Some of you may have noticed I finally got a new book on the nightstand, after trying for weeks to finish “A Bend in the River.” (It was a compelling read that I unfortunately found easy to put down for days at a time. I’m saving it for summer at the pool.)
I broke down and bought Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” because it’s time to make a change. We’ve discussed foodies and foodie religion here before, but I could never find a version of it that appealed to me, for a number of reasons that boiled down to stupid snotty elitism and stupid snotty worship of tomatoes. But I’ve been reading Bittman for years, and I’d follow him anywhere, and he has enough of a common touch that he can take the basics of the foodie argument — that our food choices do, indeed, matter — and strip away the vileness of the San Francisco School, which basically says, “And if you had it together, you’d choose what I choose.”
Maybe it’s because he structures the book around his personal story of losing 35 pounds following a fairly simple non-deprivation diet he calls “vegan until six.” Who doesn’t love a new diet book? Or maybe it’s the timing, me walking past the book at Border’s at the same time the latest salmonella scare was working its way through the news in its usual fashion:
Step 1: Salmonella (or other food-borne illness) breaks out somewhere, government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 2: Hmm, it turns out the contamination may be wider than we previously thought, however government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 3: Further investigation reveals government agencies are unable to actually track the problem very well, because of deregulation and open markets and the like, however, government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 4, 5, etc.: Contamination is wider than previously believed and may never be entirely contained, however, all is well and under control.
When the latest outbreak occurred, we were assured that the problem was confined to “peanut paste” used in those neon-orange vending-machine crackers and a few other easy-to-avoid products (under control! all is well!). Then, no, it’s in this stuff, and that stuff, and finally, yesterday, the last straw, a look at the peanut-processing plant where it all started. Warning: Put down your sandwich and drink a quick glass of water before reading:
BLAKELY, Ga. — Raw peanuts were stored next to the finished peanut butter. The roaster was not calibrated to kill deadly germs. Dispirited workers on minimum wage, supplied by temp agencies, donned their uniforms at home, potentially dragging contaminants into the plant, which also had rodents.
Even the roof of the Peanut Corporation of America plant here in rural southwest Georgia was an obvious risk, given that salmonella thrives in water and the facility should have been kept bone dry.
“It leaked when it rained,” said Frank Hardrick, 40, an assistant manager who, along with four other workers, described life inside the plant. “Different crews would come in to work on it, but it would still leak.”
It goes on at great, disgusting length, and it and similar stories are simply the last straw for me. I’m not naive; my husband has worked in factory-level food processing and I’ve heard the stories. I have a strong stomach — a strong appetite, anyway — and you know what they say about sausage-making. Even hand-crafted food, lovingly prepared, has a decided ick factor. But this is something else. This is a public-health issue.
Among the many things I am furious at my government for at any given moment, the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to keep us safe from the Peanut Corporation of America and its filthy plant is high on the list. I know that absent a workforce of inspectors equal to the armed services, “keeping us safe” is a pipedream. But the more you read about these owners, how they knew they had contaminated product and sent it out anyway, how they were more concerned with low-cost labor than quality labor, how they couldn’t even seem to swing a decent roof repair, it becomes clear that the plant was run this way because they knew they had nothing to fear from the FDA. In fact, they got advance notice of coming inspections, and instructed their minimum-wage workforce to say nothing.
So I’m doing the only thing I can: I’m opting out. I can’t go whole-hog, but I’ll go half-hog. I’ll restructure my grocery shopping around the assumption that every last item in the store could make me sick (especially the meat), that every word on every label is a lie, and I’ll offer in return the appropriate customer attitude and loyalty. And if making my own granola, decreasing demand at a feedlot and eating more fresh vegetables turns out to be a good strategy for my own health, well, then the foodies will win this one ugly. But as the Captain said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “This is how he wants it.”
Screw Big Food.
So, what’s going on in the world? Good to see the Curse of Madonna remains undiminished. I told someone last year, when she took up with Alex Rodriguez, that just you wait — he’s going to have a very bad year. Madonna has that effect on men. Sean Penn, one of the greatest actors of his generation, married Madonna and made “Shanghai Surprise.” Guy Ritchie, the English Tarantino, married Madonna and made “Swept Away.” Warren Beatty made “Reds” when he was with Diane Keaton and “Bugsy” with Annette Bening, “Dick Tracy” with Madonna. A-Rod is trickier, being a non-creative sort; I don’t know enough about baseball to make a credible prediction when they hooked up, but I knew it would be something, because it’s always something with Madonna. It’s her curse, the dark side of the fame and fortune, a sort of reverse Midas touch for men who dare to come near. She extracts their essence and injects it into her wrinkles, or something. Get away quickly enough, and you’ll live to work again (Penn, Beatty). Stay too long, and it may be all over; I hear “RocknRolla” sucked pretty hard, but Ritchie is still young.
Oh, so you say, and what about Carlos Leon, the personal trainer/sperm fountain tapped to produce Madonna’s Mini-Me? The rules may not apply, seeing as how he was essentially used for stud purposes and discarded more or less immediately, but let’s do a little Google … hmm, the NYPost spoke last summer of the Leon Fitness Center, said to be opening “this fall,” i.e., last fall. Oh, here’s more: It’s part of a condo complex in glamorous Long Island City, and is 1,050 whole square feet, about half the size of my house. I’d say: The curse holds.