An article in the Times dissecting the latest food recall makes some interesting points about the source of our food and the safety of the American food supply. It also got me thinking about a larger issue in American society: our obsession with instant gratification. I think that recalls like this are only going to grow more common as consumers put increasing pressure on the market for more, more, more, and companies respond by cutting corners. At the same time, we’re essentially culturing virulent bacteria which are going to make these food-related illnesses even more difficult to treat.
So let’s take a look at what the Times says. According to the article, the meat packer in question wasn’t properly inspecting its meat, and the company was certainly not checking for bacterial contamination nearly as often as they should have been. In fact, the company was testing three times a year for bacteria. That statistic is pretty mindblowing, if you ask me. I get tested more often than that, people, and you aren’t grinding me up and selling me in styrofoam and plastic packages.
The company wasn’t slacking because they didn’t care about their customers, though. Rather, they got in over their heads, rushing to meat the demand for meat during the summer months when everyone and their sister is firing up the barbecue. While one can’t just blame consumers for what happened, consumers need to get more educated about where their food comes from, and about food availability.
And the fact that food scarcity may start to become a major issue for us. And, if it isn’t, it should be.
I was talking about this with someone the other night, when we were talking about winter foods, and I was bemoaning the lack of greens and variation in produce. The person I was talking to pointed out that Harvest “has all that stuff,” and I had to gently suggest that since it’s not in season, it’s not a very healthy/good choice. Not because I care about the environment, and I don’t want my food being shipped for thousands of miles before it reaches me. Because I care about food, and making unseasonable produce available is a bad idea, since it teaches people that they can have whatever they want, whenever they want it. Also, produce out of season tastes like shit. And so does most produce in season, these days, since farmers pick it before its ripe to meet the demands of the market. The farmers’ market ends in a week, and good produce is going to be thin on the ground until it starts again.
Out of season food is getting out of control. Raspberries in November? No problem. Meat patties until the end of time? Also no problem.
But there is a problem, obviously, because our food producers are making us sick in their hurry to cater to us. If people stepped back and thought about seasonal availability, maybe they would be more into buying locally. If they bought locally, maybe they would understand what goes into the slaughter and butchering of an animal, and they wouldn’t demand meat patties constantly. If they understood where their food came from and how it reached them, maybe there would be a bigger push for better food safety regulations, just like after the publication of The Jungle.
This culture is all about customer satisfaction. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe there should be some customer dissatisfaction. Perhaps the grocery store shouldn’t have lettuce in December. Possibly frozen meat patties shouldn’t always be available. Maybe it would lead us to respect our food more, and maybe it would protect us from getting sick and dying because greedy corporations want to cater to our misconceptions about food.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about “buy local.” Why don’t we get consumers started with buying seasonal?