What do you get when you combine corporate self-interest with corporate altruism? Hopefully not radioactive cabbage.
Beyond the inevitable images of glowing Godzilla-sized onions erupting from the ground, it’s hard to know quite what to make of the decision by Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya to form a partnership with farmers in the Fukushima Prefecture, site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that, two years after it was swamped by a tsunami, continues to leak radiation.
Yoshinoya, the Far East equivalent of Mickey D’s, has more than 1,400 locations, the vast majority in Japan (although there are far-flung outposts in California and Nevada); it serves up cheap beef-and-rice bowls. As Reuters reports, the company has formed a joint venture with Fukushima farmers to grow rice and vegetables like onions and cabbage to use at its Japanese locations.
Although Fukushima has long been home to rich farmland and robust agricultural yields, farmers there have had a difficult time selling their produce to the public since the disaster, for obvious reasons—its kind of like trying to hawk apples in front of Three Mile Island.
The fact that the towns immediately surrounding the power plant have started to look like an apocalyptic zombie-scape (complete with “feral cows,” according to The New York Times), that tens of thousands of Japanese remain displaced, and the government appears to be dithering on whether residents will ever be able to return perhaps does not bolster widespread confidence.
However, it should be noted that the Yoshinoya project is centered in Shirakawa, more than 60 miles southwest from the plant, far beyond the 12-mile mandatory evacuation zone and in a general direction where the drift of radiation does not seem to pose a significant health risk (contamination generally spread to the northwest of the plant).
A statement from the company regarding its project in Fukushima, quoted by Reuters, reads: “We think this will lead to support for reconstruction,” which seems laudable, until you come across an item in the Japan Daily Press adding that Yoshinoya also believes farming in the shadow of one of humanity’s worst nuclear disasters “will help keep its dishes low-priced.” Ew.
Of course, it would seem ludicrous to write off a large swath of perfectly good farmland just because any whiff of radioactivity is, well, radioactive in terms of PR. Humans are notorious for wildly misunderstanding the risks of pretty much everything we do (e.g., you’re far more likely to die in the bathtub than in a plane crash, etc.), and most of us are clueless about what constitutes safe levels of radiation.
Yet even as we might recognize the need to grow up a bit when it comes to evaluating the real-world risks of nuclear power as opposed to reacting based on our sci-fi-fueled nightmares, admit it: you’re still thinking of those feral cows, like, probably glowing in the dark.