Nicolas Sternsdorff-Cisterna



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The triple disaster that struck Japan in March 2011 forced people living there to confront new risks in their lives. Despite the Japanese government’s reassurance that radiation exposure would be small and unlikely to affect the health of the general population, many questioned the government’s commitment to protecting their health. The disaster prompted them to become vigilant about limiting their risk exposure, and food emerged as a key area where citizens could determine their own levels of acceptable risk.

Food Safety after Fukushima examines the process by which notions about what is safe to eat were formulated after the nuclear meltdown. Its central argument is that as citizens informed themselves about potential risks, they also became savvier in their assessment of the government’s handling of the crisis. The author terms this “Scientific Citizenship,” and he shows that the acquisition of scientific knowledge on the part of citizens resulted in a transformed relationship between individuals and the state. Groups of citizens turned to existing and newly formed organizations where food was sourced from areas far away from the nuclear accident or screened to stricter standards than those required by the state. These organizations enabled citizens to exchange information about the disaster, meet food producers, and work to establish networks of trust where food they considered safe could circulate.

Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with citizens groups, mothers’ associations, farmers, government officials, and retailers, Food Safety after Fukushima reflects on how social relations were affected by the accident. The author vividly depicts an environment where trust between food producers and consumers had been shaken, where people felt uneasy about their food choices and the consequences they might have for their children, and where farmers were forced to deal with the consequences of pollution that was not of their making. Most poignantly, the book conveys the heavy burden now attached to the name “Fukushima” in the popular imagination and explores efforts to resurrect it.



Publication Date

Fall 10-31-2018


University of Hawaiʻi Press




Asia, Japan, political science, agriculture, food policy, public policy, social science, anthropology


Asian History | Environmental Policy | Food Biotechnology | International Relations | Nature and Society Relations | Physical and Environmental Geography | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Social and Cultural Anthropology


  • "Sternsdorff-Cisterna’s book sensitively depicts and brilliantly analyzes the precariousness of life in Japan after the dangerous 2011 nuclear plant accident. His concept of scientific citizenship is a major contribution to formulating the social relations, political dynamics, and cultural categories of risk and safety that emerge following the mega-disasters that we humans bring upon ourselves."
    —William W. Kelly, Yale University
  • "Food Safety after Fukushima reveals the fallout of Japan’s nuclear meltdown to have been not only radioactive but also deeply social. In Tokyo, fear of radiation’s indiscernible threat—and people’s skepticism of the state’s ability to issue reliable safety assurances—eroded longstanding trust relations between farmers and food shoppers and led women to re-write the rules of “good” mothering. With sensitivity and great insight, Nicolas Sternsdorff-Cisterna details how residents, armed with Geiger counters and newfound political purpose, generate and circulate knowledge about radiation—enacting “scientific citizenship”—to rebuild the social relations that constitute food safety."
    —Heather Paxson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Food Safety after Fukushima: Scientific Citizenship and the Politics of Risk