Nicolas Sternsdorff-Cisterna*1 Food Safety after Fukushima: Scientific Citizenship and the Politics of Risk University of Hawaii Press, 2018
The triple disaster that struck Japan in March 2011 forced people living there to confront new risks in their lives. Despite the Japanese government’s reassurance that radiation exposure would be small and unlikely to affect the health of the general population, many questioned the government’s commitment to protecting their health. The disaster prompted them to become vigilant about limiting their risk exposure, and food emerged as a key area where citizens could determine their own levels of acceptable risk.
Food Safety after Fukushima examines the process by which notions about what is safe to eat were formulated after the nuclear meltdown. Its central argument is that as citizens informed themselves about potential risks, they also became savvier in their assessment of the government’s handling of the crisis. The author terms this “Scientific Citizenship,” and he shows that the acquisition of scientific knowledge on the part of citizens resulted in a transformed relationship between individuals and the state. Groups of citizens turned to existing and newly formed organizations where food was sourced from areas far away from the nuclear accident or screened to stricter standards than those required by the state. These organizations enabled citizens to exchange information about the disaster, meet food producers, and work to establish networks of trust where food they considered safe could circulate.
Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with citizens groups, mothers’ associations, farmers, government officials, and retailers, Food Safety after Fukushima reflects on how social relations were affected by the accident. The author vividly depicts an environment where trust between food producers and consumers had been shaken, where people felt uneasy about their food choices and the consequences they might have for their children, and where farmers were forced to deal with the consequences of pollution that was not of their making. Most poignantly, the book conveys the heavy burden now attached to the name “Fukushima” in the popular imagination and explores efforts to resurrect it.