Lay Responses to Radiation Contamination of Food

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:47 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Tomiko YAMAGUCHI , College of Liberal Arts, International Christian University, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan
The possibility of radioactive contamination of food presents a threat not only to health but to autonomy. Radioactive contaminants cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and the extent of any possible danger is not easy for the lay public to assess. Consumers are thus forced to depend on external sources of knowledge, such as government oversight and advice from experts. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster of 3/11, the Japanese public has experienced an increasing diminishment of trust in the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the food supply. Consumers are not convinced that “the experts” (e.g., government officials) are providing sufficient information to enable them to avoid the threat. Beck (1986) suggests that in such a situation, individuals are forced to find “individualistic approaches” to the systemic contradictions, such as making their own private decisions about which foods to buy and dealing with any health issues as their own problem. However, there are indications that new social coalitions are emerging in Japan, motivated by shared fear of a common danger and/or by shared bonds of sympathy and empathy. This paper is going to argue that these phenomena – in which individuals seek and create “societal approaches” to deal with the contradictions created by the emergence of this new set of risks and the perceived failure of experts to fulfill their roles and ensure safety – is an indication that experiences that concern safety or risks at the local level can motivate a response that is much more social and less individualistic than the theoretical formulation would predict. The data used come from a series of focus group discussions; separate groups were created by gender, by households with and without children, by educational background and by type of work.