Radiation Free Nutrition

I used to think green. I tried to buy local, sustainable and organic. I gave serious consideration to reducing the carbon footprint of my family by making healthy and prudent choices. I cook from scratch, avoid processed food and plan meals for my family up to a week in advance.

On March 11, 2011, our world was severely shaken and my food buying and cooking habits were turned upside down. Due to my husband’s job, we live in Tokyo, and we will continue to live here for the foreseeable future. I never gave much thought to nuclear power, and concerns about radiation never crossed my mind.

It wasn’t long after the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan that we were made aware of some concern surrounding the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. On the following afternoon, March 12, I watched on TV a massive explosion occur at the plant, and it was announced that authorities were enacting a mandatory evacuation of all people within 20 kilometers of the reactor.

Throughout the long days that followed, we did all that we could to educate ourselves on nuclear reactors and all that can go wrong when they start to malfunction. Two days later, there was another explosion and soon, foreign embassies began to issue evacuation notices of their expatriates. Within a week, the United States had distanced itself from Japanese authorities by issuing stronger warnings and a wider evacuation zone.

We live in Tokyo, 125 miles away from the reactors, and now, nearly 6 months since the disaster, we feel it is safe to return home with our children and to resume our life in Tokyo. After a crash course in nuclear science, words such as micro-seiverts, becquerel, melt down, partial melt down, radio iodine and cesium have entered our daily vocabulary. News stories cause us concern, as we have three children and thinking about them being exposed to (ingesting) radiation with a half life of 30 years is not comforting. Every news story we read about food being tested and removed from shelves has been reactive rather than proactive. Contaminated food has been sold, bought and eaten by people all over Japan before it was discovered, and we still have little to no reassurance that testing methods have improved or changed.

What is a health conscious mom who is cautious about nutrition to do? Why, shop at Costco of course. Grapes from Chile! Broccoli from California! Beef from Australia! Peppers from Holland and pasta from Italy! Our carbon footprint has become staggeringly huge, but we take comfort in the fact that our food was grown and packaged as far away from Japan as possible.

Logistically, it is difficult for us to shop at Costco all the time, so we supplement with food from our local (catering to expats) grocery store. The grocery store has implemented a numbering system to indicate how far away from Fukushima the food was grown, 1 being Fukushima. I look for produce and eggs with higher numbers, preferably over 20. We eat frozen and canned vegetables more than ever before.

Not everyone living in Tokyo has the same level of concern about the food supply. As with many other food-related choices, (breast vs bottle, organic vs processed) emotions run high and discussions can become passionate.

I still cook from scratch. I have to make more substitutions than before, but I continue to buy food that is as close to its original state (unprocessed) as possible within the new parameters of safety. We don’t go to restaurants anymore. I have to put more thought and effort into my meal planning. In my mind I trace every ingredient back to its origin and try to imagine each step that it made before arriving in my kitchen. I am thankful to have choices that enable us to continue to eat fresh and healthy food from all over the world!

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