September 23, 2006

Poison to the people

Used to be, spinach was for sissies like Popeye. Now that it's off-limits, though, everyone wants it. It's a perfect storm of politics and nature.


Steak houses like to serve creamed spinach with their sirloin. The steaks come from cattle raised on grain (specifically, genetically engineered corn). But cows aren't intelligently designed to digest the corn properly; the acidity in their ruminant stomachs changes, allowing excessive amounts of (naturally occuring) E.coli bacteria to remain. As a result, feed lots are awash in cowpies with dangerous concentrations of E.coli leaching into groundwater. It would be more expensive, but the cows could be fed, gulp, grass or silage; within a week, the E.coli would be essentially neutralized. Still, that wouldn't cleanse the contaminated groundwater.

Meantime, in that Third World country known as the Salinas Valley, a migrant worker, poor Pedro the produce-picker, is under pressure from his foreman to pick more, faster. As RobertinSeattle has been pointing out in comments on this blog and elsewhere, Pedro's probably not going to walk all the way to the porta-potty (quarter-mile, usually, for "sanitation reasons") to answer calls of nature.

Gummint scientists are trying to blame birds drinking contaminated water, because the all-too-human explanation is political dynamite.

Just how explosive? The growers and packers, among the most stalwart of Republicans, have finally figured it out: not enough illegal immigrants to pick the crops. And they're pissed! (Hard to get good help, ain't it?)

So here's what we're faced with, Georgie-Boy: your pandering ag policies and your jingoistic immigration reform have spawned a monster: a toxic industrial food chain. You've succeeded beyond the wildest terrorist dreams; you're literally poisoning your own people.

One piece of good news: a study that finds cabernet sauvignon protects against Alzheimer's. (Remember when nobody would say a good word about the health benefits of drinking?) Legit study, too. Mount Sinai Medical School, no less.

Posted by Ronald Holden at September 23, 2006 11:58 AM

Ron ~

Politics aside, you know I love my cabernet. And I appreciate your reminder that cabernet can be considered an Rx for Alzheimer's.

Now, while busy preparing dinner, if I could only remember where I left my half-full glass of that red stuff...

Posted by: Morgy at September 24, 2006 6:15 PM

Ronald, this is everyone's problem to own. We all need to stay out of political ranting and stick with food blogging. Maybe the farmers and packers are Republican but then maybe the diners in the chi-chi restaurants (and certainly the snooty shoppers at Whole Foods) are demanding liberals who want the best food at the cheapest prices? See my point?

This line of thinking is ALWAYS wrong-headed and simply results in fingerpointing and more endless deadlock in getting things done. Let's not also forget that the super powerful corn lobby have been in power since the Kennedy presidency started the embargo of Cuba. Problems like this fester for decades and don't happen overnight.

Posted by: RobertinSeattle at September 23, 2006 7:40 PM

It would be convenient to blame actual terrorists for the real as well as the potential disasters. My point, however, awkwardly made, is that Bin Laden doesn't have to do anything...Georgie's doing it for him.

BTW, it doesn't have to be LA's water supply. Infect just one small water system in Iowa, say ... and you know we'd be boiling our drinking water all over the country.

Posted by: Ronald at September 23, 2006 4:13 PM

Perhaps terrorists contaminated the spinach and set many of the forest fires now costing us millions. Neither would be difficult to do. What's next, drinking water supply to LA or NYC?

Posted by: Joe at September 23, 2006 4:08 PM

Excellent comments ... Our agri-biz pandering USDA makes the fecal feedlots possible. And it's the GOP opposition to minimum-wage laws that drives illegal immigration. Georgie's caught between a rock and a hard place: the bedrock tenet of conservatives (less government regulation!) and a very hard place indeed (farms without illegals!).

And the unintended consequence, tainted spinach. Methinks leafy greens are just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by: Ronald at September 23, 2006 2:51 PM

I'm a bit confused here, Ronald -- or you are. You write: ..."Georgie-Boy: your pandering ag policies and your jingoistic immigration reform..."
I believe W wants to give growers their labor to pick the crops, so, yes, he WANTS to pander to ag. But he's being undercut by repubs who are playing the jingoistic immigration reform/border security card, trumping any ag pandering W would like to indulge in.
The net effect is, as you describe it, a labor shortage contributing, along with polluted rivers and underground water basins, to the spread of E.coli. Even if the portapotty were closer, there's the problem of proper hand-washing. People get sick in restaurants from food-handlers' lack of proper sanitary practices, too.

THE NYTimes article you cite has a couple of interesting quotes:
"The U.F.W. (United Farm Workers) estimates that more than 90 percent of the state's (CA's) farm workers are illegal."
"Over the years, occasional programs to draw American workers to the harvests have failed. 'Americans do not raise their children to be farm workers,' Ms. Hallstrom said."

They just raise them to be cowboys, like Georgie.

Posted by: David at September 23, 2006 2:19 PM