Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can't Give It Away

Photo by GJKend via Wikipedia

“Who put a can of fried grasshoppers in the food drive basket?” That was the question that triggered the explosion of laughter that rocked Class 4-A. Never in the history of St. Martha’s Elementary School had so much mirth filled a classroom. Sister Rose, our teacher, quickly put an end to all the joviality with a big bang as she slam dunked the offensive tin can into the depths of the metal trash basket sitting in the far corner of the room.

Under the shroud of silence that soon fell over us, Sister Rose asked the same question again and again. She was a firm believer in tough love and she spread it around liberally. Throughout the lengthy interrogation I never cracked an inch but I knew exactly who the culprit was. It was my mother. She put me up to it. Gifted to her as a gag souvenir from some exotic locale, the can of bugs had occupied a lonely corner of our kitchen cupboard for the better part of a year.

It was actually a pretty bleak year for our pantry and the curious looking can was the first to be sacrificed for my elementary school’s annual canned food drive. Mom assured me that the canned grasshoppers would be routed back to its country of origin where some hungry soul would appreciate it. Rather than refuse to do her bidding, I slipped the can in the basket when nobody was looking but in the end I couldn’t give it away.

Miles away and decades later, that can of bugs has turned up again. This year has been exceptionally bleak for those in Japan whose lives have been turned upside down by the massive March 11 earthquake and multiple disasters that followed on its heels. Among those who continue to walk on shaky ground  are the farmers who work the land that is downwind from the leaking nuclear reactors in Fukushima. The government has declared large swaths of this once fertile farm belt officially off limits, uprooting thousands of people who once called the contamination zone home. Times are almost as tough for those whose farms lie outside the no-go zone as they watch once loyal customers turn their noses up at products bearing the Fukushima label. Although everything sold on the market falls within the contamination limit set by the national government, lack of trust in elected officials coupled with the fear of radioactive poisoning is keeping many customers at a distance.

Recently the Japanese government came up with a plan to help these farmers get back on their feet by getting their products in the hands of consumers. The plan is to give it all away. The Shingetsu News Agency (SNA), an independent Tokyo based news service, reports that the Japanese government intends to buy Fukushima agricultural products and give them away as aid to developing countries across the globe. While it sounds like a win-win solution, some fear the foreign aid offer will ring hollow with the international community. Even though the food to be exported meets the same criteria for produce sold in any Japanese market, there are those who question the government’s safety limits in light of international standards. SNA reports on one group of concerned citizens who are convinced that crops raised in the dark shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are nothing less than toxic. They have petitioned the Japanese government to withdraw what they believe is tainted aid. Among the group is a mother from Tokyo who says she just wants to protect children around the world from exposure to dangerous radiation. These protesters, who have voiced their objections at home also carry a broader message for the world. One placard held up for the TV media cameras is neatly penned in English. It reads: “Stop spreading radioactive substances around the world with our tax money. Spread love.” I just wonder what Sister Rose would do if she were here.

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