Keeping up with comments

Lately I've been turning on comments for more posts. As I've done so, I've found it hard to keep track of active conversations. To resolve that, on the right-hand side of the page (beneath the "What is Megnut?" heading), you can now find a short list of entries with comment activity. I hope this will help you stay involved with the discussions on the site.

Foie Inanity Reaches New York

(by Michael Ruhlman, guest blogger)

This morning Bourdain called my cell and said, “Ruhlman, I’ve got upsetting news.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Apparently a New Jersey politician, freshman assemblyman Michael Panter, next week will introduce a bill to ban the SALE of foie gras in and out of state.

Not only would this put out of business or force the relocation of Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan–which would be a blow to the entire tri-state area and beyond and the countless restaurants that rely on D’Artagnan for foie-based products–but it would be a dangerous encroachment on the rights of New Yorkers and New York City chefs to eat what they want and cook what they want.

The whole issue of what happens to Daguin and her highly respected company, around whom the fine dining scene has grown during the past two decades she’s been in business, is an important one that should be looked at separately.

But if the rumor is true, the foie brouhaha has reached New York in a serious way. And it’s bad. The foie issue embodies the hypocrisy and corruption of so much of how our government operates. That our public officials continue to spend their time and our dollars on this is ludicrous. If they cared about their state and their country, they would address the catastrophe of how we’re raising agri-hogs. That’s truly inhumane. We’re trashing our land and water, growing crappy food, contaminated chicken, feed lot beef and creating lakes of sewage polluted with e coli that gets on our spinach and kills our kids.

It’s a good rule to live by: don’t shit where you eat. But that’s exactly what we’re doing on a massive scale. So what do you do if you’re a local congressman? You outlaw a product that has little if any environmental impact, a product that few people buy, but that raises your stature and makes you look like a noble protector of all things cute and fuzzy.

Chicago’s been through this. Now Jersey–living up to its cliché. Chicago been a laughingstock among people throughout the country who understand the issues. Its mayor is endorsing a REPEAL of the silly law that bans foie gras sales there. An article in today’s trib describes how the pro-ban factions are struggling, in the face of widespread ridicule, not to lose ground. The city is not enforcing the ban anyway, so it’s largely symbolic. But symbols are important.

And right now, foie gras banning is becoming a symbol of ignorant politicians grandstanding on issues they scarcely understand while the real horrors of our food supply go neglected, and continued silence is bought and paid for by agribusiness lobbying.

I’ve made myself clear on this issue before: more no-nothings in government telling me what I’m allowed to eat, corrupt government ignoring the agricultural catastrophes while taking self-promoting potshots at fundamentally humane businesspeople and farmers makes me mad. If this law happens it promises the beginnings of change in the restaurant scene in New York City for the worse–this, the most diverse and dynamic restaurant city on earth. That in itself is bad. But all that such a bill would portend is truly scary.

If this bill happens we need to use its indulgent foolishness to shine more light on the real problems with our food supply. And they don’t have anything to do with foie gras.

Raw milk and E. coli

Some more reader feedback regarding raw milk and E. coli. From Adrian:

Interesting reading on the whole raw milk debate. The feedback you posted (Raw Milk Risks) is particularly noteworthy. E. coli is a bacterium which inhabits the intestines of mammals. The fact that there's E. coli in (some) raw milk is indicative of unsanitary milking practices rather than an innate problem with raw milk. To put it bluntly, there's shit in the milk.

Gross, but possibly true. But it's important to understand that "E. coli" is not one thing. Nina Planck explains the difference between various strains of E. coli in this New York Times article Leafy Green Sewage. E. coli O157:H7 is the bacterium that makes you sick and it loves an acidic environment. Planck writes "O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms."

So this could explain the current E. coli spinach outbreak. It also could explain how the four California children who drank raw milk products have been infected with E. coli. But reader Susan Q had brucellosis, possibly from raw butter or raw cheese. Even if sanitary milking practices are followed, there are still risks.

Adrian also says:

Furthermore, it's really only the soft raw-milk cheeses that you need to watch out for, hence the FDA's requirement that raw-milk cheese must be aged for a minimum of 60 days. Incidentally, there's some research in Europe which suggests that the majority of cheese-related food poisoning incidents are linked to unsanitary practices in large-scale, pastuerised milk cheese production. This is an argument that has been used in the UK in recent years by artisanal cheese producers under pressure from the government to stop using raw milk.

As cheese ages, it loses moisture. Hard, aged cheese have a lower pH and are not as favorable for bacteria growth. That's why aged raw milk cheeses are permitted in the United States. It seems like raw milk — whatever its form — has risks. That's why it's important you know where it's coming from and the conditions under which it's produced if you choose to ingest it. The same could be said for spinach, and meat, and eggs, and nearly everything else you eat.