Hazardous food

The beef on imported US beef is that the US did not uphold their end of the agreement. Just one careless beef plant in the US was enough for Japan to halt all beef imports from the US for a second time. Japan was right in reinstating the beef ban. After all, when you make an agreement and can’t uphold your end of it, there should be consequences. Otherwise, there is no meaning in having an agreement.

Now the US is throwing a temper tantrum and claiming that Japan is being too extreme. Although I would very much like to see US beef in Japanese supermarkets again (instead of only Aussie beef), the damage to the reputation of US beef has been done. We even saw a Japanese TV program interviewing US beef inspectors who say that the beef inspection system in the US is very lax. That something like this was bound to happen, and likely to happen again.

Japan wants to protect its people from hazardous food. This is a noble thing, but the irony is that we in Japan are more likely to suffer ill effects from food already widely approved, available, and consumed. I wonder if anybody in Japan thinks about the level of mercury and other toxic stuff in the countless tons of fish (especially tuna) we eat. I remember some years ago, there was an official government warning that pregnant women should refrain from eating certain kinds of fish due to the mercury levels. I think swordfish was one of the fish on the don’t eat list.

I was pretty shocked by the announcement and for a time avoided eating the fish on the mercury list. It is very risky for the government or any person of influence (such as a high-profile newscaster) to say that any kind of food should not be consumed. The industry subsisting on that product will suffer seriously if the public stops consuming it. A serious backlash can result. So it’s rare to hear any official announcement telling us not to consume any specific thing.

This is unfortunate since there are so many consumables out there harmful to human health. Sugar and tobacco first come to mind. Sugar is in almost everything, in junk food as well as supposedly nutritious food such as breakfast cereal. Sports drinks and tonyu (liquid tofu) drinks also have a lot of sugar. You can get fat drinking too much sports drinks in summer.

As for cigarettes, the system in Japan is geared to encourage people to smoke. Cigarette vending machines abound in Japan. Kids have no problem buying cigarettes. The Japanese government cannot afford to live without the tax income from tobacco. (For non-smokers, the situation is improving as we see more non-smoking train cars and non-smoking areas in cofee shops and restaurants.)

Personally, what worries me the most are the bento boxes. Those ubiquitous bento boxes made of plastic or styrofoam are actually poisonous when heated. When hot food comes into contact with the plastic container, toxic substances leech out of the plastic and enter the food. It seems that the same thing occurs when you heat up the bento in the microwave. The saran wrap used to cover food in microwave ovens also leeches out poison into the food.

One way to minimize this problem is to consume the hot food as soon as possible, before the food gets too contaminated by the container. Or to promptly transfer the food to a non-plastic container.

I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it is a fact that the sperm count of younger Japanese men is lower than in middle-aged men’s gonads. All these hazardous foods are affecting the population slowly but surely. If the government really cares about food quality, I hope that they start paying attention to these less obvious but more harmful things. Coupled with the record low birthrate, hazardous food is a double whammy to Japan’s population.

I can only recommend eating a wide variety of food from a variety of sources. Don’t eat too much of anything. I always alternate between meat and fish. I eat vegetables and fruits every day. I buy my groceries at different supermarkets and not at the same one all the time. My problem is that I have a sweet tooth so I often crave sweets. But I try to minimize my sugar consumption by not buying ice cream or chocolate in a box or case. I buy only one ice cream cone or one bar of chocolate at a time. I try to remind myself that the amount of calories in one little cookie is equivalent to the energy you spend swimming for 30 min. Being a semi-regular swimmer myself, I know that that’s a lot of energy. Hope you all eat healthily.

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