Stories like as The 10 Dirtiest Food That You’re Eating frustrate me. While it offers some reasonable advice, the story vaguely implies that eating real, fresh food will kill you, and if it does, it’s all your fault.
My primary issue with this story is that its main focuses on how to avoid illness when shopping at a supermarket. I have nothing against supermarkets; in fact, I have a weird fascination with the entire industry. But the nature of supermarket retail requires getting perishable food cheaply and then keeping it on the shelves for as long as possible. The food itself often has to make a complicated journey from its source to the shelves.
This story, and others like it, put the responsibility for food-borne illness directly on the consumer, implying that if you get sick, it’s your fault, not the country’s complicated, vaguely regulated and highly industrialized food chain. “Change your mind-set about poultry. Start by thinking of it as being contaminated,” one person notes in the story. That’s our only option?
Where you buy food is as much an issue with avoiding food-borne illness as what you buy. Yes, you have to handle poultry with care and cook it thoroughly. But if you really want safer meat, then change your buying habits. Skip the supermarket meat section and find a real butcher who closely monitors inventory, knows the purveyors and can tell you the source of everything. You want to avoid getting sick from oysters? Buy them from a reputable fish monger. You don’t want fruit laden with pesticides and then waxed to make a prettier display? Buy local, organic fruit in season from a farmer’s market, preferably direct from the grower.
That all sounds too expensive, you say? Consider eating out a little less eating out and spending more on the quality of food you make at home. The average American family spends about 12% of its annual income on food. About 45% is spent on eating at restaurants. Collectively, we spend the smallest amount on food than any other industrialized country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Kitchn blog makes a good point about the value of cooking meals regularly at home. You don’t have to run out and buy every ingredients; you’ve got them on hand. So then you spend just a little bit more money and a bit more time for ingredients.
At the IACP conference this year, Ruth Reichl noted that you vote with your dollar every day, at every meal. If you’re in Seattle, consider visiting my butcher, Don & Joe’s. You can point to anything in their case, and they can tell me exactly where it came from. Sure, I still wash my hands after handling their Washington state grown chickens, but I don’t start with the notion that my bird is invariably contaminated, which is nice.