Lettuce Pray We Will Survive Our Meal

 

It’s the holidays, so you know what that means. To quote Oliver Twist, “Food, glorious food.” At this time of the year calorie counting goes out the window and all sorts of goodies go into the mouth. To put a damper on all this gastronomic delight is the realization that what goes in might make one very ill or even cause death. Yup! Eating right now is a dangerous activity. Your next meal could literally be the last supper for you.

In case you have had your nose buried in sales ads instead of the news, let me bring you up to speed. The FDA, mimicking MC Hammer, on November 20th told us “U Can’t Touch This.” What’s verboten? Romaine lettuce. For the second time in 2018, an E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce has led to an advisory not to eat that green stuff. Moreover, retailers were not to sell or serve romaine lettuce. If you happen to have a craving for Caesar salad (typically made with romaine lettuce), too bad so sad. Or, if you are President Trump, you serve Caesar salad on your Thanksgiving buffet but have it made with another type of lettuce. (Thanks for leading by example, Pres!)

Why the ban? In the most recent outbreak which began in October, illnesses resulting from consuming romaine lettuce were reported in twelve different states. Of the 43 documented cases, none were in Florida. Unsurprisingly, the most cases occurred in health-conscious California which is known as our country’s “Lettuce Capital”.

Actually, it’s really a shame that romaine had to be removed from grocery produce aisles and restaurant menus. Romaine lettuce, commonly known as “cos” lettuce to Brits, is the most nutrient-rich of all lettuce varieties. It is often contained in salad mixes, so the recent ban pretty much wiped out the availability of salads. Who cares? Well, most Americans do since the average American eats 25 pounds of lettuce a year.

On the bright side, late Monday the FDA announced that it was lifting its advisory against the eating of romaine lettuce. While the actual source of the outbreak has not been identified, it is believed to be somewhere in north or central California. Well, duh! Since California’s the lettuce capital, of course it would be the source. Fingering such a huge area is not really cracking the case. No common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand was identified. That’s not particularly helpful.

The November romaine lettuce advisory comes on the heels of a previous romaine lettuce recall back in April of this year.  The E. coli  outbreak then sickened 210 and killed five, but it was from a different strain of E. coli. Just great! There’s more than one strain of E. coli out there to lurk in our salad bowl.

For those of you who don’t have a Ph.D. in microbiology like my little sister does, let me fill you in on E. coli. It’s full name is Escherichia coli in recognition of German-Austrian pediatrician Theodor Escherich who in 1885 discovered this bacteria in the feces of healthy individuals. And, no, I have NO CLUE why he was looking at what’s in feces. Yuk!  E. coli aren’t just in feces. Oh, no. They are in the environment, foods, and the intestines of people and animals. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is the type most commonly associated with foodborne outbreaks.

All that E. coli stuff sounds pretty nasty. But if we simply avoid salads, we’ll be safe, right? Wrong! Forget asking “Where’s the beef?” You apparently should be asking, “What’s in the beef?” The nation’s largest beef processor, JBS USA, recently recalled about 100,000 pounds of ground beef for possible E. coli contamination. So hamburgers and salads are off the menu.

Well, we were safe eating turkey at Thanksgiving at least. Ha! You must not have heard about the turkey salmonella outbreak prior to Thanksgiving. USDA investigators discovered the same strain of turkey-related salmonella in 22 slaughtering facilities and seven processing establishments. The outbreak sicked 164 people in 35 states. Don’t gobble that turkey!

You are probably thinking that these are merely isolated cases, so there’s nothing to worry about. That’s an unsafe conclusion to reach. According to the Centers For Disease Control, 48 MILLION people get sick from foodborne illnesses annually. So you may literally be taking your health into your hand when you take a fork in hand. Forty-six percent  of these annual foodborne illnesses come from leafy veggies and other produce. Therefore, eating a “healthy” diet isn’t necessarily going to save you. In fact, it might kill you.

What’s a consumer to do? I have three practical suggestions. First, ignorance is NOT bliss. Keep up with the news to see what food(s) are suspected of causing current illnesses. Although this is not pleasant news, it is certainly a change of pace from the latest political nonsense. Second,  consider changing the blessing given over your meal. Sure, you can thank God for the food on your table, but it couldn’t hurt to ask that He spare you from being sickened or killed by eating it.

Finally, the best advice of all may be simply to change to a safer diet. As these foodborne illnesses arise mainly from leafy vegetables, produce, and meats, switch to eating foods which are not typically blamed for spreading such illnesses. While chocolate, pies, and cookies may cause a spread around your waste, eating them will not put you at risk like eating salad might. And what better time of the year to be consuming sweet treats? It will put you in the holiday spirit and make it truly “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever suffered from a foodborne illness? Do you worry about your food being safe?

 

Gobbling Up Turkey Trivia

Happy Thanksgiving! What a wonderful holiday it is–unless, of course, you are a turkey. Turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving, so it behooves us to know something about this bird. I’m pretty sure that your friends and family would rather talk turkey trivia than to wade into the troubled waters of political discussions. So let’s learn a few fun facts about turkeys.

The majestic bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S.A., but the turkey might have gotten this designation. Early in our country’s history, a move was afoot to make the turkey the country’s bird. However, Thomas Jefferson successfully opposed this idea. Hence, male birds became known as “Toms” in a not so subtle dig at Mr. Jefferson. Yes, politics was ugly even back then.

While news stories about mass shootings are becoming more commonplace, we don’t hear about the mass execution of turkeys. Does no one care about the targeted turkey? According to the National Turkey Federation, 45 to 46 MILLION turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving. That’s a whopping number of fatalities of our fine feathered friends.

If Bambi were killed for a feast, there would no doubt be a hue and cry from the public in general and animal lovers in particular. Funny, I don’t recall learning about any protests at the first Thanksgiving where the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag tribe; venison was the main meat on that menu. Not being a fan of deer meat, I have yet another thing to be thankful for today; I won’t have to eat Bambi or any of Bambi’s relatives.

Concerned about putting on a few pounds from your Thanksgiving feast? The turkey which is likely front and center on your holiday dining table is not worried about his figure, but the hostess must figure out how much meat is required to serve her guests. An average turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is sixteen pounds. And Martha Stewart advises that the cook count on having 1 1/2 pounds of turkey for person for this size bird. If you get a scrawny turkey, i.e., under 12 pounds, you should plan on two pounds of turkey per person. And I thought that a quarter pounder contained a lot of meat! Hope each diner has a big plate to hold this mound of meat.

And does being PC fly out the window at Thanksgiving? Well we know the turkey is unable escape his doom by flying out the window because domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Turkeys are native to the Americas. In fact, they are the only breed of poultry native to the Western Hemisphere. If Native American Indian rights are protected; why are Native American turkeys not accorded similar protection and recognition? Enquiring minds want to know!

Gender differences exist between male and female turkeys. Toms (adult males) are the only turkeys who can gobble. The (non-gobbling) female turkey is called a hen. Perhaps the tom is gobbling because he is hen-pecked?

Pork may be the “other white meat,” but turkey is another white meat. A typical turkey is 70% white meat and 30% dark meat. Those who wish to maintain a healthy diet on Thanksgiving (good luck with that!) should opt for the white meat which has fewer calories and less fat.

While millions of turkeys will get to meet their maker so Americans can feast on Thanksgiving, at least one bird will have a great holiday. And who is that lucky turkey? Why, the National Thanksgiving Turkey. It has become tradition for the president to grant a pardon to this bird; he saves the turkey’s life and makes political hay at the same time. Stays of execution have been issued by presidents for years, but President George H.W. Bush was the one who came up with the idea of “pardoning” a turkey. The pardonee is then sent to live out the rest of his days at an animal sanctuary. I am not sure what heinous crime the turkey committed to be facing a death sentence, but at least he was spared to see another Thanksgiving.

And to make the pardon even more special, presidents have been asked to pardon turkeys with cutesy names. In 2013, President Obama pardoned Popcorn. Another year he pardoned Tater and Tot. Last year President Trump pardoned Drumstick and Wishbone. This past Tuesday Peas and Carrots received a reprieve. Trump even tweeted to ask citizens to vote as to which of these two birds would be the media star for the pardoning ceremony.  Let’s not ask Florida voters to weigh in. By the time their votes are counted (and likely recounted), it might be Easter.

For a turkey, Thanksgiving is both the best and the worst of times. He is the star of the holiday show, but he won’t get to enjoy it because, well, he’s dead. For Americans, Thanksgiving is the best time for us. We have federal authorization to take a holiday and count our blessings; we probably won’t count the calories we consume though. We can be thankful that we live in a country that, although flawed, allows us many freedoms which others in this world do not have. We have a higher standard of living that most. We will have food on our Thanksgiving table and friends and family with whom to share it. And last, but certainly not least, the midterm elections are over. Let’s talk (and EAT) turkey, not politics today.

Just WONDER-ing: Do you prefer white or dark meat? Would you eat either if you personally had to kill your turkey? Other than delicious food, what do you have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving? Is there any reason not to be thankful every day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not As Simple As 1, 2, 3

According to the King of Pop, counting 1, 2, 3 is easy. Maybe so for Michael Jackson, but the election supervisors in Florida are having a devil of a time counting. While they might be able to count 1, 2, 3 on their figures, counting the number of ballots cast in the Sunshine State is way more difficult. Like it or not, millions of ballots are having to be counted AGAIN because of a recount ordered by the Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner..

I feel that it is my civic duty to blog about this situation to make sure that my fellow citizens are informed about what’s going on in their government. I fear that they might’ve missed the newspaper articles on this hot topic because they are making beelines to the Christmas sales ads delivered along with their paper. You know, the ads that are about as thick as the substantive part of the paper which tout the need to buy NOW for Christmas. Hey, there are only 39 shopping days left, so get it in gear! [NOTE: I may not have been asked to count ballots, but I sure can count days on the calendar.]

While the general election took place on November 6th, the fat lady has not yet sung for three races in Florida–governor, U.S. Senator, and Agriculture Commissioner. These races were so close (the losing candidate lost by half a percentage point or less) that a recount of the ballots cast is required by Florida law. [That’s F.S. Section 102.141(7) for those who enjoy statutory numbers.] Each loser undoubtedly feels that his loss was the direct result of ballots not being counted correctly. I mean why else would he lose?

So, how are ballots counted for the recount? By a machine. You can’t trust machines, can you? They may be biased or at least not programmed correctly. As Florida law has recognized and mandated, the best way to see if there was an accurate count is to have machines conduct a recount of the original count made by machines. Am I the only one seeing a flaw in this logic here?

This recount must be done under a time deadline. The results have to be submitted to Tallahassee by this afternoon. Should we be concerned about the poor machines being tasked with recounting under such pressure with a time deadline? Will they suffer from performance anxiety as a result and flub the recount? Will a recount of a recount called for?

But the machine recount may not end the inquiry. If after the recount a candidate has lost by a one quarter of a percentage point or less, a manual recount is required. Manual means, of course, that the ballots have to be counted by hand. The workers won’t be able to count on their hands, though, because way more than ten ballots were cast in all the races. Millions of ballot would have to be recounted before a Sunday, 11/18, deadline for completion. Hope those election workers didn’t have any grandiose weekend plans. Even if these workers didn’t have big plans, they may not get to count many sheep because they’ll be too busy counting ballots to sleep.

And do we trust humans to count more accurately than machines? Will those counting have been vetted to make sure that they only made A’s in math while in school? What happens if the counter gets to 1,459,856 ballots and then loses count? Must he/she start all over? Does it matter what political party the counter is affiliated with? Should we have two counters–one Republican and one Democratic? The questions about this process are, well, too numerous to count.

At least Florida has recounting experience. Way back in 2000 a statewide recount occurred following the presidential election pitting George W. Bush against Al Gore. Bush ended up the winner, but I have no idea the number of votes he got. Actually, I was too fascinated with the concept of a chad, hanging or otherwise, to be concerned with the actual margin of votes between the two candidates.

When the recount process is completed, victors will be declared and political life will go on as usual, right? Ha! I wish. The situation will be analyzed and talked to death by political commentators. Lawsuits will be threatened and perhaps filed. The average citizen will merely shrug and remark, “All I want for Christmas is to quit hearing about the election.” Even after official results are announced, the controversy will continue ad nauseum. You can count on it!

Just WONDER-ing: Do you expect a recount to change the outcome of any of the close races? Do you trust a count done by hand more than a count done by a machine? Were you surprised by just how close the three races being recounted were?

 

 

 

 

 

Ballot Box Blues

Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and boy does every U.S. citizen have something for which to be thankful–midterm elections are over. Yahoo! Now we can all eat dinner in peace without robocalls intruding. We can go back to watching commercials for the “little blue pill” rather than being assaulted by some venom-spewing political ad informing us that the candidate’s opponent is the devil incarnate who, if elected, will send his constituents to hell in a hand basket. Yup. There’s nothing civil about civics these days.

Once upon a time I was a naïve political science major in college. I pored over large and expensive textbooks in an effort to learn how our government works and of course to get an A in the course. Degree in hand, I innocently headed off to work at the State Capitol Building in Atlanta to participate in the hallowed government process. What a rude awakening I had. What is supposed to happen and what in reality happens are two different things. I was extremely disillusioned.

Fast forward to the 2018 midterm elections. A few years (OK, a lot of years) have passed, and politics is even worse than when I graduated from college.  But like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to observe our government at work. I just cannot look away. And as nauseating as watching the process is, it is my duty as a citizen to stay informed and to participate in elections.

No one likes a negative Nelly. On a positive note, a great development since my college graduation is the implementation of early voting. Voters are given ample opportunity to vote–not simply a twelve hour period on one specific day. No longer can you avoid voting because you have a headache on Election Day or because it’s raining and you can’t seem to find your umbrella to get to the polls.

Early voting is quite the hit. In fact, approximately 36 million voters voted early in this election. That figure led to predictions that voter turnout would be much higher than usual for the midterm elections. A “high” voter turnout is a relative term. Edison Media Research predicted in advance of the election that 45% of the eligible voting population would vote. We can’t even get 50% of eligible voters to vote and that’s good news??? SMH

And just who is doing this voting? Are they educating themselves on the issues? Reviewing the ballot in advance of voting? Um, probably not for a great many voters. Why do I come to that conclusion? According to news reports, “donde votar” (“where to vote” for those of you who do not habla espanol) was the top trending search (3,000% increase in search frequency) the morning of election day. I’m assuming that people who don’t even know where they are supposed to vote haven’t checked in advance to see what they are voting about either.

The midterm elections are aptly named in my opinion. All the divisiveness, negativity, and hounding of voters this go round has been a test of my patience. I am not sure that the average voter even knows what a midterm election is. Certainly all of those reading this blog post are aware that it is a general election held in November every four years near the midpoint of a president’s four year term. Such an election is typically viewed as a referendum on a sitting president and his party’s performance.

Much was at stake in this week’s midterm elections. Thirty-six states, including Florida, were holding gubernatorial elections. The Senate’s slim Republican majority of 51-49 was in jeopardy from a slate of Congressional races. Would the balance shift from red to blue?

A bunch of red appeared early on Election Day. Poll workers at a voting site  in Detroit, Michigan were left red in the face and voters were red with anger when an untold number of early morning voters  had to be turned away. Why? Oops. Poll workers couldn’t seem to locate the voting machines. Whew! They were finally found in a locked closet on site, but the polling place opened an hour and a half late. Even poll workers apparently put things in a “safe” place and then can’t remember where that “safe” place was.

Once voters made it to the polls and machines were in place for them to vote, on what were they voting? In addition to electing governors and congressmen, in Florida there were  a hefty number of constitutional amendments to consider. Most of the time such amendments boggle my mind–not that I cannot understand them, but that I cannot fathom why the issue has to be handled by a constitutional amendment. A constitution, by definition, is a body of fundamental laws for governing. Not that I don’t care about the plight of poor greyhounds who are being raced, but can’t we just pass a law to outlaw the sport?

The slate of amendments offered in Florida was affected by a severe case of bundling. Sure, it’s November, and in a northern state you might need to bundle up against the cold. Here in Florida the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) thought bundling of issues would be the way to go. Um, no. Bundling occurs when two or more unrelated issues are grouped together in one amendment. For example, Amendment 9 asked voters to approve a ban on offshore drilling and on indoor vaping. And the connection between those two is…..what? No wonder some people don’t want to go vote when they are asked to consider propositions that doesn’t make any sense.

The only bright spot in the election coverage was the burning question of whether Meghan Markle could/would vote in the midterm elections. She’s a royal and in the process of seeking British citizenship, so that question is thought-provoking. But I’ll bet that voters are more interested in what Meghan would wear to the polls (or to mark her absentee ballot) and if her baby bump was visible when she did so than the political ramifications of her voting.

I vote that we put the midterm elections, their confusion, their divisiveness, and their nonsense behind us. Enjoy dinnertime without annoying political calls. The next election will be here before we know it so we can all sing the next stanza of “Ballot Box Blues.”

Just WONDER-ing: Did you vote in the midterm elections? Did you vote early? Did the ability to vote early make it more likely you voted? Did political ads seem more divisive and negative in this election than in past elections?

 

 

 

 

Hate–Man’s Inhumanity To Man

Halloween was celebrated this week, but this secular holiday is actually pretty tame compared to what one encounters regularly in the real world. Some refuse to celebrate Halloween because they feel it glorifies evil. I hate to break it to y’all, but evil is alive and well in the world every single day. No, I’m not talking about witches, zombies, and vampires. I am talking about a four letter word which is evil spelled differently–HATE.

Some will scoff and note that “hate” is simply a feeling or emotion. But it is our emotions and feelings which drive us to act. When the feeling is strong enough, people are spurred to do some crazy things, like climb the highest mountain to reach his/her beloved because “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep you apart.

While love might spur us to do positive things, hate elicits some unbelievably heinous behavior such as taking the life of another human being. Before this month, the atrocities of war were merely something that I had read about in a history book. But standing in the spot where someone has been murdered in cold blood tends to make things a bit more real.

In early October I was in Budapest on a mission trip. Some of our group took a tour of the city which brought us down to the banks of the Danube on the Pest side of the river. Stretching before us was The Shoes On The Danube Bank Memorial with an untold number of shoes by the river’s edge. Right in the spot where I was standing and taking pictures, thousands of Jews had been marched by Fascist militiamen from the Budapest Ghetto, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the Danube and were carried away.  And these Jews included men, women, and –yes–children.

Words cannot express the emotions which overcame me as I surveyed this memorial. I fought back the tears as I looked at the small shoes of a child. Who could shoot an innocent child? And what feelings must have gone through the minds of those who walked en masse from one horrible place (the Budapest Ghetto) to a certain death? How would a mother have felt advancing toward the river with her child’s hand trustingly placed in hers? Would the beauty of the Danube have distracted anyone from the thought of his imminent execution?

This scene in Budapest was as surreal and haunting in my mind as any horror movie I have ever seen. In fact, it is worse, because a horror movie is fiction and this massacre is sadly all too true. The only answer to how something like these killings could have occurred is “HATE.”

But the shootings on the bank of the Danube took place a lifetime ago. They occurred in December 1944 and January 1945. Our world is so much more advanced now. Or is it? Sure we are tech savvy and connected with the whole world electronically. We’ve even put human beings on the moon and begun to explore space. Nevertheless, we are still human and we still hate.

Certainly the killings of the Jews in the context of World War II might be explained (but not excused or justified) by the fact that a war was raging. But how do we explain how in 2018 a man can walk into a Pittsburgh synagogue, a place of worship, and mow down numerous people simply for who they are? Again, the only answer that can be advanced is “HATE.”

Apparently the concept of hating a fellow man has long puzzled those who took the time to consider it. Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1784 work, “Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge,” decries “Man’s inhumanity to man” which “makes countless thousands mourn.” Yes, killing another human being out of hate is inhumane and leads many to mourn.

The passage of time has not helped to provide an explanation of why this inhumanity occurs. Some 200 years after Burns’ poem, the English electronic band Depeche Mode produced “People Are People” which contains the lyrics: “I can’t understand/What makes a man/Hate another man/Help me understand.” Well, chaps, I don’t understand it either.

We may not understand what gives rise to hate sufficient to want to snuff out the lives of our fellow man, but we do have to do something about the hate. But what can/should we do? Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, put forth his suggestion by proposing, “We must counter this hate with love and love’s public face which is justice….” Acts of hate must not be tolerated; when they  occur; justice must be served.

Outside the judicial system, nothing is gained by returning hate with hate; in fact, it may simply escalate the existing hate. It warmed my heart to hear that the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was treated by Jewish medical personnel in the hospital. However despicable the patient’s actions may have been, these doctors and nurses gave more of a priority to the value of a human life than to the human reaction of hate toward someone who had senselessly murdered fellow members of their faith.

The scene of the shoes on the bank of the Danube is burned into my memory. Nothing can bring back the lives of those who were slaughtered there due to hate. Hate still exists and continues to take a toll of human lives. I may not be able to wipe out hate entirely, but intentionally showing love to my fellow man on a regular basis may soften someone’s negative emotion. I want to do everything I can to use my shoes to kick hate to the curb. How about you?

Just WONDER-ing: Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a hate crime? What do you think is the best way to react to hate?  Is it possible to show love to someone who has acted hatefully towards you?