What’s Not in the Kitchen
by Jill Powers
When people ask me why I don’t eat meat, I often think about Stephanie Smith. You may recall that her story was on the front page of the New York Times last year. She is the young woman who became paralyzed for life at the age of 22 from eating a hamburger patty. Now that I am a parent, I cannot help but think of her when I am in a kitchen where meat is handled. Last week, another 1 million pounds of ground beef was recalled. It was a Class l Recall: Health Risk High.
It seems that beginning in February of last year, 7 people so far, have become gravely ill from beef carrying a rare strain of E. coli O157:H7. This huge recall concerns bulk ground-beef and beef patties that Valley Meat Company in Modesto, CA processed during the period of October 2, 2010 through January and were sold in California, Oregon, Texas, Arizona and internationally. Since this was mostly frozen meat, it is likely to be around for some time. You may be wondering what the definition of a Class l recall is. According to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS): Class I Recall: a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
In just the past year, there have been no less than 12 meat recalls in the United States, according to the FSIS. And please keep in mind that in the United States, all meat recalls are voluntary. This intrigued me, so I contacted the FSIS to validate that fact. I was told that yes, recalls are not mandatory, but if the company does not initiate the recall then the FSIS will take steps to see that it is done. Okay, that sounds reasonable… as long as the FSIS knows about it. And it makes good business sense to voluntarily place a recall. Nobody wants their company to appear uncaring, right? But how many people get sick without knowing the origin of their illness?
Produce also gets recalled. It seems that most of the time – like meat – the problem is that it was tainted with fecal matter. The contamination of produce is usually due to exposure to poop from animals used for agriculture. It can also come from food handlers along the produce’s journey from field to plate or through the use of treated human sewage as fertilizer. It is the practices of the agricultural industry in the United States that risk food safety. Anyone who has ever had their own garden knows that growing vegetables in healthy soil is highly unlikely to cause debilitating illness.
Now for the good news: you can relax and feel confident over the safety of a plant-based diet. In a meat-free kitchen, it is perfectly safe to snack on raw cookie dough, dip your fingers in the cake batter or lick any spoon. There are no worries over the dangers of raw eggs or exposing your family to milk containing pus or animal hormones.* And let’s not forget the risk of getting worms in the brain from eating pork. But hey, this is supposed to be good news! Well, it is. You may remember a line that was in the book, Fast Food Nation, where microbiologist Charles Gerba was quoted as pointing out that when it comes to the average meat-eating home, it would be safer to eat a carrot that fell in the toilet than one that slipped into the kitchen sink. One of the things that I love most about being on a plant-based diet is keeping the biohazards out of the Kitchen. Be safe, be glad: you are vegan!
*There is no such thing as ‘hormone free’ cow’s milk, as all animal products carry animal hormones. Plant products provide plant hormones which react differently in humans and tend to be more gentle on the bodily system.
Jill Powers and The Feel Good Vegan 2010.