For years, I have been decrying the sorry state of regulation, labeling, consumer education, and mass production in our food world. I am not alone in that effort, and what's more, I've been a follower, inspired by some truly vibrant thinkers on this subject, everyone from Michael Pollan to Eric Schlosser. The Topps Meat Company, one of the largest in the country, is now out of business after issuing the second largest beef recall in US history just last week. An entire year's inventory—21.7 million pounds of beef—may have been tainted with a deadly E. coli bacteria. USDA spokespeople promised to speed-up warnings and encouragement of potential recalls in the future. Oy vey. Closer to home, Cargill has recalled close to a million pounds (as of Sunday) of a premade beef patty that has shipped nationwide, including to Sam’s Club stores, where some Minnesotans bought the product and fell ill. Cargill learned of the situation just last Friday and acted quickly. Anyone need more convincing that something is really wrong with our relationship to food? In our undeniable lust for cheaper and more convenient foods, we have created a food production chain that can kill us.
My dad came into town last week—happy 80th, Pop!—but some thoughts from his visit still linger. When he comes into town, he prefers to stay downtown in Minneapolis at his regular room at his fave hotel, so I am ferrying him back and forth a lot, with plenty of time for us to chat in the car. One day, as we are driving down Hennepin Ave. between 8th and 7th, cruising past City Center and looping around Block E, my dad turns to me and says, “Not very inviting or safe-looking is it?" And this from a lifelong New Yorker who still walks everywhere he goes and doesn’t scare easily. Cops on all the streets shaking down roving packs of wannabe hoodlums, open drug transactions. There are few cool restaurant scenes or great shopping on street level in the heart of downtown, just huge bars with cop cars outside keeping an eye on drunk kids. I had never seen it that way until we looped the block a few times to see what we could see, hoping we were wrong. We weren’t. I admire our local city government for what they are doing to make it safe for citizens in downtown Minneapolis, but at a certain point, we must be doing something wrong if our downtown is more combat zone than vibrant center of daily life. Take a drive around the City Center and Block E next Friday or Saturday evening. It’s not pretty.
I checked out the Shrine Circus over the weekend—pretty tame stuff, not very exciting, fewer acts than there should have been, small crowds, and RIDICULOUS security all over the place. The vibe was not family-friendly at all. It was as if they were expecting trouble any second. And when intermission came and went and the second half of the circus started, the Dominguez Motorcycle Riders came out to the blaring tune of Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls,” replete with two-dozen scantily clad, preening cheerleaders gyrating the crowd into a frenzy. I had to wonder who the core demo of the show was. My two-and-a-half-year-old loved it all, by the way. I’m no prude, but all of this just had me shaking my head. All the local news chat about animal cruelty and the petitioners working overtime to disallow the use of animals in the local version of the circus have got it wrong. The greatest injustice is the one perpetrated against the paying public.
In the USA Today the other morning I saw a health piece by Kim Painter pointing out that 23% of men leave the washroom without washing their hands. She asserts that the reasons are always the same when you ask someone why they don’t wash up—it takes too long, it doesn’t make a difference, and hands look clean. WHO ARE THEY ASKING??? Everyone I know will tell you that it’s because most public restrooms are filthy and grabbing onto faucet handles in them is something no sane person would do . . . and of course I now always carry antibacterial wipes.
All this is my way of saying that the older I get the more I turn into a cross between Howard Hughes and Howie Mandel.