to the locals, but to the nation.)

    • Hi Tyson,

      Thank you for the comments!

      I would love it if you could send me some of the references you mentioned. As I mentioned in my introduction to the forum, I’m quite new to STS and need to catch up with a lot of reading. Before the earthquake, I approached the question of food safety mostly from a commodity-chain perspective, but as fieldwork progresses, I’m changing that.

      There are places in Tokyo that focus specifically on promoting Fukushima products. When I arrived in Japan last year, there were lots of support Tohoku fairs that featured products from the affected regions. What struck me then was that there was little information about radiation. Some of the fairs I’ve seen now have all the produce tested. I’ve also seen food retailers with a separate produce list for the elderly who would presumably be less at risk and can support Tohoku by eating their products (the products are still under the government standard, but might be too high for other consumers).

      • It would be interesting to chart consumer behavior in different contexts such as the following: (A) food is sold with officially tested radiation levels printed on the package; (B) it is sold at a store that provides Geiger counters on site for consumers to test before buying; (C) consumers bring and use their own devices to test food before buying. In these three scenarios, the devices used to test radiation would generally be considered most “accurate” in case “A” and least in case “C.” Yet I suspect that, given an item with a very low tested rate, it would likely sell best in case “C” and least well in case “A,” because of the problem of trust and credibility.

  4. Hi Nicholas Cisterna,

    I enjoyed reading this interesting discussion of radiation testing for food in Japan after the nuclear disaster a year ago. I was initially drawn to read your work because of your title, which has geographic connotations. While you have discussed the detection technology and standards as a contested space, I would like to push you on this a little further:
    *The whole idea of identifying a “Western vegetable set” seems both entirely appropriate to this context, and simultaneously contradictory to the idea of localism in food production and consumption. How is risk shaped by geography? How does this play out in the display of food in the co-op store? local market?
    *Also,are the different spaces of co-ops (which I understand from your article represent a significant but not majority part of the food market in Japan), farmers markets, and supermarkets configured differently to address risk and food safety?
    Thanks for sharing your work in progress,
    Logan

    • Hi Logan,

      Thank you for your comments and suggestions on the idea of space.

      You’re right that I used space as a metaphorical idea, but did not address some of the more material aspects of it. In terms of layout, by law, Japanese retailers must display where produce, meat vegetables, etc., come from. When it is imported, they show the country of origin, and for domestic products, they display the prefecture or are labeled as national (国産 kokusan). In my experience, most vegetables are labeled at the prefectural level, so it is not difficult for shoppers to make snap decisions at the grocery store based on the prefecture of origin. I haven’t seen supermarkets that group vegetables by prefecture of origin.

      I’ve heard from people in Tokyo that they hardly see Fukushima products at their local supermarkets anymore (I haven’t followed up on this, and wouldn’t be able to tell you at this point whether this is accurate, or if it has something to do with the seasons). Fukushima prefecture is known for peaches among other things, so this will be an interesting crop to follow this summer and see whether people continue avoiding them, and how farmers try to overcome the resistance to their products.

      Co-ops are a little different, but this depends on the coop. Some co-ops have supermarket-like stores, but quite a few of them work through mail-ordering systems. Tanaka-san’s coop is one of the latter. Members receive a flyer with the products available, and then send in their orders. Inside this flyer you can choose the Western-Japan vegetable set.

      Lastly, there is one store I know in Fukushima-city that only sells Western-Japan products, and this is their main selling point. It was opened after the earthquake, and they are focused on getting safe food for Fukushima children. I’ve seen some of their products advertised as 0 becquerels. In Tokyo, I know of one other place that sells Fukushima vegetables exclusively. In this case, everything is labeled as “under 10 becquerels,” and a giant screen has a slideshow of the test results for all these crops.

      There is certainly an emerging geography of risk, but the maps get a bit complicated. While products at grocery stores are labeled at the prefectural level, radioactive contamination did not spread evenly. While Fukushima prefecture was the worst affected, there are parts of Fukushima that did not receive much pollution, and other areas outside the prefecture received more. A farmer from Fukushima complained to me that his counterparts in neighboring Miyagi prefecture are not nearly as concerned as they should be in his opinion. I think this difficulty in understanding which parts of Northern Japan were contaminated, and which parts emerged largely devoid of contamination helps contribute to the uncertainty that enables the Western-Japan sets.

  5. Nicolas,

    A very interesting piece. Given that you say the research is in progress, it might be worth responding in terms of how I think your search could provide one answer to a big political question.

    How should we set community standards of risk? If politics were just about the individual, then designing the line between indeterminate assessment and determinate risk would just be a matter of making governance-sanctioned risk estimates available as determinate risk and allowing individuals to decide if the set level was satisfactory to them. But as a community solution that creates all kinds of problems of order.

    And so someone like Foucault would approach the problem of order as a problem involving normalization, or how an idealized norm of conduct is created and then social sanction or reward is instituted in instances of deviation or conformity respectively. Foucault knew normalization was tied up with hierarchy. So in what ways is the setting of the standards of which you speak tied up with processes of normalization and hierarchy relations, at the community level?

    But I also wonder if normalization in Foucault’s sense is really that germane to your case. In some senses isn’t the nub of the issue the way ordinary citizens attempt to bring order to their own safety. Are they not dealing with moving products from one risk zone to another, where zone is just some word I use to refer to movement between places, and I leave it to you how those places are conceived. I am thinking something along the lines of Funtowicz and Ravetz’s discussion of post-normal science, though. F&R say in situations where both decision stakes and systems uncertainty are high, an issue should be thought of as a case of post-normal science, in which experts and lay public audiences must both be involved in deciding what to do. Now here is what is interesting about your discussion.

    In F&R’s terms, lay public consumers do not seem content to leave the choice of products and risk in the zone of the post-normal. They seem to want to move it back to a situation more determinate than indeterminate. If we kept following F&R, we would expect this might be because the decision stakes or the systems uncertainty was reduced, making the issue resolvable by either professional consultancy or applied science. But in your case, neither decision stakes or systems uncertainty is being reduced in concert with the effort to move the choice closer to the determinacy of, say, applied science.

    Which all just leads to the question I have no answer for, but which arises from reading your piece. With Funtowicz & Ravetz, it makes sense that some public issues should involve both experts and publics, especially where what is in dispute is what to do in cases of indeterminacy. Such as whether that item of food is safe or not, and if safe, how safe, and so on. But Foucault is also right, that processes of normalization are ubiquitous. And when we apply Foucault to Funtowicz & Ravetz, and to your case, and wheel in a bit of interpretive charity when we do, do we not have a case here where publics do remain content with indeterminacy and want more determinacy. And is that a bit of a paradox, or at least an irony, for the problem of recommending post-normal science ways of dealing with complex issues like food safety following technological and natural disaster? We want to recommend ordinary people have the freedom to be involved in deciding their own safety, which seems the paradigm case for post-normal science, but in that case, we find ordinary people wanting to have the kind of determinacy more likely found in applied science. Ordinary folk, Foucault might say, normalize the risk, they want to eat like the usually eat, not thinking about it too much, beyond choice of diet and preference for instance. They want to eat like it was a normal science, an applied science issue, not like a post-normal science issue, where their understanding and not just their consent is at issue.

    I apologize for just making eating even more complicated!

    Darrin Durant
    Department of Science & Technology Studies
    York University
    ddurant@yorku.ca

    • Hi Darrin,

      Thank you for your reply and thoughtful comments.

      I am not familiar with the work of Funtowicz and Ravetz, but after reading your post, I feel like I must go and read it. This concept of post-normal science and the way you worked it sounds quite relevant to what I’m looking at.

      Your post also provoked me to think about questions of hierarchy and setting of standards. I have met several groups, such as Tanaka-san’s coop, that set internal standards tougher than those of the state. These internal standards vary from place to place, but I am not sure yet how these numbers arise. After reading your comments, it makes me think about how hierarchies between and within groups may play a role, and I should be looking at that.

  6. Yasushi Sato permalink

    Your essay has made me come back to a question that I and some of my colleagues were pondering some time ago. After the Fukushima accident, a University of Tokyo professor Toshiso Kosako suddenly resigned a government advisory position. He resigned because his opinion on the standard of radiation for elementary schools and junior high schools was not accepted by the government. In a press conference, Prof. Kosako appealed with his tears on his eyes: “That decision is unacceptable not only academic standpoint but also by my humanism.” I thought that was a little irresponsible and theatrical, although many people were, I believe, sympathetic. I still wonder whether his conduct should be applauded or questioned. I would really like to know what Japanese people as a whole felt about the event.
    Sorry, this is not directly related to the food safety problem, but I just felt analyzing people’s perception on the process of standard setting process might be an important topic.
    Yasushi Sato
    Japan Science and Technology Agency

    • Your comment brings to mind some of the ambivalence I’ve heard about the role of experts after Fukushima. So far there doesn’t seem to be much trust in the work of the government among concerned groups, but I’ve also heard a similar ambivalence regarding the experts who argue that it’s safe.

      I think you’re right that there is an emotional experience that goes into the making of standards. I have met farmers whose rule of thumb is that if they wouldn’t feed those vegetables to their grandchildren, then they shouldn’t be selling them either.

  7. This has the makings of a very important piece of scholarship. I am struck by the parallel with the post-Katrina New Orleans case, something I learned from Scott Frickel that you may wish to follow up on as he has done a great deal of thinking about how contamination is measured in post-disaster sites. He has spoken about soil testing in New Orleans, and how the spatial distribution of tests done by EPA may not adequately reflect the “real” risks–choosing NOT to test, or not to know with specificity under a pre-set “acceptable” level as you are exploring here, is what Frickel calls the production of “ignorance.”

    I am fascinated here also by the problem of emergent standards. This quote is amazing: “Immediately after the earthquake, the government raised the limit to 500 becquerels per kilo (bq/kg), which many consumer groups and food activists denounced as being dangerously high.” Standard-setting bodies derive their power and authority by setting limits, standards, and codes based on “ideal” notions of performance and safety . . . then reality intrudes, like a radiation leak or a building collapse (WTC) and the standard-setters face a crisis of authority. They can leave the old standards in place, making it perhaps impossible to allow people into a location or to sell any food products, or they can show flexibility and nuance, in essence saying “we were too careful before, we can be less careful now, and we will be more careful later.” It’s a very hard discourse to manage, especially against the backdrop of disaster investigations that are usually ongoing, with investigators watching closely to see how public safety/health is impacted in the first year after a disaster. An even BIGGER problem arises when there is no standard in place and health experts begin to ask about how safe is safe enough for certain types of exposures.

    This leads me back to your article Nico, are there now calls for measurement of exposures and contaminants that demand expert to set NEW standards, and how/where is that process playing out?

    Also, I am very interested in your example of the public being called into open forums to exercise their “right” to set standards. Is this going to be manageable over the longer run? It makes me think that “do-it-yourself” standard setting might be something that disaster experts should be thinking about a lot as a way to rebuild public confidence in air, water, and food quality after a disaster. Let the citizen choose their comfort level and make their decisions as such, so as long as minimum government-set levels are in place. This is already happening with elaborate food labeling in Europe and in some states in the US.

    Great article, thanks!

    Scott Gabriel Knowles

  8. So I wonder a bit whether we aren’t heading (i.e. sending you) partly in the wrong direction through a focus on science, hierarchy, and standards. I was struck most by the comment by your friend regarding Japan (Tokyo?) having a food culture more intense than France (Paris?). This had me thinking about Itami Juzo’s /Tampopo/, which is particularly striking for its emphasis on the social class connotations of food cultures, and how it plays into the semiotics of food. Bourdieu’s /Distinction/ also comes to mind in terms of looking at the complex field of cultural practice (and cultural production and reproduction) that operates with respect to food. The hazards of irradiation, as accompanied by the post disaster ethic of aid, clearly complicate how these dynamics plays out, but I think the fine-grain performances related to food safety and individual(sic) calculations of risk make sense only in the context of the very elaborate set of practices surrounding the consumption of food in Japan. Perhaps I’m too much of a (post)structuralist here, but I guess we’re back to Mary Douglas here…

    In any event, I think it’s important to keep an eye on how consumer cultures operate; given the undercutting of government legitimacy (which was so thoroughly undermined in this event), I’m not sure standards or hierarchy are the governing feature here, even as it plays necessarily into the semiotics of food safety.

    Atsushi Akera

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