Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Volume 1, Number 8: The Jungle Revisited

(Note: I originally posted this entry in a blog I had on Yahoo! GeoCities in 2006.)

Around 20 years ago, I came across a novel Upton Sinclair wrote in 1906 called The Jungle, which told about the horrors of industrial food production at that time (such as extremely unsafe working conditions, people using chemicals to make rotten meat smell fresh, and a description of just what went into a sausage at a Chicago meatpacking plant). That novel led to the passage of the first food safety laws in this country (thanks again to The Jungle, after President Theodore Roosevelt read it).

Fast forward to 100 years later. Recently, fresh spinach from Natural Selection Foods has been found to contain the toxic strain of E. coli, also known as E. coli 0157:H7. The irony of it is that the people who ate it and/or served it to friends or loved ones thought they were eating healthy food (as opposed to fast food or junk food), and those efforts actually made them sick, or in at least one case, led to death.

But more alarmingly, the recent E. coli scare is more proof that the food industry in the United States can be just as dangerous now as it was 100 years ago.

As a matter of fact, last Thursday, I read a report on FoxNews.com that suggests another possibility for the introduction of E. coli into those California spinach crops: Not irrigation water or animal manure, no, but WORKERS RELIEVING THEMSELVES IN THE FIELDS!

That is one of the most horrifying things I have ever read in my life, even if it turns out not to be the case. I really hope it it isn't true, because if so, either those workers put way too much stock into that "triple washing" process, or they are being treated like government mules and aren't being allowed simple liberties such as bathroom breaks.

It's not totally unheard of, mind you, but I would never expect it to happen in America. It has happened in Guatemala, however. In 1997, New York Newsday reported unsanitary conditions in farms they visited there, including workers relieving themselves in the fields. Why did Newsday go down there to begin with? In April, 20 guests at a wedding in New York became infected with cyclospora (single-celled parasites) from fresh raspberries grown in Guatemala. And why were Guatemalan raspberries purchased in the first place? Not for better flavor or color, no, but because some time ago, American interests (read: BIG BUSINESS) introduced raspberries over there in hopes that they could grow them cheaper over there than right here in the USA.

Food safety is a huge personal issue for me. I've been poisoned twice in my life, not by E. coli or by that mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant that stored chickens on broomsticks and scored 24 out of 100 on the state health department test, but by two well-known national restaurant chains that (in all likelihood) served me stuff that had been sitting on a shelf under a heat lamp for too darn long. (As an aside: Ever notice, too, whenever the local news media attack dirty restaurants, they never go after big chains, just those mom-and-pop-type restaurants?) Both cases--one at a Big Boy restaurant in 1989 and the other at a Little Caesars in 1994--were marked by nausea so severe that I had to take prescription medication because I was throwing up over and over and was at risk for dehydration. (I've eaten at both restaurants since, with no problems, but I'm more careful now, plus I hardly eat out nowadays because restaurants are terribly expensive to begin with.)

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