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More food notes, post-Fukushima

December 24, 2011

Protein has to come from somewhere.

By David Ritchie

As this blog has foodie readers, it will touch on the topic of radioactive food from time to time, because changing diet is one of the few ways to control exposure to Fukushima fallout.

Though no expert in nutrition or radiation biology, I at least can tell you what I’m doing to minimize radionuclides in meals.

In general, I’m eating lower on the food chain now. Today, for example, I’ve focused on fresh fruit, such as kiwi fruit and tangerines.

So far, I’ve seen no obvious abnormalities in produce sold in Seoul — no three-lobed persimmons or varicolored citrus fruit. Once I get a radiation meter, however, it will be time for some surreptitious monitoring.

One method I intend to try is concealing the meter in the palm of one hand while holding an individual fruit or vegetable up to it as if conducting a visual inspection.

Meanwhile, dairy products are out. They tend to concentrate radionuclides in products like milk and cheese. To compensate, I’m taking vitamin D supplements and drinking soy milk for calcium.

Chicken, I’m willing to risk eating now and then. The same with shrimp. High-quality protein has to come from somewhere. Beef, veal, and pork, I avoid for other reasons.

 Fish high in the food chain, such as tuna, I hesitate to touch. About octopus, I’m undecided. Maybe radiation readings at a fish market or two will settle that issue. 

(Here, please allow a brief aside. I’ve always had a slightly guilty conscience anyway about eating octopi. The most intelligent invertebrates, they can be seen everywhere in Seoul’s restaurant tanks, and their behavior reminds me sometimes of a cat’s. Those eight long arms can be just as expressive as a cat’s tail, and they seem to convey a wide range of moods, from excitement to boredom and resignation. One octopus I watched the other evening waved the tip of one arm in a slow, rhythmical motion, as if keeping time to the beat of some inner music. Could you feel comfortable eating an animal that you imagine singing to itself?)

Squid … well, I risk a serving on occasion. 

Now for shellfish like mussels and clams. They are filter feeders, after all, and what they filter from sea water must include radionuclides. That makes me wary.

The safety of crabs and lobsters, I’ve not investigated yet. If anyone can supply readings for them, then I’d be most grateful to see the results.

Cautiously, I’ve sampled Korean dried seaweed over the past few months. But Japanese brands, I still pass by. See article at:

Among grains, I’ve developed a taste for Korean brown rice (hyunmi) and barley. Hyunmi steams up nicely in a rice cooker with beans  added.

Korea also has a simple but splendid rice porridge called juk, served steaming hot in restaurants with shrimp or finely chopped vegetables scattered through it. See if you can find a recipe. One bowl makes a meal, and it’s ideal on a cold day.

Sushi and sashimi are no longer part of my diet. A Korean co-worker last week told me what at least one Korean is thinking. “Korean restaurants say they do not use Japanese fish,” he said. “But I’ve given up seafood.”

Finally, beware of official radioactivity readings for individual foods, often delivered in units of becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg). When official figures are available at all, try multiplying by anywhere from two to 10. I’ve seen non-official readings in the thousands.

If you get a hand-held meter and perform clandestine radioactivity readings on food in markets, please let me know what you find. Thanks to everyone, as always.

ⓒDavid Ritchie 2011

David Ritchie lives and works in Seoul, Korea. He welcomes correspondence and asks only that it be civil in tone. Contact: kwriter [at]


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