The American (Food) Crisis

These are the times that try men’s souls.

Thomas Paine’s words ring true today. The year 2020 (and perhaps beyond) will live in the infamous waste heap of better forgotten ages. Pandemic fear spreads its own form of contagion across the globe. As of this writing, with over 230,000 dead in the US alone (over 1.1 million worldwide) and new cases peaking, we face a crisis of historic proportion. Our unpreparedness cost lives, our lack of response costs lives, and some of our citizens’ refusal to take simple prophylactic steps (just wear a mask already, idiots) costs lives.

Racism has been raised to an awareness perhaps not seen since the civil rights movements of the sixties. Our president has given the green light for racists to come into the light. Now he encourages plots against our elected officials and seems to condone their murder because they disagree with his beliefs.

The U.S. election is less than a week away. I don’t wish to wax political in this article since that is not my focus. Let us simply hope for a reasoned outcome, a necessary correction, with no mistake: we must face our future selves and children without shame in the here and now of this election. Let’s get it done with the Common Sense of Human Decency. They must reign once again.

No doubt, 2020 is the year of the American Crisis. Racism, Covid infection and potentially life-altering presidential elections aside, we have arrived at a crossroads of identity. Not in black versus white, or democrat versus republican, but in our food identity. Yes, food.

Since WWII we have sustained a continuous and favorable comparison to the rest of the world in one remarkable and life-sustaining area: the Quality of our Food.

Surely in the last thirty years the gap has narrowed. With innovations in food preservation and high speed transport moving even perishable items safely around the globe, developed nations have achieved a status quo of equality. Is our food demonstrably safer than Europe’s? I’d think not. And BRIC is catching up quickly.

But in the decades that made up the post war era, the United States could anecdotally declare its food quality superiority without argument. The USDA, FDA, and other agencies strove for ever higher standards in food sourcing, preparation, and distribution. It is an American success story. Who looks at a can of corn now and wonders at its degree of botulism? I pop open a can and eat them without boiling, “fresh” from their sealed container, enjoying them cold on salads. A daredevil, you wonder? The odds are seriously in my favor.

No one would have done that just thirty or forty years ago. In fact, the contents of factory-processed tin cans would be well boiled before eaten. Pressing on the lid was required practice to check if the center had “popped”, meaning it had lost its seal and spoiled. We may do that today, too, but it’s not nearly so essential. Back then, a forgotten palpation of your lid was a death-defying act of lunacy.

We can take our modern food quality for granted. We are faced, after all, with understaffed agencies overseeing the food corporations who ever strive for greater market share or lower costs, i.e., rising profits.

Case in point: though administered to farm animals (or put in feed) in the late forties, the non-medical antibiotic craze blossomed in the fifties and sixties as a means to increase per animal meat production. While critics warned of increasing bacterial resistance over the next decades, it wasn’t until the seventies that the FDA attempted (unsuccessfully) to ban certain antibiotic use even while it proliferated throughout the world. The eighties and nineties saw little change.

It wasn’t until the FDA issued voluntary guidelines on antibiotic use amid the growing consumer tendency towards unadulterated/organic foods that non-medical antibiotic usage declined. Still, well into the twenty-first century, use of antibiotics in farm animals is not illegal in the U.S. and on the increase in other developing nations as their standards of living increase and their demands for meat rise proportionately.

It’s not all about food safety. I protest any false advertising or other trickery aimed at separating dollars from consumers. The most disgusting practice is pumping chickens with salt water or chicken stock (or some combination of water, flavorings, salt, and binding agents). The chicken can retain up to 15% of this liquid (some research raises that number). Producers claim that modern lean chickens are less tasty and therefore salt and other flavorings are necessary to add taste lost by having less fat.

Chickens are also chilled in vats of water to inhibit bacterial growth and can absorb the liquid, anywhere from 3-8% of the chicken by weight.

Both practices mean that the chicken you are buying is not the chicken that was slaughtered—it’s been enhanced by producers justifying their lack of ethics with nefarious claims that adding flavor is necessary to attract consumers. You pay for that water. You’re buying water at the per pound price of chicken. A lot of it.

Fry a chicken nowadays and you know what I mean. The water comes out in the pan and the chicken braises in it before it browns. Then a decent percentage of your chicken by weight evaporates, shrinking the meat.

You’re paying for that and receiving an inferior product as well. Not to mention all the added sodium you’re ingesting. And the pumping needles used have been tagged by the FDA as potentially disease-spreading.

These chickens can still be labeled as “Natural” and “Organic” since salt, stock, and water are natural ingredients. WTF? Can our government be asleep to allow these moral crimes to go unpunished? Where are our consumer protections?

It is possible (in fact, it’s becoming more popular) to air-chill chickens, which is shown to reduce contamination (vs. soaking with other chickens in a vat of liquid) and we need a law prohibiting meat-pumping of stock or salt water or frickin’ kerosene into our food. You’d object to that last one, wouldn’t you? Where do you draw the line?

It’s not just chickens. Pork and beef are similarly treated. Bake a pot roast lately? Have you noticed how much water/stock comes out of the beef? Our government claims that leaner meat has more liquid naturally. Perhaps that’s true, but if so, it’s always been true. My mother cooked super-lean beef cuts because they’re cheaper. A well done steak was tough enough we called it “Boot”. It didn’t emit a pan full of liquid. Thanks, USDA. In this, your attitude is reprehensible and irresponsible.

So let’s move on to advertising. Bait and switch is illegal. Yet companies can advertise the very best showing of their product in spite of the fact that all of the good stuff has been pushed into view (as in enchiladas or pockets) or deli meat overflows the sandwich (sub places) or all the fillers like rice and pasta have been covered over artfully by the thin layer of meat and vegetables you’re willing to buy in the first place.

If I purchase frozen food based on a commercial then what comes out of the oven or microwave should have a passing resemblance to the image implanted in my mind.

Sub franchises may have their own rules, but when the mother company offers evidence of its overflowing sandwiches, then every franchise owner should be accountable to meet the standard of the advertising. This can be hit or miss, but who’s policing this? Of course, consumer beware, and you can take your hard-earned dollars to the shop next door if you please, but come on, how many young people take that to heart? Just look how popular Pizza Hut is.

Hey, Pizza Hut may not falsely advertise, but buying a pan of inch thick pizza dough with a smear of toppings and calling it “deep dish” is egregiously misleading. And I’m not targeting young people as not adept with their money (perhaps no one is better at enforced frugality), but the mendacious doublespeak seems to wash off them as long as their bellies are filled. Correct me if I’m wrong.

All I’m saying is that we deserve better. Companies large and small want your money. From the local butcher with his heavy thumb on the scale to the conglomerate corporations abusing chickens for profit, our government turns a blind eye to the lust for business profit. I’m all for companies making money. Profit itself is not a dirty word. In fact, the correct quote is not “Money is the root of all evil”—that’s insane. It’s “The love of money is the root of all evil”—quite a different thing.

When those in our government allow the runaway pursuit of this money lust at the cost of our food quality and the expense of consumers, they perform a disservice to their constituents.

Of course, there is an election coming up….

Stay Friendly and Healthy.

Golly Gomer Gohmert, Stupid Enough to Die For?

I’m at a loss. I have this question, you see, that no one will answer or else I receive many conflicting answers, usually along party lines. It’s simple in its clarity, yet deeply influential to the health of the country. Seems like everyone would admit the truth, then pull together for the good of humankind.

Alas, this is my question: Has the average stupidity of the American people plummeted in recent years?

I could phrase it as multiple choice:

  1. Yes, obviously
  2. Yes, but only among Republicans
  3. Yes, but only among those under thirty years of age
  4. No, the pandemic is a hoax perpetrated by the Fake News cabal whereupon 150,000 Americans sacrificed their lives for the sake of a scam (as well as 500,000 more worldwide). Yes, that’s some dedicated conspiracy.

This disease can kill you. Possibly, this disease will kill you. Sure, the weak among us are most vulnerable, but this has no age limit, no race limit, no party line. It’s insidious as it creeps from person to person, infecting rational people and turning them into incoherent nutcases.

I’m not speaking of Covid-19. This frightening disease is Stupidity-Now.

What happened to common sense? I understand irrationality from someone’s panic-induced hysterical outburst, but nowadays seemingly (that’s the key) normal people are calmly speaking to cameras or standing upon the Capital steps while professing strong beliefs that six hundred thousand to a million worldwide deaths is nothing to concern oneself with, that the CDC and experts like the brilliant Dr. Fauci are plain wrong or overwrought, that somehow the Democrats have conjured up this plague as an election year ruse, or that lots of people die from the flu every year so what’s all the fuss over a million more?

I’m at an age where I look upon our youth with forlorn hope anyway, trusting that the natural maturation process of the homo sapiens species will snap some sense into these people at some point so they can take over the reins, more or less, just as generations of forlorn hopes have done before them.

I know the average eighteen to twenty-two year old has, shall we say, a flexible concept of mortality with little fear he’d survive a zombie apocalypse, much less a flu-like pandemic. But I wonder at the total disregard he has for everyone else. Have we bred a generation of the most selfish, self-obsessed sentient minds since the Romans said, “Hey, let’s call it an empire.”

How can anyone, young or old, rationalize jeopardizing their parents’ health, or their grandparents’ or friends’ health? Lives are at stake. Get covid and you may not know it for two weeks as you spread it among everyone you love. Your mother may die simply for the sake of your thoughtless narcissism.

Many are doing the right thing. The point is everyone needs to pitch in. Some cannot protect us from the all. The evidence lies at Governor Santorum’s Retirement Home of Death where his motto is “Your golden years may be shorter than you think.” As governor, how do you sign an order opening up business knowing you are sentencing some of your constituents to death? In some misguided notion of the greater good? “You, sir, must give your life so that our young men and women may frolic at the beach. Uh, sorry for the inconvenience.”

I understand the economy is in freefall, some people are really hurting for money (I mean food on the table, keep the lights on hurting) and businesses are closing in dire financial straits. Still, we must remember that we have weathered the Great Depression and many economic downturns throughout American history. It is fraught with pain. We can get through it.

Yet Trump and his Republicans believe a healthy economy is worth the deaths of hundreds of thousands, as long as they’re old and near the end of life anyway. Once our young adults start expiring in like numbers, I’m sure that policy would change. He has a lot of voters in that demographic, after all.

So what are we to do—like, wear a mask?

Doh! Of course. It may not stop the spread, but it provides some shield against the rain storm of droplets bearing Covid-19 that are ejected from your face with every sneeze.

Covid doesn’t just wander from your body, rising from your skin like an astronaut floating from her berth as weightlessness is achieved. It wants to stay with you. It likes you. You feed it. It only leaves involuntarily when the pleasant mucous it’s wallowing in is ejected by a violent muscle spasm of your throat and chest.

Once free on the open air, Covid wants someone else. So containing much of the spray helps you prevent the disease in others. A mask’s greatest benefit is to everyone else.

Not selfish enough? Am I a deviant, thinking of others when the order of the day is act like Trump and push my own comfort and agenda no matter the consequences to the people around me?

Fortunately, most people are doing the right thing (now and, I hope, in November).

Which brings us to Representative Gomer, I mean, Louie Gohmert, R-TX. This lawmaking pinnacle of our legislature is so convinced NOT wearing a mask is the intelligent thing that he met with White House staff (notably Attorney General Barr) as he was carrying the disease. He is Covid-19 positive. Upon hearing the news, he returned to his office to spread more pestilence. He wanted to thank his loyal staff members and, possibly (who can be sure?), to bequeath them a gasping and lonely death.

As of this posting, AG Barr is being tested for coronavirus. I don’t wish this disease upon anyone, but AG Barr tries my moral compass. In fact, it’s spinning like a plane’s altimeter as it plummets to earth. Well, true north is in there somewhere.

I only wonder—think Barr visited The Donald after his close talk with Gomer? Well, here’s crossing my fingers.

Stay Friendly and Healthy.