The Great Egg Recall has been taking up the news almost as much as a community center in NYC. As of the latest information I’ve seen, over 1,000 people have gotten sick and over 800 million eggs have been recalled. Maybe the best thing about this recall is that, unlike so many of the meat recalls of the past few years, many of these eggs probably haven’t been eaten yet. But, then again, this recall probably isn’t over yet.
I know. I could all self-righteous and talk about how this recall doesn’t affect me and mine since our eggs come from our own backyard. But that’s really not the point. Sure, we have that at Kasa Knipple, but not everyone wants to or even can. And as a “developed” nation, people shouldn’t have to raise their own food just to know that it’s safe. That’s what we have the FDA and USDA for, right?
There are two things that have really upset me about these recalls. First, is the reason they happen. The industrialized food system sets up the perfect scenario for bad things to happen to our food. It’s a system of pushing through too much too fast. Animals live in conditions that breed disease because it’s more efficient to squeeze as many of them together as possible and get them up to slaughter weight as quickly as possible. It’s bad for the animals, and it’s bad for us.
But what can be done about it? At this point, probably not as much as we would like. We’ve gotten used to cheap food. If the entire industrialized food system changed to free range and reasonable slaughter rates, our food prices would increase exponentially. Unfortunately, we’ve built a system where meat and eggs that are raised the way they should be are almost a luxury item. They’re not accessible to our whole population. To a great degree, we have to make the best of what we’ve got.
That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some change. E-coli doesn’t just happen naturally in ground beef or on salad greens. Salmonella doesn’t show up in all eggs. Shouldn’t the people providing us with food be making every possible measure to make that food safe? I think they should, or we should be hearing a lot more about the huge fines levied against the companies whose food is deemed unsafe. If someone dies from e-coli or salmonella, someone should go to jail. Someone should have caught the problem before it ever got to a consumer.
That’s all bad enough, but now here’s my second issue with the whole recall situation. 800 million eggs need to be thrown away. Millions of tons of meat have had to be destroyed. This is food that could have been feeding people who needed it, some of them desperately. Sure, we’re a developed nation, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in America has a full stomach. To see this kind of waste when people are hungry makes me angry. Knowing that the bulk of the meat that’s been affected was packaged for sale to lower income families makes me angry. Safe food shouldn’t be a privilege of being in a higher tax bracket.
It’s easy to say that people should know their farmers, that if you do, you won’t have to worry about these things. But when our farmers markets don’t have the ability or desire to accept food stamps or WIC vouchers or to participate in senior citizen voucher programs. Farmers markets get labeled as being elitist, expensive, and unwelcoming to the people who often need them the most.
And this isn’t the fault of farmers. Unfortunately, most farmers know what it’s like to be poor; most would be more than willing to take part in a voucher system. And it’s really not the fault of the organizers of the markets. Our government doesn’t make it easy to participate in these programs. It’s up to states to decide whether or not a farmer who comes to Memphis from Mississippi would even be able to accept Tennessee vouchers. Trying to be accessible to people of all income levels is a tricky and difficult venture that volunteer-run organizations sometimes just can’t traverse.
Is there a solution to any of this? I don’t know. If there is, it’s not going to be simple. And it’s not going to be something that even a large single group of people can accomplish. Food is one of the most simple things in the world, one of those basic things that every human being knows, but what should be simple simply isn’t.