On Listeria, Cantaloupe, and Cows: A Rant »
Rarr! Cantaloupe are scary now. That sucks. Though this one from chrisdonia on Flickr is obviously cute and awesome.
You’ve most likely heard about the whole huge Listeria food-poisoning thing going on, right? If not: Twenty-five people have died and more may still from food poisoning that, it turns out, came from eating cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Colorado that was contaminated with Listeria bacteria (which I love saying and laugh every time I hear, even though Listeria bacteria are nasty little buggers).
This outbreak saga has been dragging on for a couple months now, and because it started in Colorado, I ended up hearing about it pretty early on, before they’d even figured out the cause. At first, all the news stories talked about how Listeria most often shows up in processed meats and cheeses. “Ick!” I thought. “Luckily the vegans are safe.”
THEN it turned out that the deadly stuff was coming from cantaloupe. And that’s when I got mad.
I’d just finished reading the excellent Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, of which he devotes a big chunk to detailing the connection between CAFOs (factory farms) and infectious disease. The gist: We’re all gonna die of the plague because of the horrible diseases that thrive in those hellholes, whether we support them or not.
Thus it was with great confidence that I began proclaiming that the cantaloupe thing was going to trace back to factory farming somehow. Poor plants, taking the fall for what was at heart a systemic problem with the meat industry. Anything that makes people eat less fruit is a national tragedy in my book.
Well, last week the FDA release their first report about their investigation into Jensen Farms.
I was right. Kind of.
Turns out that gross equipment in Jensen’s fruit-packing house helped spread the Listeria. And no one can be quite sure where the bacteria came from. But the FDA’s best theory is that a particular truck that hauled damaged fruit to a cow farm might have brought the bacteria back.
I wish the evidence were clearer-cut. Obviously the cantaloupe farmers messed up, and it’s not all the meat industry’s fault. BUT STILL. I challenge you all to be agents of the cantaloupe’s resurrection. Buy melons when they’re in season! Eat them! Don’t get poisoned—buy from small farmers and wash the outsides! But redeem the poor cantaloupe!
And let’s get rid of factory farms, already.
Your government hates you: meat recalls forever »
What is going on with meat inspection? In the past month, there’ve been seven recalls due to listeria contamination, three because of E. coli, and three for salmonella, nearly 36,723,700 pounds of food, almost of it meat. The number’s sort of enormous thanks to Cargill’s recall of 36 million pounds of “ground turkey products” on Aug. 3 because of salmonella contamination. Disgusting.
How does this contamination even happen? The Centers for Disease Control have a section on food-borne illnesses that’s pretty helpful, though their explanation for how foods become contaminated isn’t super-illuminating:
Many foodborne microbes are present in healthy animals (usually in their intestines) raised for food. Meat and poultry carcasses can become contaminated during slaughter by contact with small amounts of intestinal contents. Similarly, fresh fruits and vegetables can be contaminated if they are washed or irrigated with water that is contaminated with animal manure or human sewage.
Right, we know that, CDC. It’d be nice to know how the shit-water gets to the produce, or how the carcasses come into “contact with small amounts” of unexpressed poop. Over a century since The Jungle exposed the horrible conditions of the meatpacking industry and people are still getting shit teeming with bacteria in our food. You think after another 100 years the agriculture industry will stop making us sick?
Your government hates you: recalls and “hot” milk! »
Do NOT eat packaged leafy greens if you live, like, anywhere on the East Coast right now; some listeria got into Massachusetts’ State Garden’s manufacturing plant and wowza, there are so many brands that could sicken you, it’s scary!
More ground beef is out to get you, too: nearly 8,000 pounds of “Fully Cooked Black Angus Ground Beef Steak Patties” are also lousy with listeria; thanks, United Food Group, LLC (UFG) of Vernon, Calif.! Oh man, it gets better: These “patties” were produced on Oct. 11 last year, an inspection discovered they were all listeria-ful, and UFG shipped them anyway! Whoops!
Listeria is the choice for food-poisoning right now, it seems; almost 500 boxes of “Wheat Free, Gluten Free Mac and No Cheese” and “Wheat Free, Gluten Free French Bread Pizza” from Ian’s may be contaminated with the little buggers right now! When food safety standards are lax—and I mean, farm-to-shopping-cart safety standards—everyone suffers, even the Celiacs and the vegans.
The standards are super-lax, too: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so little power to regulate anything, the only reason every one of us eating food in the U.S. hasn’t been poisoned by it yet is absolute luck. Used-up dairy cows are sold to slaughter for human consumption without being subjected to the same tests your standard food-cows are, and these cows are full of antibiotics, like, illegally full of them, tee hee! The dairy industry, however, refuses to “allow” any further testing of any of the milk or milk products, and as the FDA is about as strong as A VERY WEAK THING, it can’t make the producers submit to these tests. HA HA HA your milk is full of substances that will kill you!
Of course the FDA gets to test your milk, and annually “only a small number of truckloads are found to be ‘hot milk,’ containing trace amounts of antibiotics.” Then that milk is “destroyed”—whatever “destroyed” means, it’s not like pouring it down the proverbial drain disappears the antibiotics from the world—and all the milk-drinkers can breathe easy. Except that the dairy farmers are actually injecting their cows with oodles of drugs the FDA doesn’t test for! Because the law doesn’t require it! Because dairy industry lobbyists use their massive amounts of cash to “convince” our elected officials to eat a cheese sandwich and keep mum!
But, you know, drink your milk or you won’t grow up big and strong/lose all the calcium in your skeleton/fade away from dairy product deprivation. You can just die of a minor infection because the bacteria were resistant to every antibiotic known to modern medicine, you’ll just do it super-full of cheese. Definitely a good trade-off. The vegans will just suffer the fever and chills of listeria poisoning, no big deal.
Artisan cheesemakers: Don’t hold us to FDA standards! A little listeriosis is fine! »
It’s the retort of many a locavore/slow-foodie: “But I only eat meat/dairy/eggs from small, usually local producers who produce it ethically and safely.” There are a million reasons that that isn’t true, but most of them take a long time to explain, and people won’t agree with you anyway, so I’m happy (sort of) to report that today, finally, we can just say, “oh yeah?”
As it turns out, “small, local, artisan” food is no guarantee of either quality, safety, or a caring producer, looking out for his/her customers. The New York Times ran an article the other day about the Estrella Family Creamery, and their defiance of the FDA. The people at Estrella make artisan cheese. They make it in relatively small batches, and then (sustainably, one assumes) ship it all over the U.S. to snooty restaurants where people who really care pay lots of money for it, eat it, and feel superior—before they start to feel sick.
You see, in February 2010, F.D.A. inspectors found listeria in Estrella’s cheese, and all over the building where the cheese is produced and aged, including in the humidifier that blows air all over the production and aging area. Gross. Kelli Estrella, owner and principal cheesemaker at Estrella, recalled some cheese and cleaned the production facility. Later, follow-up tests by the F.D.A. showed there was still listeria in Estrella cheese. Listeriosis causes fever and muscle aches and vomiting. Nausea and diarrhea are less common symptoms. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it can cause meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause miscarriages.
This time, though, Kelli Estrella’s fighting back. She refuses to throw out the contaminated cheese, saying essentially that regulators should go after bigger operations and leave small producers like hers alone—despite, apparently, the fact that her small operation has now twice tested positive for a bacteria that can cause serious illnesses. It turns out this kind of entitled attitude is pretty common among artisan cheesemakers, which isn’t all that surprising considering that it’s also pretty common for them to fail their inspections. In the last year, nine small cheesemakers have had to recall their products due to contamination. From the Times:
“If the F.D.A. wanted to shut down the U.S. artisan cheese industry, all they’d have to do is do this environmental surveillance and the odds of finding a pathogen would be pretty great,” said Catherine W. Donnelly, co-director of the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese of the University of Vermont, referring to the listeria testing at cheese plants.
So, wait, WHAT? Artisan cheesemakers think they should be exempt from the standards imposed on all other producers, even as they admit that most artisan cheese is probably contaminated with something gross? How does that make any sense at all? Yeah, yeah, you’re all raw-milk crusaders, and we should be allowed to put whatever the damn hell we want in our mouths, and blah, blah, blah, but come on! You are really fighting for your down-home, small-batch right to sell a product that you know is contaminated with a dangerous bacteria?
OK, small, artisan cheesemakers, let me tell you about how food contamination works. I’m not a microbiologist, but I’ve taken a food safety class and had a whole glass of wine, so I think I’m qualified, particularly given how you guys all apparently interpret it. First, bacteria doesn’t give a shit whether you are a faceless corporation or a chock-full-o-personality-and-gumption artisan. Second, bacteria doesn’t give a shit if your customers are wealthier foodie assholes as opposed to poorer, food-desert nomads; they will get EQUALLY SICK—though I suppose you could argue that your rich foodie customers probably have more money for doctors and so are less likely to die from the listeriosis they contract from your artisan cheese. Third, bacterial contamination (particularly by bacteria that causes fever, vomiting, and MISCARRIAGES) is bad! It’s not folksy or character-building. It’s bad! It’s also gross! In sum, artisan cheesemakers, your failing inspection grades are neither government persecution nor badges of honor. Food safety regulations are important because it’s important to NOT KILL PEOPLE WHO EAT YOUR FOOD.
Reading this whinefest made me wonder how many other “artisan” food producers think they should be exempted from food safety regulations. I’d sure think twice before putting that “small batch” brie in my mouth.
Wherever you are, your government hates you »
Not a joke. In England, after slashing health and welfare benefits, the new government is writing policy on “obesity, alcohol, and diet-related disease”; namely, “an overhaul of public health.” To advise them, the government has asked experts in different areas of obesity, alcohol, and diet-related disease, including: Cancer Research U.K.; the Faculty of Public Health; the CEO (Jeremy Beadles) of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association; Diageo; Unilever; Mars; Kellogg’s; PepsiCo; KFC; and McDonald’s. British public health policy: it’s just like ours! Which is to say, the mighty businesses get to strike all the legislation they don’t like, work in sneaky little loopholes so they can continue to sell their demon “food” unfettered by silly regulations, and do it with the approval of the government AND public health advocacy groups! Win-win-win, suckers!
Currently 30 percent of North Korean residents are “substantially undernourished,” but every single country save China and South Korea does not want to donate food because the PRK’s government is all nuked up. AHAHA sorry fellow human beings; your government eats up all your food and hordes money you will never see, makes selling or trading your own food illegal, and refuses to shut down its nuclear program despite 30 percent of you already starving! And not one wealthy country that could give you food or the supplies to grow your own will, because we’re all playing a game of nuclear-chicken with your dictator-leader! I guess you’ll just have to rely on the underfunded U.N. World Food Program.
Those lovely reuseable plastic-composite shopping bags all the grocery and drugstores sell now? Some of them are full of lead. YES. Thanks for the Q.C., government! Glad you’re looking out for us as we try to avoid using terrible animal-murdering never-decomposing plastic bags! Solution: canvas. Just use bags made of recycled canvas and you and the environment and the cotton-harvesters will be all right.
And here are your FDA recalls from last week (Nov. 9 to 13)! As the majority of these are non-vegan, maybe let your meat- and cheese-eating pals know about them. And sleep well at night knowing how much lower your risk of bacterial illness is.
- Orval Kent company recalled 23 products (listed here) containing cilantro that might have been contaminated with—Salmonella! These products were distributed nationwide.
- Whoa, do not buy any Mauri Gorgonzola cheese, vegetarians and/or omnivores! Any of this cheese with a sell-by date between Jan. 1 through 27 came from a lot that tested positive for E. coli! If you already have some, “return the cheese to the place of purchase or dispose of it in a closed plastic bag and place in a sealed trash can to prevent people or animals, including wild animals, from eating it.” Here’s the best part: it didn’t get tested until after a bunch of people got E. coli O157:H7 poisoning after an October “Cheese Road Show” at Costco stores in Colorado. Now, the Mauri Gorgonzola tested positive for a different strain of E. coli—i.e., not the one that sickened the Cheese Road Show samplers—but considering IT’S STILL E. COLI, don’t eat it.
- Oh look! A different company, Bravo Farms, has a Dutch-style Gouda cheese that ALSO “may have” tested positive (?) for E. coli O157:H7, just like the Gorgonzola!, and even better, this cheese is sold at Costco stores in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Southern California, as well as non-Costco California retail stores! Honestly, just stay the hell away from cheese, everyone.
- One more for the road: Three types of New Braunfels Smokehouse brand smoked, ready-to-eat turkey breast—2,609 pounds!—are being recalled because they may be contaminated with Listeria, the cleanest-sounding bacteria.
Thanks for strictly enforcing those safety standards, FDA! Man it is great to live in a country whose government cares so much about its citizens’ health and safety.
Thanks to our sponsors, two sad dogs and cake in a jar, it’s this week’s link-o-rama! »
A long-tailed macaque living in Bali adopted a lost kitten! He just found the kitten wandering around his home in Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Bali, and brought the kitten back to his troop (“a troop of macaques”), and now they are pals. Please excuse your Vegansaurus, whose eyes have begun leaking. [photo by Anne Young]
Events! Events events events!
We already told you about Dusker tonight at Hayes Valley Farm—really, why aren’t you there now, hippie? And tomorrow is Sábado Gigante!, a.k.a. the start of Oakland’s Eat Real Festival. Now here are even more ways to spend your time!
Vegans in the Washington, D.C. metro area should head out to the annual Columbia Heights Day, which happens tomorrow, Saturday Aug. 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Harriet Tubman Elementary Field at 11th and Kenyon Sts. NW. Why? Because at 3:30 there’s a Sticky Fingers cupcake-eating contest on the second stage!! Live out one of your Vegansaurus’ dreams! Or at least take a photo for us DEAR LORD.
VERY IMPORTANT: Dino Bike at the Hemlock on Sunday, Aug. 29 at 9 p.m. Pay $5 and see our Laura, Jonas and possibly Jordan—plus other guaranteed-cramazing humans—do things on stage that you could not possibly imagine. There will be vegan cupcakes for free and booze for sale and all the money raised goes to pay for sweet, sweet Hazel’s nauseatingly expensive surgery. BE THERE!
On Monday, Aug. 30, the Green Arcade bookstore in San Francisco will host a free discussion with Chris Palmer, author of Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom. It sounds like Chris Palmer does our favorite thing: “pulls back the curtain on the dark side of wildlife filmmaking, revealing an industry driven by money, sensationalism, extreme risk-taking, misrepresentation, staging, fabrication, and even abuse and harassment of animals,” actually naming names! Of course he also offers solutions and praises the people who are not total dicks (hint: Bear Grylls is not on the “good” list). The discussion begins at 7 p.m. at the Green Arcade, 1680 Market St. at Gough Street.
On Sunday, Aug. 29, LGBT Compassion will hold a peaceful demonstration against animal cruelty—specifically, the live-chicken vendor—from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Northeast corner of the Heart of the City Farmers Market at U.N. Plaza. For further information, visit their website, and please RSVP if you plan to attend!
West Contra Costa Adult Education will offer a series on vegan cuisine this fall, beginning on Sept. 14 with “Italian style.” Each class meets once for four hours at the Richmond campus and costs $45. Enrollment is limited to 16 students, so you might think about registering sooner than later. Chef Panos Ly of Symphonie Vegan Restaurant in Point Richmond will lead the class.
News! Articles and essays and news!
A woman was caught attempting to smuggle a tiger cub from Thailand to Iran. The three-month-old cub had been drugged and stuffed in her suitcase—along with some stuffed toy tigers, for camouflage? He’s now recovering at a wildlife conservation center in Bangkok, and DNA testing should reveal more precisely where he came from. Residents of Taiji, a.k.a. “the place from The Cove where they murder all the dolphins,” are totally nonchalant about the documentary and its effects. “They’re not going to stop the hunts,” says a councilman, basically because it’s tradition and also dolphin is tasty. Neat! “You race camels, why not milk them?” Excellent question, Occident-man! And what was Orient-man’s response? He didn’t have one, so the western dudes went out and began camel-exploitation for themselves. Now they are milked in metal stalls by automated pumps, just like number-one most delicious American cows! It can’t come to the U.S. fast enough. What we won’t get, because the FDA are total Puritan prudes, are eating-cows fed with wine to make their flesh taste even better when we devour it. I mean, pigs get to drink beer, why can’t cows have some red wine with their all-natural COWFEED 3000?
What’s been going on with the Great Egg Recall of aught-10? This week we learned that the FDA rejected a vaccine for hens that British egg producers have been using for over a decade and that would have cost “less than a penny per a dozen eggs.” Ha ha whoops! Your Vegansaurus loves the cheap choices: “We have a problem with Salmonella infecting these eggs!” “How can we solve it?” “We could stop feeding chickens bone meal, maybe.” “But that’s like recycling! And it makes them grow SO FAST!” “What about making the cages we force the hens into a little larger, or not smashing so many of them into those tiny cages at once?” “And lose production space? No way!” “What about pasteurizing the fuck out of the poisonous death-eggs, then putting them in ice cream and mayonnaise?” “BRILLIANT! We won’t even have to disclose that on the food labels! The company is saved!” A deli meat company recalled nearly 400,000 pounds of its products due to contamination with Listeria, but that was really hard to pay attention to this week.
Hey L.A., have you been to Millions of Milkshakes: Our Brianna writes: “IT IS SO FUCKING YUMMY I WANTED TO CAMP OUT THERE. I went two times in the span of four days. Yeah, it’s really tacky, but I think it pretty adequately encompasses LA culture. I got a peanut butter-oreo shake the first time, and a peanut butter-banana shake the second time. Best milkshakes I’ve ever had.” Ooh, celebrity vegan shakes! Ooh again: a totally polite and helpful thread on Serious Eats about cooking for vegans and omnivores in the same kitchen—they even discuss sharing pans! How heartwarming. Hey Las Vegans (har har), your life just got better thanks to Steve Wynn, who’s expanded (read: brought into existance) the vegan dishes on all his hotels’ menus. Finally, an interview with Jack Norris of Vegan Outreach by (the infamous) Rhys Southan. Naturally your Vegansaurus recommends ignoring the comments, one of which implies that nectarines are certain squirrels’ only food source and that to eat said nectarines is tantamount to murdering said squirrels.
One of Scott “model-senator” Brown’s staffers found a cat on the street in Washington, D.C., and she has since been named Lucky and become the office kitty. Look, there are photos! This is arguably the most selfless act performed by any member of the Senate in several years, and Scott Brown didn’t actually rescue the cat himself. Even suffering the pressures of political life, Lucky is considerably better off than nearly half the pets in Coachella Valley: 44 percent of the 40,000 animals who have been left at shelters in Riverside County were euthanized this year, and Save-a-Pet of Desert Hot Springs, a no-kill shelter, has no room for animals. Thanks, Depression 2.0!
So which would you rather eat: Magical salmon genetically engineered by AquaBounty Corp. to grow twice as quickly as evolutionarily engineered salmon by natural selection; or willingly donated human meat? Whatever, our “agricultural empire” is DOOMED, DOOMED anyway, let’s just eat (easily veganized and very tasty) jar cake to keep the end-of-the-world panic attacks down for another day.