“GROUND ZERO” – SCIENTIFIC PRE-WARNING, OR ALARMIST?

By: Qidi Jiang

In just one year and a half, the idea of “Restaurant Day” has gained unprecedented popularity in Finland where the number of restaurants is so limited due to highly restricted regulations. In the mean time, more and more countries across Europe, North America, and even Asia are participating in this special event dedicated to the enjoyment of food. So far, seven Restaurant Days have been successfully held in over fifteen countries. With more and more people come to embrace Restaurant Day, in order to keep
this initial concept and happiness from being abducted by commercial activity, a lot of regulations have been made, any restaurant with a clearly commercial, political or religious aim, or restaurants linked to existing commercial brands, or advertising a commercial space or a business, will be removed from the service.

In spite of the above mentioned facts, to our surprise, no regulations regarding food security have so far been made to make sure that the food served during Restaurant Day is absolutely safe. Some may think that there’s no need for too many rules, just relax, enjoy and have some fun. Some may state that after all, the food is bought from someone mostly not likely to be a restaurant owner and you are paying less than what you usually pay for eating at a restaurant, so you can not ask for too much. Some may also argue that, given the past seven Restaurant Days, not even one food security accident-reportedly at least, has ever happened. However, is food security really not an issue fore Restaurant Day? Is the urge to regulate the food security condition during Restaurant Day overreacting? What will be the possible cause and consequence of food security issues? The answer is, it all depends on probability.

Obviously, with a sample size big enough, any rare case with extremely low probability is likely to happen. By assuming the total number of global participants to the next Restaurant Day to be 500,000 (which is a very conservative number), we are looking at a possible report of 700 diarrhea patients, regardless of the causes being external to Restaurant Day or not. (According to WHO, around the world there are 11 million people suffering from diarrheal disease everyday) Also, this is not just a conference where people gather at a fixed site. During Restaurant Day, people tend to try different dishes at different places, this high mobility further adds to the probability of cross-infection. What’s more, many epidemic diseases have an incidence rate similar to that of diarrhea. Yet, epidemic diseases have an infection pattern of exponential growth, which is even more dangerous.

In addition to actual outbreak of contagious disease during Restaurant Day, there’s another possible cause of food security issue, which is often ignored. The impact it may trigger however, could be sometimes even worse. For this cause, we call it outbreak of collective hysteria.

Collective hysteria is a large scale outbreak of disease-like symptom caused by strong psychological implication, which is highly unpredictable. For example, even if the food served at Restaurant Day is perfectly safe, there could still be someone with physical discomfort suspecting that the food is contaminated, his/her response will affect those around, sometimes this will lead to the same physical discomfort. Then, this phenomenon will “infect” more people, giving them the same symptom, triggering huge panic, even riot.

Given the big number of people involved in Restaurant Day, we can predict that though the happening of any of these scenarios being discussed is not absolute, its probability is high, and still building up as Restaurant Day becomes more and more popular. Hence, the success and growing of Restaurant Day calls for more attention in all aspects it may concern, among which, food security is definitely crucial.

Restaurant Day should be, as it always have been, the “ground zero” of happiness, not disease. It is high time that we paid more attention to food security during Restaurant Day.