Home > Food, Japan, Special Report > Is selling radioactive food ethical? part II

Is selling radioactive food ethical? part II

May 20, 2012

Students must eat all the food on the plates or risk punishment. These junior high school students must finish all remaining food before being allowed to empty their trays.

Part II of a special report. Read part I here.

Some supermarkets have come up with their own guidelines. This is opposed by the government even though consumers say it gives consumer confidence. Is anyone allowed to question the Japanese government when it comes to radiation? Even those in parliament have trouble doing so.

For those who eat lunch at Japanese schools, the situation is far more difficult. There are teachers and administration officials who single out students who refuse to eat food their parents advise them not to. Some are humiliated, shamed or even bullied into eating food they consciously object to.  Students, in short, must eat regardless of whether they feel it is safe or not. One female Japanese member of the Upper House of Parliament, Akira Matsu, related the story of one a pregnant mother of four to the Budget Committee on September 29, 2011 (see here). In her comments, she said “she and all four children had tested positive for cesium,” so “she told her children not to drink milk in school lunches.” The result? The teacher forced the students to “step forward…put milk in a bucket and explain why they refused to drink it.”

This is no easy task for a western primary school student, but is magnitudes more difficult for the notoriously shy Japanese children. The teacher then shouted, “Those who refuse to drink this are not Fukushima people, and not qualified to live here either!” Matsu says, “They were treated like traitors during the war [WWII].” When Japanese government ministers in parliament heard this they began to laugh, to which Matsu replied, “Chief Cabinet Secretary, listen to me without laughing. Please don’t laugh. This is no laughing matter.” In the context of some school children studying some areas that have high levels of radiation from fallout, and increase their exposure beyond the annual recommended limit (here).

Those unfamiliar with Japanese school systems and hierarchy of power may think this is no big deal, but for Japanese students it is virtually unheard of for children to openly oppose a teacher – even rarer is one who would do so in front of an entire class. It simply is not done and, where it is, the student is often berated to the point of tears, which happens regularly when nine-year old girl cannot eat all the food on her plate and punished and forced to eat the food, even if it means missing class and spending two hours in the teacher’s room crying until she does. In such a case the child just cannot eat the food because it is too much and is not allowed to choose which plates to eat (the teachers force all students to eat the same amount regardless of appetite/size of student); this is not because of refusal due to radiation.  To further put things into context, this is a school system that openly allows children to be hit by teachers, a fact which is routinely ignored by Japanese media and education officials.

Needless to say, few students have enough courage to stand up to a teacher engaging in such bully like behaviour like the one mentioned by Matsu, who verbally berated a child for not eating food the student felt was unsafe. What happens when the bully is the teacher, the school of the Japanese government or business? What will Japanese parents and families do to protect themselves in a society that forces people to conform?

Civis Journal

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