In a stunning example of the predictability of human nature, I scanned the early reports of the unusually virulent outbreak of E. coli in Germany to find out what type of person was most frequently afflicted. It’s the “can’t happen to me or my family, right?” thinking that characterizes my immediate reaction to almost any bad news - crotch photos, tropical diseases, cruise ship strandings.
In this case, however, the group of people with the highest incidence of illness were women around my age, and I swear to you, my first reaction was “it’s from salad.” Is there a food more beloved to women to over 30 than salad, for its magical health properties which offset a myriad of other dietary evils like second helpings and Take 5 candy bars? Sure enough, it turned out to be bean sprouts, grown at an organic farm in Northern Germany.
My thoughts go out to the people who died, to the sick, and to their families. I hope the incident can help prod governments into making basic food safety a higher priority to prevent it from happening again. Nicholas Kristof had a terrific column in Sunday's NYT about food safety and the overuse of antibiotics by Big Ag in healthy animals to make them grow faster, creating conditions under which increasingly severe strains of E. coli can thrive - well worth the read and the indignation that should follow.
More selfishly speaking, it got me thinking about other hotspots for E. coli that would target women in my demographic. If another outbreak occurs, here's a punch list for the Food and Drug Administration to work down, stat:
- Any processed food with “bran” in the title. Women in midlife are always looking for that magic bar, cereal, or topping that will, within an hour of being consumed, cause such a commotion that we will emerge from the bathroom, our hair combed, our lipstick freshened, and our figures restored to that of our twenty year old selves. “Colon Blow” may have been a joke on Saturday Night Live, but for generations of women it’s the pantry staple of our dreams.
- Teas that promise to de-stress or ease tension. We drink it by the gallon in an attempt to decompress lives that are packed with work, family, volunteering, maintaining some semblance of romantic relationships with our partners, and trying to carve out time for ourselves and with our friends. The teas rarely work, but if you hold your face over a steaming cup while it steeps, you can get a smidgen of that pore-opening aromatherapy facial that you don't have time to schedule.
- The veins of caramel, chocolate, or peanut butter in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. My idea of a perfect night is when my husband and I settle on the couch to watch "Game of Thrones" and "Treme" with a pint of Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch and two spoons. He usually lets me have the first go at the ice cream, nice fellow that he is. A few minutes later, I hand him back a pint of plain vanilla ice cream, completely denuded of Heath Bars. To his repeated consternation, I say “If you gave me a bowl of rocks with a big fat diamond in the center, would I pick through the rocks first before grabbing the diamond?” Women who’ve made it out of their twenties know a thing or two about missed opportunities.
- The leftovers off the children’s plates after a family dinner. Who needs to scrape plates into the compost bin when there’s a mother in the kitchen who will eat them? We hate to see food go to waste and more than that, know exactly how much work went into preparing it. No way that pork loin with the homemade peach sauce is going to be unceremoniously thrown away. I'm not sure how the bacteria could replicate in so many separate children's meals in so many separate kitchens, but advise the FDA that it's probably linked to an iCarly broadcast.