For your information…
– (Guest Post) How to Source Radioactive Material-Free Food in Japan: Food Co-Op (EX-SKF, Sep. 6, 2011):
Not all co-ops (grocery stores operated as cooperatives) are equal, but some are decidedly more customer-friendly (as opposed to producer-friendly) and take care in sourcing the food that are not contaminated with radioactive materials AND disclosing the detailed information of their testing.
One of the readers of this blog, William Marcus, has sent me his observations on sourcing the safe food in Japan. William currently lives in Osaka with his family with the toddler son. He says co-ops in Japan are not centralized (which I didn’t know), and that more east and north you go co-ops tend not to disclose the details of the testing they do (if they do the testing) on the foodstuff they sell.
The particular COOP that he recommends is “Shizenha” co-op headquartered in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture and has operations in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku region. The co-op, he says, has just started to accept membership from Kanto and Tohoku regions.
I live in Osaka and sourcing clean food for our toddler son has become the biggest concern of ours, after monitoring the fallout plumes and contamination in our vicinity (which thankfully, seems to be quite limited compared to California, my home state). We have always been interested in buying healthy food and have belonged to COOP for many years.
You may or may not know that COOP is not centralized — there is no national standard for COOPs; they are regionally managed, but their membership can be quite spread out; so we recently joined a COOP (Shizenha; based in Shikoku/West Japan) that is quite more transparent in testing and showing the results of these radiation tests. Our original COOP (“S-COOP”) is also doing more testing and has invested another 5 million yen in more testing equipment and outsourcing their testing to a subcontractor as well, but they won’t disclose the results of the testing — only if it is above or below the current (inflated), permitted government safety limit. Shizenha has a different ‘feel’ to it, and discloses the results of their testing weekly both on their website and in the order forms that we receive weekly.
Basically, the story is this: the further north and east you go, the less likely the COOPs are to disclose testing results as this might well embarrass their long-standing farming/food sources, while to the south and west, this is less likely to happen as their food sources are generally less suspect.
Often, when I read your blog, which I admire and recommend widely, the reports of contaminated food are then commented on by the readers as proof that sourcing food is dangerous and tricky, when actually, if one knows the resources, it is not the case. COOP generally charges 10-20% more than your typical retail supermarkets, but the more radical of the COOPs (like Shizenha) go further by indicating exactly who is tested and what is found. If those who are really concerned about finding safe food for their families are aware of this, they can also benefit from membership to the more transparent COOPs (others probably do exist which I’m not aware of). As of this week, Shizenha will allow shipping to the northern parts of Japan (for a bigger, refundable membership deposit of 20,000 yen vs. the regular 10,000), in an effort to obviously shame the other COOPs who are more hesitant to state reality as it really is, into being more forthcoming with the testing results.
There is a war on food truth that is building steam, and it is in the south and west of Japan that is pushing the envelop on that front, or so it seems to us here in Kansai, at least.
I was in Kyushu for a week last week, visiting in-laws and it was noted by my Japanese partner and in-laws how many people are migrating permanently from Tohoku and Kanto regions — the cars were obvious and multiple: middle-class and upper-class vans and sedans; the well-heeled are evacuating — lucky them. . . sad for those not able to do the same, which speaks to the class-based availability of safety recourse in Japan these days (and COOP membership to a degree also represents this with its mark-up).
The other notable thing in Kyushu was how prominently nearly all restaurants advertised their local sourcing of ingredients. This doesn’t happen at all in Osaka/Kyoto, which is owing to a few different explanations: not to offend, not to heighten fear, or because the ingredients are suspect, etc.
Likely we will also gravitate to Kyushu in the coming year, as at present only COOP is able to provide assurances with our food concerns, whereas in Kyushu, that is much, much less of a concern, and the food is cheaper. . .
Thanks again for your fantastic blog — it is unique and serving an invaluable service in this incredible nightmare that is ongoing. I hope this sheds some light on the food safety countermeasures that n.p.o.’s are enacting to guarantee the food supply.
Also, it is evident in Osaka that food origin is getting harder to ascertain in the regular retail supermarkets, as indicated by anecdotes of many friends using conventional stores.
While “Shizenha” co-op is not party to the Fukushima Prefecture’s PR effort to push Fukushima produce, other co-ops are eagerly selling. One of my Japanese blog readers says her co-op in Kansai has been pushing Fukushima produce (vegetables and fruits) ever since this spring by holding special campaign events at the store. But as William says, each co-op is different, and it is worthwhile to investigate. It is also good to know that people in Kanto and Tohoku may now be able to purchase from a Kansai-based co-op.
There is also a grassroots campaign to establish volunteer radiation measuring stations throughout Japan, modeled after the one in Fukushima City (Citizen’s Radioactivity Measuring Station), where anyone can bring in a food item and have it tested.
As this blog’s subtitle says, “Don’t count on your government”.