Banned in Belgium; But in the USA, Food Safety Is Determined by Industry

The European Union (EU) is a regulatory body that sets limits and enacts laws that safeguard the health of the citizens within member states. In the U.S., limits and laws must pass through the filters of lobbyists whose influence of legislation is anything but motivated by health and fairness. The EU, despite its flaws and corruption and lethargy and elitism, has managed to create a number of fascinating guidelines. Here are a few EU rules with comparisons to how the U.S. deals with the same issues:

1. CARBON MONOXIDE IN MEAT AND FISH. The EU (in 2001) banned the use of carbon monoxide that is used to keep fish, beef, and pork looking pink and fresh. The Carbon Monoxide isn’t the health hazard, per se, but it can mask evidence of spoilage. Spoiled fish, beef, and pork often contain harmful bacteria. The FDA in the US considers the Carbon Monoxide a “color fixative.” But that fresh-looking beef, pork, and fish may, in fact, be on the shelf or in the restaurant well past the date that it is safe. When did this become a “big” issue in the U.S.? Here’s when (from The Washington Post, 2/20/06): “We feel it’s a huge consumer right-to-know issue,” said Donna Rosenbaum of Safe Tables Our Priority, an advocacy group in Burlington, Vt., created after four children died and hundreds became sick after eating tainted hamburgers from Jack in the Box restaurants in 1992 and 1993. In 2006, the Burlington group and the Consumer Federation of America wrote to the FDA in support of a ban.” No ban is in place.

2. BATTERY CAGES. By 2012, all poultry in Europe will have to have access to the outdoors. Scientists concluded that keeping the animals penned up is cruel. Here? Let the market decide. Or at least the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

3. ANTIBIOTICS. Banned. Why? Antibiotic resistant illnesses are caused in part by the use of antibiotics in livestock: 70% of U.S. livestock is treated with antibiotics. But according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “On January 1, 2006, the European Union banned the feeding of all antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion purposes. The sweeping new policy follows up a 1998 ban on the feeding of antibiotics that are valuable in human medicine to livestock for growth promotion. Now, no antibiotics can be used in European livestock for growth promotion purposes.”

4. UNSUBSTANTIATED HEALTH CLAIMS. This is a personal favorite. All this hokum about healthy food is enabling prophets to profit. Maybe goat’s milk is good for you, maybe not. Maybe fiber will prevent cancer, maybe it won’t. Here’s what the EU did (from PubMedCentral-7/26/03): “Food and drink manufacturers will have to prove scientifically the health and nutritional claims they make for their products under new legislation tabled by the European Commission last week. The legislation would prevent labels that extol virtues attributed to many foods and food supplements we eat—such as being low in energy, fat free, or high in protein—unless the labels fully comply with clear standards. Similarly, vague terms such as ‘preserves youth,’ ‘improves your memory,’ or ‘reduces your calorie intake,’ which are used as marketing and advertising tools but cannot be substantiated, would also be banned.”

More in days ahead…

Buffalo Soldiers

Has everyone noticed that Italy has as of today banned the worldwide sale of buffalo milk mozzarella originating in Campagna due to high levels of the cancer-causing agent dioxin in the cheese? Italy and South Korea banned it weeks ago. (BBC story)

Ah, but then why is this product still available in stores in the United States? Believe me, if the Italian government is banning a food product, which is like Cameron Diaz announcing she no longer feels beautiful, something is dreadfully wrong. Don’t buy the cheese.

Take Out Food

I am convinced that if I stay at home I will have fewer excuses to explain why I am not writing more often or as well as I would like.  But rather than call for take-out like BBQ, Chinese, pizza, or Mexican, I have been sending away for raw ingredients and then cooking meals: fish, beef, pork, lamb, wild mushrooms, pasta, chicken, duck, coffee, and pretzels.  All I need to buy in my town, face to face, are vegetables and fruits.  This means that I am at home, rather than in the car en route or returning from the store, and able to think and write more clearly than ever before.  I save money on gas, reduce stress from being in traffic, and limit contact with shoppers.  Shipping costs are free or minimal.  I think we should subvert the entire economy and reduce acquisition of food to vast warehouses; job retraining will need to take place of those currently employed in the retail food business, or perhaps reeducation centers.  

Diet of the Candidates

Apparently, I am far from alone in trying to make sense of the candidates based on what they eat.

Mimi Sheraton, noted food critic, weighs in on this all-important topic for pages in the 2/20/08 issue of SLATE. Here’s what she has to say about Hilary Clinton:

For a final bit of insight into food and its meanings, consider the video that the Clinton campaign put out parodying the final episode of The Sopranos, in which Tony and Carmela and A.J. eat onion rings together at a diner. In the Clinton version, Hillary orders carrot sticks instead of onion rings, and when Bill protests, she tells him, “I’m looking out for ya.’ ” Ann Althouse, a law professor who writes a popular blog from Madison, Wis., conjectured on the deeper meaning of the carrot sticks: “I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the ‘O’ of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. … [And] what does she have for him? Carrot sticks! … Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive ‘O’ consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols.”

The Obama Diet

No one knows what the man’s favorite food and he isn’t saying.  I took the trouble to google, “Obama’s favorite food,” and while others across the nation want to know, there is still no answer.  Rail thin, calm under pressure, vigorous: So how does he do it?  Does he support sustainability?  Is he in favor of farming fish?  What, in fact, is he hiding?

Missing in Obama’s Speech

It’s taken me these few days to un-dazzle myself from the epoch-making speech made by Senator Obama and realize what he left out. OK, fine, he addressed the issue of race in a way no major American politician ever has. Can’t take that away from him, won’t even try.

But why did he leave out what he’s been eating the past 20 years? Why the secret? What is he hiding?

What, in fact, is The Obama Diet?

Cheese War

When the U.S. government put a stop to to S-2 college deferments in 1971 and made college students eligible for the draft and military service in Vietnam, it led to student protests and may have hastened an end to the war.  Nowadays it’s foolhardy to call for a reinstatement of the draft, especially for those in college, as the effects on Starbucks, You Tube, and the I-Tunes store could devastate the economy further.  But, more broadly, as the dollar sinks lower against the Euro and prices for basic commodities like French and Italian cheese, wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and processed food climb–doubling or even tripling in  price, with no end in  sight–perhaps we will re-think out commitment to the war in Iraq and place resources where they belong: In making a stronger dollar that has the power to buy upscale European groceries.


Put Down the St. Marcellin & Pick Up A Brick

A number of restaurants are going beyond their mission of cooking. Now they embrace the ideas of well-being and the environment. What this has to do with the Service Industry is anyone’s guess. I think it ‘s meant to distract us from what’s on the plate and also to try and delude us into thinking we’re behaving in politically meaningful ways when, in fact, we’re spending money on fancy food. I mean, honestly, if you want to be political, put down the St. Marcellin and join the ramparts.

Here are the two most egregious examples of the week:

Sel de Terre.

Join Sel de la Terre, Natick and lululemon athletica for a morning of revitalization. Yoga inspired athletic apparel company, lululemon athletica, will provide acclaimed yoga instructor Alex Amorosi who will lead a Vinyasa Flow Class. Following the hour long session, continue to relax as Sel de la Terre serves Provencal tapas and juice elixirs.

Persephone (in Boston).

The Persephone menu will feature sustainable local ingredients where possible in dishes designed to represent ‘simplicity and harmony with each passing season.’ Organic and biodynamic wines from small and lesser-known producers will dominate the wine list, which will also devote a special section to sake. Chef Leviton is known for his commitment to sustainable “green” practices at Lumiere, and will continue this tradition in the Persephone kitchen.

Wouldn’t it be most calm and green simply to stay home & cook? Who is zooming who?

Whine Lists

There ought to be two lists labelled as such in restaurants:



Many restaurants offer extensive lists of good wines under $30 while others tend to focus on the high-end bottles almost exclusively. It’s not a matter of the restaurant being pricey either: At any number of three-star Michelin restaurants, you can pick up a decent bottle for as little as $28. It’s more a matter of disrespect for the customer, implicitly so, and perhaps incompetence on the part of the sommelier, and simply a matter of They Don’t Care. But any really good restaurant will have a loyal, regular clientele that, no matter how deep their pockets, doesn’t want to drop big bucks on wine each time they dine out.

A Few Things

I’m trying to figure out why certain restaurants are worthwhile and it comes down primarily to the memory of taste: What taste evokes from prior experiences and what taste will evoke from the food in the here & now. More specifically, the best restaurants usually do one or only a few things well: It’s easier to remember those few things; those few things evoke a few memories. That’s why, in Boston, Galleria Umberto’s pizza and C.K.’s Shanghai are about the best dining you can find in the city. The kitchens are establishing a relationship with the customer from only a few things: it’s simple in the best sense. How much can you remember? How much can be evoked? Only a few things.

The more complicated restaurant kitchens that actually are capable of serving memorable meals are rare. In New York, their number is frankly astonishing and that may be a result of the level of talent, the volume of customers served (sometimes you get better at doing something the more that you do it), the years in business, the competition, the emphasis on specificity, and the more critical customer base.