Two superficially mundane activities today: making few-flowered leek and nettle soup and filling out my census form. In the world we live in, however, neither of these things is as simple as you might think. For my thoughts on what I might do with my census form, in order to avoid being complicit in the torture that was carried out at Abu Ghraib (yes, you read that right!), please look here and here.
Now, to tell you about the soup and how it relates to the nuclear disaster in Japan, which scientists say is spewing radioactive substances at near-Chernobyl levels… Yesterday an acquaintance with vast experience in the nuclear industry (she ran a plant in the USA which she describes as the twin of those at Fukushima) warned me that the radiation would probably reach the UK and that I should tell others.
Although the radioactive iodine-131 emitted by the stricken reactors has a half-life of only eight days, if particles enter the jet stream they could apparently reach UK while still dangerous. Children exposed to this are at particular risk of developing thyroid cancer. (Iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormone and so is concentrated in the thyroid glands.) Prevention is easy, however: swamp the body with non-radioactive iodine and the radioactive stuff won’t be absorbed. My acquaintance advised me to get some iodised salt or buy an iodine supplement at the chemist.
After talking to her, then, I trotted to my local Scotmid store, only to discover that they did not stock iodised salt. Neither did Sainsbury’s. Every other variety but no iodised salt! I popped into the chemist and told them of the advice I had received. Half expecting to be treated like a madman, I was surprised when they told me that someone else had already raised the issue with them. They told me that no iodine supplements were licensed in the UK and that I would need to shop online. I expressed amazement at this, and concern about what might happen here if radioactive iodine does reach these shores. They gave me the impression they were also worried.
Today I reasoned that iodised salt must be on sale somewhere here, so I went online and discovered that Waitrose had it for 65 pence. This was excellent news as not only is there a Waitrose near me but Waitrose is part of the John Lewis group, an employee-owned business that therefore treats its staff (co-owners) well! (While we’re on that subject, please read David Erdal’s Beyond the Corporation.) I planned a nice little expedition: a shopping trip to Waitrose and some foraging for few-flowered leek and nettles along the Water of Leith on the way back.
I spent a pleasant half hour next to the babbling stream, basking in spring birdsong and sunshine and snipping away at the abundant few-flowered leek (similar to wild garlic) and nettles with a pair of scissors. Then it was straight to the kitchen. I soon had a steaming bowl of aromatic and iodised wild garlic and nettle soup on the table. (Apart from the salt, few-flowered leek and nettles, I used onion, cumin, turmeric and home-made vegetable stock, which I make by retaining and re-using the water I boil vegetables in.) Mmm-hmm! Very healthy, and delicious too.
Comment added later: NB I am not saying that I am certain that dangerous levels of radioactive iodine will reach these shores. (I think the risk is small.) Neither am I advocating a high intake of salt (especially dangerous for young children). I am only saying that it seems sensible to take a little bit of iodised salt daily for the next few weeks, because the cost is trivial.
Update 29/3/2011: Radioactive iodine has now reached Glasgow!
Update 4/4/2011: Just picked this up from a friend’s email: Radiation in San Francisco rainwater above legal tap water limit