For years I have telling the same stories on the road whenever I am on the lecture circuit. Too few factory farms and commodity wholesalers controlling too large a percentage of our food supply is DANGEROUS. The food-borne bacterial outbreak that is ravaging Germany (and Europe) is unprecedented in size and scope. Sixteen are dead, more than a thousand are ill, and that number grows each day. And no one knows for sure what happened or how. We are told by the official spokespersons that eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes, or lettuce likely infected people. (By the way, those are the three most popular vegetables here and abroad; lettuce and tomato are one and two in this country). This is a health epidemic that will occur here—it’s a ‘when’ not an ‘if’—and like the fantastical stories associated with this kind of outbreak can easily happen because of the speed and lack of oversight we have built into our food system in this country. Leadership on this issue can come from many fronts, and I am hoping that our Fortune 500 food companies here in Minnesota will step up and help to put major league improvements in place as stopgaps against this sort of outbreak occurring in Minnesota. How about allowing news cameras into our factory farms, abattoirs, and feedlots? That would be a great show of support from our local commercial chicken, pork, beef, and lamb producers. On the flip side of the same fence, what about the nutritional values associated with say, vegetables, perhaps the tomato? And, yes, it’s a fruit but its classified as a vegetable . . . long story for another day.
Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit, is a new book based on Barry Estabrook's James Beard Award-winning 2010 article "The Price of Tomatoes." In both pieces, Estabrook details everything that’s gone wrong with the modern tomato, and he argues this is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with modern agriculture. The modern day tomato contains more salt, less flavor, and way fewer nutritive properties than ever before, and one county in Florida is responsible for growing one-third of the tomatoes in the USA. What if something were to go wrong there with a food borne pathogen. Holy crap! Tens of thousands could get sick before the word got out. Frightening.
Now while no one got sick last week from a pathogenic outbreak related to eating fresh tuna, we may not even have that opportunity for much longer. The film Sushi: the Global Catch is worth noting for the arguments it makes for how we maintain (or don’t) our fisheries. I have bumped into production people and experts portrayed in the documentary over the last few years and the ideas expressed in this film are of paramount importance. We are over fishing many species to extinction, and I think we all have to make some very uncomfortable decisions in the coming days and weeks about what we choose to eat, and what we don’t. Eating these days has a moral component attached to it that we sadly can’t ignore anymore. Our systems are broken. And the ones that aren’t feel out of control.
Oh, and this just in from the news of the absurd department: NOAA says there is no need to protect the bluefin under the species protection act(s).
Nobody’s right, when everybody’s wrong . . . isn’t that how the song goes?