It’s Still Not Easy Being Green

4 12 2007


By Jill Ettinger

Question: Since the spinach E Coli outbreak in 2006, you’ve stopped eating as much of it as you used to, right? Every week, no matter which Whole Foods I’m in, as I prowl through the produce department I notice that while most of the ready to eat bagged lettuces are almost always sold out, I could gorge on spinach endlessly. It sits wearing the mark of the Emerald Letter. Even the other vegetables seem to move away, rolling onto the floor if necessary. Where the heck has Popeye been during all this?

Granted, it has only been a year since more than half of our country (26 states) was under attack from tainted greens. When the most harmless healthy looking thing is actually the opposite, well, it opens us up to a world of fear and doubt. This is the problem with industrialized agriculture. On one hand it’s quite necessary for our current mode of survival. Yet on the other it could take out millions of people with one fatal harvest. Even organic food is at risk of being contaminated. Washing and cooking is not enough to sterilize microscopic killers like e coli. Every meal we eat quite possibly could be our last. (That goes without saying, as I could step out in front of a bus after dinner. Everyone knows buses are pure evil serial killers, but food is supposed to nurture and nourish us.)

Truthfully I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the USDA or FDA, tasked with ensuring safety and quality for millions of people. As it stands today, the FDA cites a can of tomatoes unfit for sale only if it contains 10 or more fly eggs per 500 grams or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 500 grams or two or more maggots per 500 grams. A chocolate bar will be rejected only if 60 or more insect fragments are found per 100 grams. These things are in all of our food all the time. The body can safely handle “gross” to a modestly impressive level. I’m always shocked by my dog Sita, who will inevitably find the nastiest half eaten/half rotten chicken bone in a pile of sidewalk muck and guzzle it like Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I’ll watch everything that comes out of her over the next few days and usually, all is normal and she is happy. Our Victorian influence has led us to a sort of separation anxiety from Nature. The curse of the foolishly upright. We over-sterilize and gawk at the thought of eating a bug or rat hair. We stand on chairs and scream when a spider is spotted on the kitchen floor.  Remember the lady that sued Dannon yogurt for something like $5 billion dollars because she ate half a cockroach instead of a blueberry in her yogurt parfait?

While in Hawaii this summer, I bit open a guava and part of it was rapidly moving. I had not bitten through the maggot, but I had certainly startled it. Suddenly, I couldn’t hear anything. The world was moving in slow motion. I couldn’t breathe. I was outraged. Why had Nature forsaken me?! As I spit the remaining guava remnants to the ground I chucked the maggot nest deep into the forest, cursing and swearing off the fruit forever. I’m even suspicious of passion fruits now. There really aren’t very many trustworthy fruits in the world if you think about it, except maybe pineapples.

As the FDA continues to monitor our recommended daily yuck intake, we’ve got other issues to navigate. China, for one, is exporting lead cans of chicken flu soup. But in our own backyard, we are not safe. Almonds, the seemingly neutral nut fell to a mandatory pasteurization mandate earlier this year because of only a few isolated cases of e coli. Roasted almonds are good, but so are raw ones. They’re chewier and creamier and blend better. Pasteurization is currently the only way to thermally shock the little noseeum killers. On some levels, I found this necessity a little bit sad. I for one will eat pasteurized almonds that are otherwise raw, but there are some people who will not. It’s sad that we have to take this step to protect ourselves from the deviations in nature that we can no longer combat in our own bodies. It’s like our entire species is handicapped. We can no longer eat certain things without assistance. Maggots don’t sound so bad all of a sudden. Sometimes, evolution is really strange.

Almonds, like all nuts and seeds are hearty. They can survive forest fires and long cold winters. Spinach or Romaine lettuce though, cannot. But they are now facing a similar fate. Says Tom Willey, an organic vegetable producer with T & D Willey Farms in Madera, CA “The alarming prevalence of the virulent E. coli 0157 in our food system is due to an animal industry allowed to raise cattle in stressful environments on unnatural diets. Allowing such practices to continue while burdening produce growers with the impossible task of sterilizing their farms is folly beyond belief.”

No one knows the effects on crops forced to undergo mandatory sterilization. No one knows the effect on the human body either. But we do know that meat and dairy cause both the earth and our bodies overwhelming challenges. Heart Disease is the number one killer in this country, which is largely linked to diet; global warming gets its biggest contribution from the combined use of  natural resources and methane-release from livestock. There seems to be one logical answer to reversing both of these situations. Grow more kale than chickens. Eat more celery than cheeseburgers. Spinach is not the enemy.




3 responses

4 12 2007

Interesting post. I have noticed in the states especially there is a phobia of eating anything ‘alive’. In the process the various creepy-crawlies that are supposed to live in our internal plumbing is dying off. I think most people believe that ‘healthy’ = ‘i’ am the only being living inside my own skin. Instead our skin should play host to a plethora of flora and fauna! I am by no means an expert, but our obsession with sterilization and ‘well-done’ seems to be eliminating our intake of the good guys.
For example, we reached our current state of evolution by way of cultures that used methods of fermentation to prepare and preserve food. It is sad that so many people balk at fermentation these days. The enzymes propagated and ingested are needed to support a healthy internal eco system. Meanwhile these same people are ingesting can foods and all the larvae that come with them!
Anyway, that was kind of a ramble. The point is…good posting.

11 12 2007
Kombucha « Owl’s Eyesight, Insight and Foresight

[…] So, after leaving a rambling comment on InnerContinental’s posting “It’s Still Not Easy Being Green” about the lack of fermentation in the modern American’s diet, I thought I would share some […]

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