Nuked Lunch | Feature | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Feature

Nuked Lunch

Tom Mates wants to irradiate your food. He swears it's safe.


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


I am standing in a gray, windowless room not unlike the inside of a mausoleum. The walls are solid concrete, six and a half feet thick. Overhead a conveyor track is at rest waiting for the next load of cartons to enter the room. Before me in the center is a pool about 20 feet long by 6 feet wide. I step warily to the edge and look down toward the bottom 23 feet below. The still water is lit by an eerie blue light--the reaction of water to the intense radioactivity emitted by the more than 300 cobalt rods temporarily entombed in the pool.

"There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of," says my companion, Thomas Mates, who seems amused by my nervous reserve. "As long as they're down there in the water, we're safe."

The water acts as a shield. But when the aggregation of cobalt rods is lifted up mechanically into the middle of the room, we and every other human being had better be on the other side of those walls, with the doors sealed and the safety devices all functioning perfectly. When the cobalt unit is in place, it is emitting deadly high radiation, ionizing gamma rays, at everything around it. Standing exposed in that room, a person would absorb 2,000 rads in three or four minutes. (A rad is a dose of radiation equivalent to an energy of 100 ergs per gram of irradiated tissue. An average chest X ray might contain one-twentieth of a rad.) This hypothetical person would feel nothing but he would be a dead man within days. A dose of 500 rads is enough to kill most people.

It is Tom Mates's duty to keep boxes and cartons moving steadily along the conveyor and through that room, some getting only a brief radiation shower, some stopping for a long, hot bath. It is also his duty to see that no one is in that inner chamber when the cobalt monster is up and out of the water. He takes the responsibility very seriously and obviously enjoys the challenge. "God, I love this job," he says.

Mates, 39, is not a nuclear physicist and he doesn't work in some remote area restricted to authorized personnel. His place of employment is a long, undistinguished, one-story building in the rear of a Schaumburg industrial park. The building is marked "Radiation Sterilizers Inc." Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, trucks pull into the dock beside the building to unload large and small containers, all with contents destined to be zapped with gamma rays in the concrete room.

Mates is the general manager of this facility, which he helped design and build. It has been in steady operation since 1981, handling some 3.25 million cubic feet of material a year. About 85 percent of the objects treated are medical supplies that require a high degree of sterilization: body implants, such as artificial hips, knees, and noses; surgical packs for the operating room; and disposable hospital gowns, towels, basins, and even the little cups in which urine is collected. The other materials are mostly cosmetic supplies and bags and cartons used for the packaging of food. A tiny amount of the material treated (about one-half of 1 percent, says Mates) is food itself: dried, raw spices, like oregano, pepper, and paprika, destined for use in frozen pizza or cookies, and ginseng powder, an herb used in natural foods that is produced in Siberia and irradiated in the United States.

Mates is quick to point out that irradiating these substances does not make them radioactive any more than a dental X ray makes your teeth radioactive. What the process does is destroy bacteria and other unwanted organisms.

The Schaumburg facility is one of five large installations around the country operated by Radiation Sterilizers Inc. There are 40 or 50 others run by other firms, and most are reportedly doing very well. Overhead costs are remarkably low for a plant like the one Mates oversees. With a bachelor's degree in science (from Marquette University), he is the only scientist on the staff, and just 17 employees are needed to keep the place operating around the clock. The main jobs are loading and unloading the conveyers, making sure that all the fail-safe devices (including lights, locks, and buzzers) are in working order, and scheduling the proper dosages for different materials. Doses range from 500,000 rads for laboratory specimen cups to 3 million rads for spices.

Of course, the start-up costs for such a facility are high. The cobalt rods cost $12,000 each, which means an outlay of $3.6 million for 300 of the things. Each rod contains tiny pellets of cobalt 60, which is produced by a company in Canada. It is derived from a natural, stable element, cobalt 59, which is then bombarded with subatomic particles in a nuclear reactor for two and a half years. The resulting new form, cobalt 60, unstable and radioactive, constantly emits millions of photons, which are the units of pure energy that make up gamma rays. A rod, explains Mates, loses half its power every 5.2 years, but still remains effectively usable for 30 years or more.

No matter how long or intense the photon bombardment, he declares, there is no danger for anyone who comes in contact with an object after it has been irradiated. "There are no residuals left on the object," he says, smiling confidently, "nothing which could cause harm. It isn't like we're shooting electrons or neutrons, which have a mass of their own, into these materials. It's all energy! Nothing is sticking!"

And since there is no nuclear reactor on the premises, there is no possibility of a meltdown or any similar catastrophe the public might associate with nuclear energy. The only constant danger lurks in human exposure to the live irradiator. "As long as we observe safety precautions," says Mates, "and believe me, we do, no one can possibly get hurt. What we have here is a technology that is safe and progressive and has a very wide application--an application we're just not taking advantage of."

It is clear that Mates is not talking about servicing more hospital gowns or artificial noses. He is a fervent proponent of the wide-scale irradiation of food. The small supply of spices he zaps every year only whets his appetite, providing just a taste of what could be happening--and may well be happening, at least by the end of the century.

When the nuclear industry and the big American food companies look down into one of those cobalt pools, they see not only blue but green--the profits that could be realized through food irradiation, partly because so many food products could find new markets. And people in high places agree with Mates and his associates that it's perfectly safe and a darn good idea. According to the committee set up by the World Health Organization to study the subject, "All the toxicological studies carried out on a large number of irradiated foods from almost every type of commodity have produced no evidence of adverse effects as a result of irradiation." What they have produced is evidence that irradiation breaks down bacteria, yeasts, and mold; kills insect eggs and larvae; reduces spoilage; and prolongs a food's shelf life.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization agrees, as does the American Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Food Processors Association, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, and the American Council on Science and Health, among others. In some 25 countries, including Japan, Italy, Canada, and Russia, irradiated food is consumed in large quantities with nary a complaint of indigestion.

The irradiation of wheat and potatoes has been legal in the United States for 24 years. In 1985 its use was extended to pork. And in April 1986 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation for fruits and vegetables. The FDA is currently being pressured by the Department of Agriculture to authorize irradiation for poultry, too, as a means of controlling salmonella, a bacteria that in various foods kills some 2,000 Americans a year. Irradiation is known to work wonders on seafood, keeping a lobster fresh for 30 days, for example, instead of the usual 3.

Irradiation, says Mates, has immense advantages over the chemicals traditionally used to kill bacteria, many of which are suspected of causing cancer or have been banned for that reason.

And yet, except in a minimal sense, food irradiation just isn't happening much, in Schaumburg or anywhere else in the United States. There are, in fact, no irradiation facilities specifically set up yet for food servicing. Despite the federal go-ahead and the enthusiastic expert reviews, no wheat, potatoes, vegetables, or pork are being irradiated anywhere. Only two known attempts have been made to test market irradiated fruit, and plans for further tests are wrapped in secrecy.

The National Coalition for Food Irradiation, an umbrella group of major food producers headquartered near Washington, D.C., has been losing members lately, including Campbell Soup, Ralston Purina, and Quaker Oats. The coalition appears to be in the grip of paranoia, refusing even to state how many firms are still on its roster or which ones they are. Several recent seminars on food irradiation for producers, in California and Maryland, had to be canceled because nobody signed up.

There are several theories for this seemingly wimpish attitude on the part of the food industry. Sharon Bomer, former chair of the Coalition for Food Irradiation, says the industry just isn't ready to make its move yet. Other bacteria and pest controllers are readily available and more cost-effective at present, she explains, so the need is not pressing, although as there are cost increases and bans on additional agents, it may well be pressing in the future. Meanwhile, she explains, a broad-based education project is under way to alert the public to the advantages of zapped foods. Some surveys, she notes, show that better than 80 percent of the public are either favorably disposed or neutral to the idea of food irradiation.

Ellen Morton, a spokesperson for the National Food Processors Association, says the industry is moving cautiously because words like "nuclear," "radiation," and "food" tend to disturb even the most reasonable citizens, especially when they all appear in the same sentence. Images of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island come quickly to mind and are only with great difficulty suppressed. Hence, she says, even though food irradiation is unquestionably safe, the industry is "consumer-driven" and refuses to shove irradiated food down the throats--so to speak--of the public.

Mates puts the blame for delay on "the obnoxious radicals who shout down the scientists and don't let the truth get a fair shake." He is referring especially to the National Coalition to Stop Food Irradiation (NCSFI), a California-based organization that has been dogging irradiation advocates since 1984. The quiet masses, says Mates, know food irradiation is all right, but they are intimidated by the loudmouths who appeal to fear. He finds this cowardice by an "egotistical, spoiled" element of the public disgusting, since in his view irradiation could salvage most of the 30 percent of the food produced in the United States lost to spoilage. "We could stop hunger in Appalachia and everywhere else," he says, "if we just used our heads."

Thus far, Mates has hardly felt the wrath of his opponents. Although the NCSFI claims 65 chapters around the country, there is none in the Chicago area. The closest, in fact, is in Minneapolis, some 400 miles away. The plant in Schaumburg has attracted no more media attention than if it produced ball bearings or bathroom tiles. According to David Kraft, president of the Evanston-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, some Illinois antinuclear groups have expressed general concern about worker safety and the disposal of radioactive wastes at irradiating facilities. But none has taken a public position on food irradiation specifically.

Mates has not hesitated to seek out verbal combat, however, participating last spring in a debate on National Public Radio's All Things Considered with Denis Mosgofian, leader of the anti-irradiating coalition. Both sides reportedly landed a few blows. Mates was delighted when a friend at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called him after the show, congratulated him, and told him he had just become "the Lee Iacocca of the radiation industry."

Out in San Francisco, Denis Mosgofian, the zealous, often long-winded leader of the NCSFI, says the public has a lot more common sense than Mates and his friends give it credit for--more sense even than the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the American Medical Association. "If irradiation gets a foothold," he says, "it will create massive nutritional, biological, and environmental hazards to the nation. Sure, the Food and Drug Administration has approved it, but they're the same people who once said Thalidomide, the Dalkon Shield, and EDB were safe too. So we know they make mistakes." (Probably so, but the FDA denies responsibility for those three: Thalidomide was never approved for clinical use in the United States. The Dalkon Shield predated by six years the law that gave the FDA authority to regulate "medical devices" such as the controversial intrauterine device. Ethylene dibromide, or EDB, a pesticide removed from the market for its cancer-causing properties, was regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency--not the FDA.)

"People have enough intelligence to realize that irradiated ingredients aren't going to be good for human beings," says Mosgofian. "Altering the structure of something is not going to lead us to healthier lives."

With the food industry lying so low these days, Mosgofian would seem to have little to occupy his time. But he and other NCSFI stalwarts maintain their visibility, distributing literature and making public appearances. (He spoke at an ecology conference workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago earlier this year.) The coalition also lobbies for legislation to curb irradiation. So far six states have introduced bills to limit the practice or require further study. One has also been presented in the U.S. House of Representatives. The organization and its affiliates operate largely on a shoestring, with some support from natural food producers (who put food irradiation on a par with the Black Plague) and anti-nuclear power organizations.

Occasionally an opportunity comes up to arouse broader interest. Last March the NCSFI chapter in Los Angeles learned that a Hawaiian-based papaya growers' association planned to quietly test market irradiated papayas somewhere in southern California. The exact location was a well-guarded secret.

The irradiation of papayas has become a matter of pressing interest because the ban on EDB forced growers to kill papaya-infesting pests, like the oriental fruit fly, by both immersing the fruit in water and subjecting it to high temperatures--a process called double dipping. The process is not effective, however, unless the fruit is picked when it is only one-fourth ripe. The double-dipped papayas, therefore, don't look, smell, or taste as good as growers, grocers, and customers would like. On the other hand, tree-ripened papayas, which are then irradiated to remove the bugs, have none of these defects. So the papaya industry is especially eager to irradiate.

The 1,600 members of the Los Angeles NCSFI were put on notice to "shelf watch" supermarkets for fresh, plump papayas bearing the government-required label "Treated by Irradiation" and carrying the internationally approved irradiation logo, called a radura, a broken circle with a symbolic flower inside.

For more than a week, the anti-irradiators found nothing. Then word came that a shipment of papayas was arriving by plane from Hawaii and would be immediately trucked to the Radiation Sterilizers' facility near Los Angeles for treatment. Coalition activists went to the airport, followed the truck to Radiation Sterilizers, and set up an around-the-clock watch to make sure they tracked the cargo to its final destination.

But alas, the crafty truck driver roared off in the early morning hours while the watcher on duty was making a phone call. The search had to begin anew. Thanks to a lucky tip, the target area was quickly narrowed down to Orange County, and two days later the papayas were found in two supermarkets in Anaheim and Irvine.

The coalition immediately set up picket lines, the press arrived, shoppers steered clear of the remaining papayas, and the sponsors, fearful of the negative publicity, hauled the fruit out of the store. Afterwards, the NCSFI declared a victory for its cause and the supermarket owners swore they would never get involved in such a clandestine operation again.

However, the sponsors later announced that the test had been an unprecedented success--up until its abrupt conclusion. Shoppers, they said, had overwhelmingly preferred the irradiated papayas (the identifying label notwithstanding) over the double-dipped ones.

Mosgofian says the test marketing was an attempt by the papaya industry to demonstrate conclusively that southern Californians will accept irradiated fruit, thus pressuring the Hawaiian legislature to allocate funds for a food irradiator proposed for the island of Hilo.

In the only other test marketing of irradiated food, a load of mangoes from Puerto Rico was sold at supermarkets in Miami last fall, reportedly without incident.

Research concerning the effects of radiation on food has been going on in the United States since the 1920s, but the amount and scope of such research is minimal compared to what has been devoted to radiation's potential as a producer of power and a destroyer of people. In World War II, some K rations were submitted to radiation in order to preserve freshness. And beginning in 1963 the U.S. Army routinely irradiated canned bacon, though it stopped in 1968 after the studies that led to approval of the practice were found to have been seriously flawed.

The Food and Drug Administration's decision last year to approve the irradiation of fruits and vegetables opened a whole new can of worms. According to the FDA, some 800 scientific reports from all over the world were carefully scrutinized before the decision was made. Those studies that did not meet the FDA's strict standards were dismissed. The number of acceptable studies was gradually pared down to 441, then 266, and finally 67. Of those 67, about half concluded that irradiated food is toxic, half that it isn't. So the FDA conducted a further review and decided that only five studies really met the strictest scientific standards. All said food irradiation produces no adverse side effects.

Some of the widely circulated studies dismissed for lack of foundation had come to alarming conclusions. A batch of irradiated wheat in India, for example, developed a rare and deadly fungus; the FDA said the fungus sprouted because the grain was left unprotected from contamination after irradiation and because the dose hadn't been powerful enough.

A Department of Agriculture study claimed that mice that were fed irradiated chicken developed tumors in their testes; the FDA said the number of tumors was not statistically significant, and besides, the chicken they ate had been zapped with a dose 60 times that approved by the FDA.

A Russian study said fruit flies that ate irradiated chicken had fewer offspring than would be expected; the FDA countered that this also was insignificant and noted that another study showed that pregnant beagle bitches on an irradiated-chicken diet actually had healthier puppies than beagles fed plain chicken.

Other tests associating kidney disorders and increases in abnormal white blood cells with consumption of irradiated foods were similarly dismissed as scientifically unreliable and inconclusive.

The one complaint that doesn't seem to go away concerns the effect of gamma ray radiation on the structure of food itself. The photons attacking a papaya, for example, do not distinguish between a fruit fly and the flesh of the fruit. A photon will knock an electron off an atom within a molecule and send it flying. The crippled molecule, minus one electron, becomes an unstable "free radical" and moves around like a magnet trying to stabilize itself by hooking up with another molecule. Within seconds the union is completed and a new hybrid molecule is formed.

When this happens to a molecule of a fruit fly, it's good news for papaya lovers because the new molecule and millions of others like it cause sterility and deactivate the bug's immune system. But obviously free radicals are also created in the fruit, and that's not necessarily good news for the consumer. The hybrid molecules, called radiolytic products, not only sap some of the papaya's nutritional value, they can form new compounds within the food that are anything but appetizing. It has been demonstrated that irradiating some meats can produce compounds of benzene, methane, and formaldehyde--not in sufficient quantities to be tasted, but enough to make even the hungriest diner pause. Millions of combinations are possible, including new compounds unknown to science. The experts cannot predict what will happen to any piece of irradiated food, since the gamma rays knock off electrons and disturb chemical connections in their own arbitrary way.

Could this breakdown create cancer-producing or other toxic compounds? That is the unanswered question.

Tom Mates says all this talk about the harm from free radicals is a red herring, a form of dishonest panic peddling. All the other things we do to food, including cooking, canning, even digesting, he notes, also produce free radicals whose ultimate effects are veiled in mystery. No one is suggesting that cooking or canning should be banned. So why get all steamed up over one process?

"As far as we're concerned," adds Sharon Bomer, now a spokesperson for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, "the radiolytic-product argument has been totally discredited."

Not so, says Mosgofian: to most people, there is a great deal of difference between boiling a potato and knocking the electrons off its molecules with little energy bullets. It will take a powerful argument, he believes, to convince the public that the latter process is no different and no more dangerous than the former.

And no such argument has been forthcoming, says Rodney Leonard, executive director of the Washington-based Community Nutrition Institute, a food policy analysis organization. "We're opposed to irradiation primarily because the research is inadequate," he declares. "Anytime you introduce chemical changes in food, you endanger people's mental and emotional makeup. Ultimately, you endanger our descendants."

Besides, he says, the irradiation advocates are really trying to find an easy substitute for good food processing and handling. "Instead of doing the needed research to treat contaminants and infestations," says Leonard, "producers want the freedom to produce food as foul as can be with assurances that radiation will solve all their problems. Well, I don't want to provide a quick fix for some asshole who doesn't want to manage his system."

In any event, the NCSFI and other critics contend, studies of the unknown should be conducted in laboratories, not at the nation's dinner tables. That is a conclusion with which the New York Times agreed last year when it urged the FDA to ask an independent group like the National Academy of Sciences to review all the evidence. "More pervasive evidence . . . and more compelling proof of irradiation's safety . . . would be comforting," said the Times.

Even if there were no questions about fungi, tumors, abnormal blood cells, or free radicals, the radiation industry would still have difficulty gaining the absolute confidence of the public. Like their cousins in the nuclear power business, the irradiators have a spotty safety record. Several employees at facilities in this country have suffered severe injury when accidentally exposed to radiation sources; one man was killed at a facility in Sweden.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has assessed fines or removed licenses in several instances of gross negligence. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the most flagrant cases seem to be centered at irradiation plants in New Jersey.

In 1976, when a cobalt 60 source at the Isomedix facility in Parsippany, New Jersey, spouted a leak, company officials dumped radioactive water down the toilet. Years later, a cleanup operation revealed that the pipes in the facility were still radioactive. Parts of the plant had to be torn out and buried. How much radioactive waste entered the public sewers will never be known.

Last June the NRC revoked the license of Radiation Technology, of Rockaway, New Jersey, for repeatedly bypassing safety regulations during plant operations and endangering the lives of employees. At the same time, the state of New Jersey ordered the company to pay for the first stages of a cleanup of volatile chemicals long stored on its property and leaking into the ground.

Also last June, a federal grand jury indicted two officials of International Nutronics Inc., of Dover, New Jersey, for an egregious cover-up of a massive radiation spill. In 1982, when cobalt 60 began leaking into the plant pool, a cleanup effort went completely awry. Some 5,000 liters of radioactive water gushed out onto the floor, contaminating the entire facility and the soil under and around it. According to the indictment, company officials then ordered employees to haul the water off in buckets and dump it down the plant's bathroom drains. Next they allegedly delayed an NRC inspection while holes were drilled in the floor, the place was repainted, and other measures undertaken to prevent detection. When NRC inspectors finally did arrive, plant employees were reportedly told to tamper with the radiation badges so the devices would record apparently safe radiation levels.

More than $2 million has since been spent on a cleanup of the Dover facility; International Nutronics has declared bankruptcy and gone out of the radiation business.

Tom Mates says the industry's overall batting average isn't that bad. "When an airliner crashes, everybody remembers the awful details," he says. "They forget the thousands of safe flights. Same here. A few scattered incidents shouldn't cancel out the full record."

Whether that record will improve or worsen is a matter of conjecture. In the future the radiation industry will probably rely more heavily on cesium 137, in place of cobalt 60, as its power source. That is because the Department of Energy is pushing cesium 137, a residue of Defense Department nuclear stockpiles, as the new ideal irradiator. They have even offered Hawaii a free supply for six years. (The offer is understandable since the Defense Department would have to otherwise manage cesium 137, along with its other wastes, in huge, temporary storage tanks.)

But unlike cobalt 60, cesium 137 requires large stockpiles and frequent replenishment of fresh material, and since it's water soluble, it spreads easily should it be released into the environment. A cesium 137 leak would pose a severe problem, and should a spill occur during shipment, great quantities of radioactive matter could spread quickly over a vast area. Mosgofian says the government just wants somebody to baby-sit its nuclear garbage and is extending its free trial offer to Hawaii without concern for the dangers.

It would be rash to conclude, however, that food irradiation is a doomed technology, that there will never be a mass market for it, and that broad-based opposition will continue indefinitely.

"No, we're not discouraged," says Ellen Morton of the National Food Processors Association. "I would say we're in a wait-and-see posture. Nobody's rushing to be first because the issue is so volatile and clouded with emotion. Naturally, though, we'd all like to move forward."

Signs of preparation for an irradiated future are plentiful. The Department of Energy acknowledges it is going ahead with plans to build large food irradiator plants in Florida, Washington State, Oklahoma, Alaska, Hawaii, and Iowa, perhaps to make use of growing quantities of nuclear waste. The government obviously foresees a demand for irradiation services down the road.

One obstacle for the food industry so far has been the federal requirement that irradiated whole foods be marked as such. But on April Fool's Day next year, the requirement expires. Thereafter, irradiated whole foods, like "fresh" potatoes, apples, or papayas, can be marketed without any identifying warning other than the innocent-looking flower logo. Even now, of course, prepared foods may legally contain irradiated ingredients without any labeling whatsoever: the oregano on a frozen pizza or the potato in a can of potatoes could be irradiated with the customer none the wiser. When the marketer is no longer forced to display that upsetting word "irradiation" on any products, the food industry may decide the time is ripe for a serious offensive.

A major public promoter of food irradiation is the American Council on Science and Health, a so-called consumer association funded by large corporations in the food, chemical, and oil industries (such as Heinz U.S.A., Campbell Soup, Dow Chemical, and Amoco). The council insists the benefits of the process far outweigh its imagined dangers. Once the public gets over its squeamishness, a new era of gustatory delight will dawn: fresh mangoes in Minnesota, shrimp in Kansas, lobster in South Dakota. The possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, the council in the past has also strongly favored the wider use of saccharin and formaldehyde and opposed current air pollution standards.

Meanwhile, scattered test marketing of irradiated products will continue. Treated potatoes may soon be sold very quietly in sections of the northwest United States. And Bomer says plans are under way to test market irradiated strawberries somewhere in the midwest. Chicago, Detroit, or Saint Louis might be ideal locations for such tests because the opposition forces have no organizations in these areas. Test marketers are likely to avoid places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and areas of New Jersey where the NCSFI is active or where there has been a public ruckus over the issue.

The ultimate question is: What will the public accept? In a national survey three years ago sponsored by the Department of Energy, 85 percent of respondents said they had major or minor concern about irradiation or were undecided. Only 18 percent expressed full confidence in the process. During a series of follow-ups, those interviewed were told how irradiation works and what its advantages are, then again asked their reaction. This time 79 percent still had concerns or remained undecided. The 6 percent shift convinced some advocates that an education program can warm up the customers. On the other hand, it showed that changing people's minds is a gradual process. According to Bomer, a more recent, unpublished survey indicates that public acceptance may be growing.

The irradiation industry will develop slowly, according to analysts at Kidder, Peabody & Company, a Wall Street firm that has studied consumer attitudes toward the industry, but by the year 2000 there will be hundreds of irradiator plants gamma-raying millions of tons of food.

Out in Schaumburg, Tom Mates is not holding his breath. He has more than enough medical-supply and packaging customers to keep his conveyor spinning and his cobalt glowing. Yet he can't help but ponder an even busier future "once people overcome all this unreasonable fear."

In San Francisco Mosgofian admits he is indeed fearful. He says he sees himself and his allies as a dam trying to hold back an evil tide from washing over the nation. "I'm not looking for credit or anything," he says. "I just hope someday history will look back on food irradiation as one of those things that didn't happen."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment