I’ve been reading Eating Animals, the slaughterhouse expose by Jonathan Safran Foer. Or, more to the point, I have been avoiding reading it, because every time I turn a page, I am saddened and sickened by what I find there. The book, with its cheery bright green dust cover, sits on my nightstand day in, day out, as I pass by it, avert my eyes, reach instead for the television remote. I’m even flossing a lot more these days as I search for something, anything, that will prevent me from having to read another chapter.
I most recently snapped the book closed at page 139 after reading this: “According to a study published in Consumer Reports, 83% of all chicken meat (including organic and antibiotic-free brands) is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase.” That’s the kind of revelation that hits you right in the Chicken McNuggets. The CE, of course, counters that were the situation truly so dire, we would all be sick all the time. I really wish Foer and I were pals so we could all meet for lunch (at a vegetarian restaurant, of course) to talk it over.
Alas, Foer , who was a protege of Joyce Carol Oates at Princeton and whose brilliant first novel Everything Is Illuminated should be on everyone’s reading list, probably has bigger fish to fry than to break bread with carnivores like ourselves. He understandably prefers the company of people like Kansan poultry farmer Frank Reese, whose quote in Eating Animals unraveled my faint defense of status-quo practices. I’ve maintained a shred or two of sympathy for the Tyson and Perdue camps based on the “greater good” belief that they provide affordable protein for millions of families who have neither the resource of time or money for grass-fed beef or pastured chicken products. Indeed, Mr. Foer states early on in his book that the price of protein in the USA “has not increased in the last thirty years”.
Mr. Reese’s retort to people like me? “If consumers don’t want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn’t eat meat.” Food for thought. By the way, if you agree with him, Mr. Reese can help you put your money where your mouth is by purchasing his poultry products at http://www.goodshepherdpoultryranch.com/ I would very much like to ask Mr. Reese how the “vegetarian-fed poultry” claim on his web site meshes with “doing it right”, since my three girls, Hope, Amelia and Autumn would have a wishbone or two to pick with him over a menu that does not include crickets, bugs or worms.
But I digress. The real point of this post is to note that while I was not reading Eating Animals last night, I found a news item from Associated Press announcing that the USDA has strengthened salmonella standards for poultry. Here is the good news:
WASHINGTON — The Department of Agriculture is setting new standards for the levels of salmonella and another pathogen in young chickens and turkeys as part of an effort to strengthen food safety.
The new standards would hold poultry slaughterhouses more accountable by decreasing the number of samples allowed to test positive for the pathogens.
Salmonella is the most common cause of food poisoning in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Close behind is campylobacter. Both can sicken those who eat raw or undercooked poultry or eggs.
USDA said the new standards could help prevent an estimated 39,000 illnesses due to campylobacter and 26,000 illnesses due to salmonella.
Thus, our fears of being stricken by unpronounceable food-borne pathogens are allayed. But I’m not off the hook. I still have to read the rest of the book, which is chock-full of fact-checked, corroborated reports of routine mistreatment and suffering of the cows, pigs and poultry who grace our dinner tables.
Can’t wait to get home and hold my sweet hens…