Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Food Safety 101


I just returned from a whirlwind trip to the breadbasket of America only to read on MSNBC that reported cases of foodborne illnesses in leafy greens have been rising over the past 35 years. And this is disproportionate to increases in fresh salad and greens consumption. In other words, the food we eat is getting more dangerous each day. Just think about [I won't bore you by listing them] the numerous "problems" that have been reported over the past two years alone. Most recently, the use of downer cows and inhumane treatment by one beef production company resulted in the largest recall of beef in US history. Now, there weren't any foodborne illness issues reported by the consumption of the meat involved in that recall, but the door was wide open not just for E. coli but also mad cow disease.

What's that have to do with my trip? Well, there I was in a region of the country known for cattle ranches, vast expanses of corn, and amber waves of grain, and I couldn't find a decent meal to eat. Several people in our party actually got sick. How in the world, when you're in a region with so much food production could you not find a decent, safe meal? It is because the vast majority of our population have been trained to treat food like a commodity. A secondary part of our being. My view is that we all need to eat to survive, so why should we eat bad food? I'm not talking sushi and kobe beef every week, just good, clean food. Not only do our consumers need to think differently, but the producers of the vast quantities of our food--the ADMs and Cargills of the world--need to think differently. The state of our national food supply is why organics, CSAs, vegetarianism, and other here-to-stay food trends are so popular. People are beginning to distrust our food supply.

But not everyone has access to a CSA or organic food store. These are still elitist ideas to many Americans. In fact, many of the people that actually grow our food can't afford to buy anything but commodified food, and they don't grow anything they can eat because of how our current farm system is designed. Paying more for food will help, so will more and better government oversight. But basically we need more local food education. Education about the wheres, whys, hows, whos, and whats of food. Our diets would be healthier, safer, and more enjoyable than they are. We shouldn't have to process downer cows, and if we had a more humane food production system, we wouldn't have them. Likewise, leafy greens should be a no brainer part of any diet...not a "I wonder if this'll kill me today part."

Local: know your roots.

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