The Year of Eating Dangerously
THIS IS NOT A FUNNY EDITORIAL. As we were putting the finishing touches on this issue in mid-August, word came over the news that a salmonella outbreak, on record since at least May and affecting hundreds of people, this time has been traced to contaminated eggs. The recall? Nearly 400 million eggs from one operation in Iowa. Say it one more time: 400 million eggs from one farm. These kinds of numbers do not compute in most people’s minds—they’re just beyond the scope of comparison for most of us. It doesn’t matter that if you put that many eggs end-to-end it would stretch x number of times to the moon and back—most of us have never been to the moon, either.
If you ever needed a reason to look harder at the economics and logistics of local farm/food production, this latest food safety incident should be it. If it’s not enough, just add it to the list of the other major food scares over the past year or so involving spinach and beef—all sourced to industrial-scale operations. It’s not that health or safety regulations and inspections are inadequate—it is simply impossible to effect adequate control over organic commodities like meat, eggs, milk or vegetables from farm to market in the quantities we’re talking about here. The magnitude of what can happen when an industrialized food supply system goes awry is only hinted at by these recent contamination incidents.
This seems far removed from the scale of things as we know them here in the Hudson Valley. For those who choose to shop at the farmers’ markets or support a local CSA, the issue is not whether the food is dangerous, it’s whether they can get to the market while there are still eggs, milk, meat or fruit available from their favorite farmer. These are human scale commodities—quarts of milk, dozens of eggs, pounds (or even ounces) of meat. It’s where you get greens by the bunch, washed by hand. It’s where you can ask the farmer to hold a couple of quarts of fresh milk for you next week because you missed them this week. It’s where one farmer will suggest you wait another week for riper peaches and another will admit he’s short on eggs because a fox got in.
We’ve proselytized long and hard about the quality of local food goods compared to industrialized commodities, and we’ve occasionally harped on the long-term economic benefits of supporting local farmers at local markets. Now add “safety” to the list of talking points. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.
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This is a semi-funny editorial. We’ve never had to look very far for a reason to celebrate, but we just found another one anyway, with a tip of the hat to our old friend and contributor Peter Rose. This issue, or maybe it’s the next one, marks our 12 1⁄2-year anniversary. It’s the “copper” anniversary, in case you want to mail us a present, and it’s a big deal, at least for the Dutch and a few other cultures. The significance? It’s halfway to the 25-year anniversary, of course. If that’s good enough for the Dutch, it’s good enough for us.