Similar to the reaction in the weeks following the disastrous British Petroleum oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, fear and concern have arisen over the safety of the Japanese food supply after the devastating tsunami and subsequent nuclear leakage that occurred earlier this month. No doubt, the true tragedy of this natural (and then industrial) disaster are the many lives and livelihoods lost of the residents of this part of the world. But as life limps on, people need/want to eat and a growing concern has developed over the contamination of the Japanese food supply – first and foremost the staples that feed the country, and then the Japanese exports making their way to foreign shores.
While this story is still in development (as of today the Japanese government is evacuating larger portions of the population around the hobbled nuclear power plants) it is abundantly clear that the Japanese food supply will be somewhere between moderately to greatly impacted. Already abnormally high levels of radioactivity have been detected in both spinach and milk at farms up to 90 miles away from the Fukushima power plant. On Tuesday, as a much-warranted precaution, the FDA banned imports of milk, fresh fruit and vegetables from the northern part of Japan. In reality, Japanese food imports make up about 4% of the American food supply, and the majority of those imports are not likely to be impacted by the unfolding nuclear crisis for reasons of both proximity and susceptibility.
The culinary impact of this disaster is most likely to be felt in the upper echelons of the dining world – namely sushi bars. This is not directly related to the radioactive fallout, but more because the tsunami utterly decimated the Japanese fishing fleet and fish farms throughout the northern part of the country. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday that fishermen in the area are living in shelters, transportation to the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo is not possible, and there is no ice to keep fish fresh. So far, as The New York Times reported earlier this week, this grim picture is not causing serious shortages in American sushi bars, but how the situation will evolve remains to be seen and will likely have a lasting impact on the quality and availability of imported Japanese seafood. In other words, don’t expect to find cheap and plentiful Toro belly sashimi in the near future.
But as I had mentioned earlier, the loss of imported luxuries should be the least of our concern. The beleaguered people of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma, who have lost so much more than most of us, could imagine are the ones who are truly hungry for some sort of comfort and relief. If you are so inclined, please contribute to the relief effort. Many people have their favorite organizations to support, or their preferred vehicles for charity. If you do decide to be charitable, make sure your contributions are going to the right place to help the people most affected by this calamity.