Given the recent fresh spinach-caused E. coli outbreak, we might expect to hear calls for increased government regulation of the food supply.
Outbreaks of food-borne illness are due in part to corporate agribusiness practices, according to infectious disease specialists like Lee Riley at the University of California-Berkeley.
"We don't see this disease in India, Africa, China. We only see it in highly technologically advanced countries, and the reason is because of this highly centralized food-processing system," Riley told the San Francisco Chronicle.
We probably don't see this disease in India, Africa or China because so many people die there every day that E. coli is most likely considered a natural death. I'd be amazed if, given the death rate in third world countries, overburdened coroners in Mumbai take time to check for E. coli as the reason some street-beggar showed up at the morgue one morning.
To pretend that contamination of food from manure doesn't exist in those underdeveloped countries is to beggar all belief. There have been way too many pictures of children swimming in the feces-laden Ganges River to buy that. And blaming America's "highly centralized food processing system" can only be considered sensible if you ignore its amazingly positive results.
That system has enabled us to feed ourselves so well that we now worry, not about how to get enough food, but how we can convince (or force) each other that we should eat less. As always, when an opinion piece strikes you as counterintuitive, check out who wrote it. In this case it makes perfect sense.
The author is one John Peck, director of Family Farm Defenders. It's not altogether surprising that the director of a group paid big money to defend the "family" farm would blame "big agra" for our supposed food woes. Just know that his attempt to worry us over the food supply is more rooted in getting government favors than in spreading knowledge.
If the Family Farm Defenders were truly concerned over Americans' health, they'd be promoting the same modern food preparation techniques that are helping now to prolong the lives of those Indians, Chinese and Africans. Americans, too, might benefit from some advice: if you're going to eat fresh spinach then boil it, drown it in butter and salt to make it palatable (or vinegar -- that's good, too) and rest easy. It's that simple.
We've known for a long time about germs and such. I mean, there's a reason we don't have a Dixie Cup dispenser stuck on the side of the toilet and why we instinctively recoil when Fido takes a big slurp out of the bowl.
Look, you'll likely never know who or what crapped on your fresh, organic vegetables before they showed up at the local co-op, and I doubt you'd like to pay the price to have every leaf tested. If you are, however, truly driven to eat raw produce, then I'd suggest growing it yourself. Otherwise the advice remains the same -- boil the crap out of it.
Gosh, Grandma knew that 80 years ago, and I'll bet money that she never got E. coli. And if she did, she certainly didn't tell anyone; and she didn't call a lawyer or demand government action. She'd have been too ashamed for not having followed what any 19th century housewife already knew: boil it and disease will die. That may be one recipe that even government can't change.
[UPDATE:] Here, on the other hand is a case where government regulation makes sense.