Hold the Lettuce

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It was fun while it lasted.


You remember when you stopped picking up hitchhikers? It was likely in the 80s, right? For me, as late as 1985, I was still feeling that tinge of guilt driving past one (making the "turn" sign with my finger to signal I was, er, turning shortly, anyway).

Hell, I went through some periodic stretches between 1974-1980 when hitching was my chief means for getting around. But by 1992 or so, only a complete freaking idiot would hitchhike or stop for a hitchhiker. A bunch of "bad news" happened - hitchhikers hurting drivers and vice versa - and that was the end of that. Nobody of sound mind hitchhikes anymore - it's just the way it is.

Nowadays, seeing a hitchhiker along the road is more exotic than seeing a family of deer or a caravan of gypsies.

My salad days also began in the carefree 70s: after I'd outgrown my puerile dislike of vegetables enough to appreciate the newfangled "salad bar," which coincided with my early teen years and subsequent appreciation of cheap food. The first one I recall was the Village Inn, a pizza place in Alexandria. For a ridiculously low price you could load up a plate with vegetables, dressing, and bacon bits, and sometimes even pizza slices. Many a day's festivities, or late night sessions, ended up at the salad bar, chowing down.

Needless to say, fast-forwarding 30 years, a lot of lettuce has gone under the bridge. I not only learned to appreciate my veggies, but to treat the salad as de rigeur. Whether in dive diners or places where a meal costs as much as three college credits, my typical agenda has been a caesar salad and steak, medium rare. On the home front, the bag o' salad phenomenon which made life so immeasurably more convenient the past five years, has been the centerpiece of the family's vegetable intake.

No longer.

We were at Glory Days in Sterling tonight. The waiter brought our drinks and asked "Are you ready to order?" The wife ordered chili, I ordered quesadillas, and she said, "Do you want to split a salad?" I said, "I don't think we should EVER have salad again." She said, "Oh. Yeah."

And that was that. This is how cultures change.

Following a plethora of bad prepared-fresh-food news over the past year, and then bad stories about hundreds of people getting sick from eating at Olive Garden, Taco Bell, and "Taco John's" the past two weeks, I'm fairly certain my fresh-veggie-trusting days are over. There are obviously structural problems with the mass-production model for fresh produce.

In the aforementioned cases e-coli has been named as a suspected cause of the problems.

"E-coli" means someone, somewhere along the line, is violating the wall of separation that should exist between excrement and human rations. Obviously, that breach is now happening on a large scale. Once that divide has been bridged, there is really no going back in the trust department. Is it the workers? Is it the equipment? We don't care. We're going to drive right on past without a hint of apology for not stopping. Goodbye.

I don't want commercially produced fresh vegetables served raw. I want vegetables cooked, or brined and salted, or otherwise heavily infused with chemicals - or I want them home-grown. Rather than buy a Big Mac or Burrito Whatever on a road trip, I will grab eight or ten Slim Jims from the gas station. When the waiter asks which dressing I prefer with my salad, I will say, "None please, but I do want that caesar salad boiled."

Closer to home, we are going to have a garden next year, but in the meantime we have also decided to get much more focused on having steamed green vegetables with our meals in place of salads. Steamed cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kale, etc. provide all you need healthwise. Anything we eat "fresh" will be vetted - and that means goodbye to the bagged lettuce.

Hey, it seemed too good to be true, did it not? Well, it was.

If you don't have a trusted local source for fresh vegetables, here's how you use commercially produced vegetables: Get yourself a simple steamer set up, which is a metal or bamboo grate that you put vegetables in, and then put in a large sauce pan. Put an inch of water in the pan and boil the whole deal, covered, for 8 minutes. That's your vegetables.

When you go out to eat, forego the salad, and order a nice, cooked appetizer, and have steamed vegetables with your meal. "Salads" should be viewed as skeptically as you would view sushi. It's just the way it is.

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kevin said:

nice. you beat me to it.

For my next act, I shall explain my philosophy of lawn care.

Charles Author Profile Page said:

I understand the implications. But we have what, 300 MILLION people in this country? And how many got sick this past year from eating fresh vegetables, a couple of thousand?

Risk/Reward, guys. Don't give into fear, that way lies the dark side....

Irradiation. It's the way to go. I don't think the veggies used to be cleaner, I just think we used to be a little more resistant to infections -- and I'm not sure that we aren't mostly still resistant, we could simply be seeing outbreaks among a part of the population that is not as resistant.

My philosophy of lawn care is to pay someone to make your grass grow so you can complain about having to cut it so often.

zimzo said:

It's no coincidence this is happening now:

"While threats to the food supply have been growing, food-safety regulations have been weakened. Since 2000, the fast-food and meatpacking industries have given about four-fifths of their political donations to Republican candidates for national office. In return, these industries have effectively been given control of the agencies created to regulate them.

The current chief of staff at the Agriculture Department used to be the beef industry’s chief lobbyist. The person who headed the Food and Drug Administration until recently used to be an executive at the National Food Processors Association.

Cutbacks in staff and budgets have reduced the number of food-safety inspections conducted by the F.D.A. to about 3,400 a year — from 35,000 in the 1970s. The number of inspectors at the Agriculture Department has declined to 7,500 from 9,000.
Last year, Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, both Democrats, introduced an important piece of food-safety legislation that tackles these problems. Their Safe Food Act would create a single food-safety agency with the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens, demand recalls and penalize companies that knowingly sell contaminated food.

It would eliminate petty bureaucratic rivalries and make a single administrator accountable for the safety of America’s food. And it would facilitate a swift, effective response not only to the sort of inadvertent outbreaks that have occurred this fall, but also to any deliberate bioterrorism aimed at our food supply."


Charles, good point on the ratios, but somehow still not comforting.

Zimzo, you may be right that increased governmental oversight would solve the problem. I don't know. I heard someone say fresh vegetables packed in plastic is a flawed concept because bacteria grow more quickly in plastic bags - so maybe the problem has to do with technology.

Snopes has some articles worth reading:


Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

this is a nice article, Joe.

I like the idea of locally grown... There's a big co-op farming movement around here these days. You buy a "share" and get a big box of locally grown organic once a month. It's a nice idea, but expensive... and for that sort of model to be workable on a large scale, we'd basically have to return to being an agrarian society. ...good buy global superpower status!

...although the ol' victory gardens could be a good solution.

Charles is right that the real impact is small, but like Joe says conficence is a powerful thing, and when people loose it, it's gone.

I spent some time in Taiwan in 2003-04, around the time there was a mad cow thing going on here. I think they found one cow which hadn't even gone into the food supply. Within days, Japan had suspended imports of US beef (they just begain importing a few months ago, I think) and a every restaurant in Taipei was advertising that their beef came from Australia or Japan, "No US Beef"

whether it's reasonable is almost irrelevant, it's human nature, or animal instinct, not to eat things which might be poisonous, and we can see that having consequences for our industries...

I just went out and had some salad, and "locally grown" was the selling point.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

another late night at the (salad) bar?

Heh, why yes, as a matter of fact, how'd ya guess

Charles Author Profile Page said:

zimzo, they gave money to republicans because they were in charge, now they will give money to the democrats.

In a regulatory society, the regulations will always be targetted and controlled by those regulated, because they have the most to gain and therefore will spend the most money to make it so.

Millions of americans will care LESS about it unless something bad happens, and once a "law" is passed the voters will move on.

Meanwhile, those being effected by the regulation will be back year after year after year petitioning their government for redress of their greivances, just like the 1st amendment says.

And in the absense of concern on the other side, legislators will give in, regulators will do what is necessary. Normal people WON'T sign up for the jobs of running these agencies, but those who care WILL sign up.

IT's the reason it's so hard to keep taxes low, and so easy to increase government spending. The spending has constituents who benefit, and a large class of people who are hurt only ever so slightly and can't be bothered.

Most people won't pick up a penny off the street anymore, it's just not worth it.

But if you are the owner of the street, you will be happy to have all the pennies fall onto it.

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