The trouble with meanings of risk, safety and security

The concepts of risk, safety, and security have received substantial academic interest. Several assumptions exist about their nature and relation.

riskBesides academic use, the words risk, safety, and security are frequent in ordinary language, for example, in media reporting. In this article, we analyze the concepts of risk, safety, and security, and their relation, based on empirical observation of their actual everyday use.

The “behavioral profiles” of the nouns risk, safety, and security and the adjectives risky, safe, and secure are coded and compared regarding lexical and grammatical contexts.

The main findings are: (1) the three nouns risk, safety, and security, and the two adjectives safe and secure, have widespread use in different senses, which will make any attempt to define them in a single unified manner extremely difficult; (2) the relationship between the central risk terms is complex and only partially confirms the distinctions commonly made between the terms in specialized terminology; (3) whereas most attempts to define risk in specialized terminology have taken the term to have a quantitative meaning, nonquantitative meanings dominate in everyday language, and numerical meanings are rare; and (4) the three adjectives safe, secure, and risky are frequently used in comparative form. This speaks against interpretations that would take them as absolute, all-or-nothing concepts.

The Concepts of Risk, Safety, and Security: Applications in Everyday Language

Wiley Online Library, Risk Analysis, 18 AUG 2015

Max Boholm, Niklas Möller and Sven Ove Hansson;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

CHUCK DODD: In defense of food – not Pollan

Chuck Dodd, a veterinarian and PhD student at Kansas State University, writes:

I grew up in rural Missouri eating meat and potatoes, mostly meat, and quite a bit of it.

But my carnivorous mantra doesn’t match the advice of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food—An Eaters Manifesto (right). He says:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Most of the world already follows Michael Pollan’s advice—out of necessity.

Approximately 4.7 billion people, or over two-thirds of the world’s population, live in lower income countries where safe food and water is limited. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) now reports that rising food prices have contributed to a global increase in malnourishment and hunger. For people living in areas of poverty or conflict, it isn’t about food choices, it’s about simply eating. My wife, Lisa (with neighbor, left), and I lived among the poor in East Africa for six years. We’ve seen hunger, malnourishment, and the effects of diarrheal disease in children–not from the safe distance of a TV screen, but among our friends.  We strived to help transform lives in difficult places.       

Many of us who live in affluent societies enjoy abundant food choices. In the U.S., we have the luxury of being able to pick our diet based upon personal preference, individual nutrients, food production systems, origin, brand, and price. For those of us who have these abundant food choices, Pollan provides additional advice:

???don’t eat anything that your great grand-mother wouldn’t recognize as food;

???avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup;

???avoid food products that make health claims;

???shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (processed food products dominate the center aisles); and,

???get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

Pollan’s recommendations are clever. But some of his other recommendations, like “pay more, eat less,” would offend our African friends, like Olendorrop (right).  Olendorrop faces daily challenges in feeding his family.  In the semi-arid savannah of the Rift Valley in northern Tanzania, he struggles to raise sheep and goats, grow corn, and survive.  He has learned how to use dewormers to keep his livestock healthy.  When he uses an antibiotic to treat a sick animal, he doesn’t care about organic food.  All of his animals are grass-fed because corn is people food.  He can’t go to the supermarket because there isn’t one.  He isn’t worried about health claims and ingredients because his food doesn’t have labels.  If Olendorrop paid more and ate less, his family wouldn’t survive.

My advice: if you can afford to choose what you eat, be thankful. Being able to consider what you eat is a luxury in itself. 

Our eater’s manifesto should be to help others simply eat.  Have we, the affluent with abundant food choices, finally arrived, or have we lost touch with global reality?  Do we really need to defend our food from food science and food production systems, as Pollan writes, or do we need to defend the 923 million undernourished people in the world  who don’t have food and help transform their lives?

Don Schaffner, guest barfblogger: Biking for food security

As I’ve blogged before, I’m interested in the intersection of disparate ideas.

Today’s intersection relates to the good folks at Barf Blog, and the cross-country adventures of a fellow food safety microbiologist.

Many professional food safety scientist readers of this blog may know Dr. Tom Montville. He’s the coauthor of Food Microbiology: An Introduction and co-edited the first two editions of Food Microbiology: Fundamentals and Frontiers.

But the reasons for this post don’t have too much to do with food safety, although they do have a lot to do with food, more specifically food security.  And when I say food security, I don’t mean defending the food supply against bioterrorism, although this is also one of Dr. Montville’s research interests.  No, when I say food security, I mean it in the original sense, "availability of food and one’s access to it".

Tom, you see, has managed to combine two of his passions: food, and riding his bicycle.  He is currently riding his bicycle across the county (west coast to east coast) to raise funds for Elijah’s Promise, which began as a small soup kitchen and has since become a multi-service agency that moves people out of poverty.

And (here’s the intersection) he’s about to pass within 30 miles of Manhattan, Kansas!

I find his efforts very inspiring, and I hope you will too.  Check out his blog to learn more.