October Elder Meetup in Lake Oswego, Plus...
Let Me Tell You About Getting Old

Fear of Food

About ten years ago, on the evening before an airplane flight, Crabby Old Lady ate a bad oyster. Not that she knew it right away. She attended a meeting in San Francisco the next morning and then boarded her noon flight to New York, miffed that her aisle seat was directly across from a lavatory where there would be a lot of foot traffic for the duration of the trip.

Within an hour, Crabby's displeasure turned to relief. For the rest of the flight, hardly any other passenger had a chance to get into that facility due to Crabby's intensifying discomfort.

Back home, except for frequent trips to the bathroom, round-the-clock cramps and sweats kept Crabby in bed for two days and she didn't fully recover for a week. It is absolutely true that sickness from tainted food can turn your face green.

Until then, Crabby had not taken tales of food poisoning seriously. Several years passed before she ate another raw oyster and although she has taken it up again, she thinks about that miserable week every time and knows it could happen again. No one can tell a good oyster from a bad one by looking.

Following the recent horror news about egg contamination and conditions at industrial egg farms (live rodents, dead chickens and eight-foot piles of manure), local markets have taken pains to post signs in the dairy case that their eggs are not from those farms.

TOO BAD! Crabby doesn't trust the stores any more than she trusts the producers so she has given up eggs now – probably permanently. Crabby will miss poached eggs on toast, but a hard yolk is not her definition of poached.

There are already a lot of things Crabby Old Lady doesn't eat. After E. coli was found in packaged spinach four years ago, she stopped using packaged vegetables – leafy ones, roots, herbs, anything. If they aren't loose, she doesn't buy them; those sealed plastic bags are perfect petri dishes for growing nasty, disease-bearing bacteria.

Crabby isn't much of a beef eater, but a couple of times a year she craves a big, fat hamburger with all the fixings on a toasted bun. No more; Crabby hasn't eaten one for years because it's not a burger to her if it's not medium rare and there are too many, regularly-occurring recalls due to E. coli. - just three weeks ago, one million pounds were recalled.

Plus, if you've ever seen that documentary (or was it a segment on 60 Minutes several years ago?) with graphic video of how ground beef is produced, you'd never eat it again anyway. Crabby misses her occasional burgers.

She struck large fish – shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna, etc. – from her diet 10 or 15 years ago. They are at the top of the marine food chain, stuffed with all the mercury smaller and medium-sized fish contain and mercury can rot your brain as much as Alzheimer's.

After all the news about hormones and melamine in farmed fish along with the conditions in which they are raised, she buys only wild now. It's expensive, but Crabby doesn't eat much per meal so it doesn't break the budget.

Now they're trying to tell us Gulf shrimp and oysters are safe to eat. Puh-leeze. BP and possibly the government have lied to us throughout the disaster - why would Crabby trust them about the safety of Gulf seafood. She feels for the shrimpers, but values her health more.

Chicken is suspect too. Is it stuffed with hormones or antibiotics? Hard to know. Free range (at $12 to $15 per chicken!) doesn't mean chemical- or drug-free. Crabby still buys it, but not often and she swore off pre-roasted chickens, which she had sometimes bought out of laziness, when she cut one open and it was bloody at the bone.

What can a Crabby Old Lady eat these days?

It may sound like it from this post, but Crabby is hardly a food fanatic. Except for eggplant and feta cheese, there isn't anything she doesn't like, although she has favorites – lobster, Dungeness crab, great huge salads with 12 or 15 vegetables and fruits and in summer, fruit smoothies for breakfast or lunch.

So without intending to be a vegetarian, fruits and veggies have become the mainstay of Crabby's diet by default – well, if you don't count ice cream which is (you do know this, don't you?) one of the seven food groups. And yes, Crabby knows it contains eggs.

And don't get Crabby started on peanuts. It's not a problem only for the allergic; it's salmonella too. The vast majority of food alerts are about peanuts and producers put peanuts in pretty much all prepared food.

Which is another category Crabby doesn't have in her kitchen – anything that is produced in a factory. Aside from dried beans, oatmeal, condiments and crackers for cheese – packaged food doesn't exist for Crabby, nor does tinned food thanks to BPA warnings.

Overall, it is a healthy way to eat, but what's wrong with this picture is that it came about out of fear – fear of contamination in the nation's food supply. The problem with food alerts from the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, recalls.gov, foodsafety.gov, etc. is that they occur after people get sick and Crabby doesn't want to become a statistic.

Whenever there is a new, widespread outbreak of food-borne illness, government agencies go all religious on us about inspections – for a short while. But imagine how long it takes for eight-foot piles of chicken manure to build up and where were the USDA, DOA, etc. - the agencies responsible for the safety of the food supply - during that time?

Could this be a political issue? Undoubtedly, giant agribusinesses have lobbyists in Washington, but even politicians who want to kill Social Security wouldn't trade food safety for campaign donations. Would they?

Crabby Old Lady doesn't get sick often – a few flus in her past and a couple of hospital stays for weird problems no doctor could diagnose. The sickest she has ever been was that bad oyster week and she doesn't ever want to repeat it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: The Zipper


Thanks for sharing your unintentional journey toward your current dietary choices. My husband and I are not all the way to eating vegetation only--yet, but an intolerance of our culture's (Deep South) fried foods surfaced early in our marriage. The flip side of our culinary culture that we have embraced more firmly than ever is a variety of fresh vegetables, minus the bacon grease and long cooking times, of course.

In year's past, in the midst of all the studies that pointed to not eating certain items followed by other studies saying eat those same items, we learned what we could and continued our practice of asking God's blessing on our meals. It still works for us.

I'm with you. Except I like eggplant and feta and never cared much for hamburger. Have you tossed your teflon pans? The companies haven't convinced me they're safe, especially since I have this propensity for forgetting things are on the burner and they wind up burning which is when they're supposedly releasing their toxicity.

Many of the failures of food inspection come down to funding. It's all very well to create regulatory agencies, but if Congress won't pay to staff them (perhaps because it has wars to fund and rich people's taxes to cut?), they might as well not be there. There simply aren't hardly any agricultural and food inspectors.

Not that government weakness should let corporate food production off the hook as the culprit for valuing food as a profit center, not a necessity for their fellow humans. We have a pretty warped set of values when few question that big agriculture will ship a certain amount of contaminated "product" and pay some fines, but not suffer contempt.

Mass food production and widespread food problems--it's the result of greed for profits and the continuing dissociation with the Earth as a source of our wellbeing and health. Eating organic and local is one way to address this but it is part of a much more complex and bigger situation.

Poor Crabby.....I too would feel deprived without my occasional giant hamburger, so I don't. Yup, I have had Crabby's oyster disease twice, and recently a mild attack of it from one of those pre-roasted chickens. After Mad Cow disease struck, many friends went vegetarian...and they have a point. Since I have lived down, and out, and foodless, fear doesn't cut me off from food anymore unless I am allergic to it. I watched a man sterilized his table, silverware, and chairs for his two kids last night at a restaurant. That frightened me more than the thought of food poisening.

So I watch what I eat, what I buy and where I buy it, and where I eat when I eat out. Yes too, I still eat hamburgers on occasion. Yup, they are worth it tho too big. LOL

Ronni, do you have access to locally grown meat? It's much tastier and healthier than the factory farm stuff. And buying it supports small farmers. . . they're the good guys. Some of the cuts are very expensive, but I can buy things like ground beef and liver for not much more than it costs in the supermarket.

Buy fresh. Buy local. The farmers market should have free range eggs and chickens. Talk to the farmer/merchant. Find the one who is selling his/her own product. Get to know him/her. Maybe take a field trip and see where and how the chickens live. If you can't do the same with beef talk to your butcher. Choose a chuck or round roast and have it ground for you. If it is too much for one burger freeze the extra for another day. E. coli. is spread when meat from numerous animals is ground and mixed in great huge batches. Research shows that grass fed cows do not harbor the same E.coli that makes us sick.
This is quick but I hope it helps. Our son milks organic grass fed cows. My husband gardens and we eat our own vegetables. He also raises organic chicken for the freezer. I know everyone can't do this but there are a lot of small farmers out there trying hard to make a living providing safe food. As consumers we owe it to ourselves to seek them out.

I am close to being a vegetarian since I saw a documentary on how the animals are treated and how the butchering is done. It's shocking and disgusting.

I once had your malady after eating clams and Lobster at a shore restaurant in Pemaquid, Maine. I think it was the clam that did me in. By the time I got back to Boothbay Harbor and our cottage I was going at both ends so often I couldn't even get to a hospital. I didn't know whether to stand up or sit down when I entered the bathroom every few minutes. It's horrible!

I wash every fruit and vegetable before eating; even cantaloupe and watermelon. My diet consists mainly of those things. I know I need protein, but I hate rice. I do eat beans occasionally.

I guess we are going to have to grow our own food, but what about people with no yards or, like me, too old or infirm to garden? It's getting scary to put anything in your mouth.

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with food paranoia. A lifetime of allergies has dampened my enthusiam for restaurants as well. Have you watched "Food Inc.?" Don't do it right before a meal.

My husband still buys packaged greens but I stick to the loose stuff and wash everything. Fortunately for us I get eggs from my kid's little farm and chemical-free free range chickens too. They are expensive even from them. We shop the farmer's market a lot in season. There is one within walking distance of you in L.O. http://www.localharvest.org/lake-oswego-farmers-market-M3581 and there is the Foodfront Coop
http://www.foodfront.coop/ I there's one in Hillsdale, you'd have to drive there.

We use Egg Beaters. We started using that because of the cholesterol count. But it is easier to store than eggs so we buy four or five boxes and store in the freezer. Like you, we only buy loos veggies, not in bags. I like your paragraph about Gulf shrimp. I too feel for the people who make their living there but my brain tells me to leave the shrimp alone now. I don't eat oysters and don't think I will start now either.

So many things to fear nowadays. You can carefully watch what you eat but get front ended by a dump truck. Therefore, other than picking a clean restaurant or market, I eat anything. Here's my list of top fears that I'm careful about:

1) Car Travel
2) Crime--when in high crime

These have higher odds to cause serious lasting harm. Food poisoning is rare and "passing", usually.

One of the biologists here at our college studies food-web interactions. She grows her own veggies and avoids many fish (except Alaskan wild-caught salmon); chicken; and milk. However, she thinks that the chicken & milk issues are more likely to be a problem if you're young & developing or breeding.

Just FWIW.

Although I am a fanatic about washing my hands well and frequently, and not drinking from another's container or eating from another's cutlery, I eat anything and cannot remember ever having been ill from what I ate.

I am extremely surprised that your tainted oyster did not produce effects much sooner. I had been led to believe that such effects show up within 30 minutes or a couple of hours of ingestion.

'Soylent Green' came to mind with your post, Ronni.
I, too, am more and more nervous about food sources as we had massive recalls in Canada too - turns out just about all the coldcuts, though with an abundance of different names, were packaged by the same plant. Listeria is the big Canadian fail. An attractive name for killer bacteria in millions of pounds of deli-meats.
We all have to remember that it is no longer government but the lobbies and their corporate masters who run EVERYTHING.

I've been a happy vegetarian for two years now, no regrets. For the past two summers, I had small veggie gardens, froze stuff for winter months. However, I have some knee/back issues, which make gardening difficult. Next summer I'll pay for the local community farm basket which is from a local organic farm with produce weekly.

Becoming a vegetarian was due to a variety of issues: animal welfare/inhumane treatment by big ag and could no longer justify eating animal flesh when I LOVE my pets so much. Health, due to the problematic food supply, as well as cholesterol/fat of most meat and resulting heart problems (husband died due to that). I now find even the smell of meat cooking - any kind - somewhat sickening. It's amazing how changing your diet will eventually change what you have a taste for.

Your post today was one of the best, in my opinion.

We sympathize with you on the food problem, Crabby. We have changed our habits both from a concern for safety and a concern for what the factory agriculture system has provided. We grind our own hamburger and ground pork. We recently found a local meat market with real butchers working behind the counter. Our eggs come from a local farmer's market that gets them from a local producer whose chickens are cage free and not given hormones or antibiotics. We don't even buy much in the way of canned veggies any more--too much salt.

I have never had any bad food poisoning which might be why I haven't worried much about the different scares we read about. We get our eggs from Costco and have never had a problem but I avoided raw egg recipes for years and don't like undercooked eggs or hamburger.

For awhile i bought the packaged salad stuff because it is so much cheaper with less waste but I always washed it. I have a salad washing device that lets me do that with any veggies. I think now though I won't buy them again because my husband found out some unpleasant things about how they process them to store although washing as I did probably ended a lot of that concern. We raise our own lamb and beef; so we only buy fish and chicken commercially and I prefer costco's frozen thigh packages again less waste and no bones or skins, easy to use. Hard freezing solves a lot of problems with food. Although I cook everything well and store it carefully. I am not though a gourmet cook and so not as particular about food as even my kids are who do a lot of gourmet type cooking. I appreciate it when I am at their homes but my own cooking is pretty basic. I did have to give up dairy mostly due to a food allergy (skin problems from it) but now buy sheep or goat cheese which seems to be okay.

Yes, our industrialized food supply is in trouble, and it is due to the excess profit motive of large corporations. Personally, I have no trouble believing that many politicians would promote a dangerous and dirty food supply. After all, safety requires government regulation. (Government is the problem, right?)

I don't want to give up hamburgers. So, I also grind my own meat. Bought an inexpensive (rehabbed) grinder on Amazon.com.

Regarding crackers, stuffing, etc., I have noticed some recent purchases taste rancid or mildewed, even though they are well before their "sale by date." I guess the manufactures get a good deal on rancid/moldy grains and flour.

Ronni, if you just drink enough you forget to worry about the food.

I have had food poisoning from chicken salad and salmonella from tainted eggs. I don't want either one ever again. I had a cross country flight like yours (intestinal flu) kept me in the loo for hours and gave me tinnitus to boot.

One of the reasons that I picked this village to live in for my remaining years was because of the abundance of fresh local food. I get my eggs from Joanna and her chickens have names (though I just call them "the girls"). I think that my eggs are going to be pretty safe! The co-op and the market carry local organic meats.

I worry about my Granddaughter's food supply. I wish my son was a vegetarian, in truth...

I think you would be perfectly safe to have the co-op grind you up an organic steak. Enjoy that burger, Ronni! Life's too short!

...Oh....and I wanted to add. I share your phobia about the fish. Our time is past for dining on fish. Sad.

After all the books and all the documentaries, I finally accepted a 6-week vegan challenge last summer. Six months later (with one small hiatus for Parmesan and a test-hop back to animal protein for comparison purposes), I've found my place in the food chain. Vegan it is, and the fresher, the more local, the better.

Fear and disgust played strong roles at first, but the adventure has returned to cooking and the delight has returned to eating. Food is beautiful again. And it took absolutely no time at all to find cooked animal protein unappetizing.

My husband had a similar experience with raw oysters a few years ago--he was REALLY, REALLY sick and has only taken a chance on eating them once since, even though they were formerly a favorite treat food. We'd celebrated our anniversary by eating dinner at a lovely upscale special-occasion restaurant, but we've not been back there since.

I eat a lot of salads but hate spending time chopping veggies, so I continue to purchase packaged greens. So far, so good (I now avoid spinach, though). I rarely eat red meat (haven't had a hamburger since the first e. coli scare in the '90s) but I do eat chicken, grown in my state, and an occasional hard-cooked egg.

There's a lot to worry about these days, and in my view we just have to take reasonable precautions and hope that what we eat won't make us sick--difficult though that may be. The frequency with which food scares occur should alert the public to the need for stricter regulation. The food production industry is certainly one example of a business that does not police itself. Why would it when ensuring that the food they produce is safe would stand in the way of higher profits? I'm all for so-called government interference as far as protecting the food supply. Maybe a few days of being sick from food poisoning would help to convince the starve-the-government tea party types of the need for more, not less, regulation!

I'm with John, Cop Car and Marcia. Life's too short and bodily pleasures too rare to get paranoid about food. I take reasonable precautions with purchase and handling, believe that food producers are mostly good citizens and enjoy what I can that doesn't put excess pounds on this old body. Even the thought of eating raw oysters grosses me out. As far as I'm concerned, protein foods should be cooked. My microbiologist husband opines that one would get sick from tainted oysters, or whatever, much sooner than you did. There are several other possibilities, food borne or not. To me, there are way too many really, really big things in this life to be terrified of .. like poverty, abandonment, environmental collapse, endless wars, kids moving back in, etc. I'm going to continue to take my chances with one of the world's safest food supplies and never, ever eat a raw oyster.

especially kids moving back in! Now, that's something to fear.

Well I guess there is always pasta. One of the good things about living in NH is there are a lot of local farms which grow their own veggies and eggs and also have free range chickens and cows and pigs they slaughter and sell as meat cuts. You can meet the farmer and yes, visit the farm. However, these are hard to come by in the winter. Also they are pricey.

I dont pay a lot of attention to the news and/or the latest food recalls although I keep a half ear open. I still eat packaged spinach, store bought eggs and hamburger at times.

I prefer to make all my meals from scratch however often go through phases of not wanting to cook which turns me more to the meat potato and veg type meal as it is easier than some of the vegetarian recipes. Yet, though I am not a vegetarian, I prefer those sorts of meals.

Eating is actually a fascinating subject and I feel what I said here is rather random. Sorry you experienced that horrible food poisoning incident. Luckily you live in an area with lots of good veggies available for a good part of the year ( I think).

I've never been poisoned by any food prepared in my own kitchen. Restaurant food prep and storage led to two poisonings - bad quiche at an Upper East Side NY restaurant and a bad steak taco from a fast food chain. The quiche must have been chock full of bacteria - I felt bad before I left the table and was sick before I even got home (and for a lot longer than that). It was years before I could even look at a quiche and I never order it. But I do make quiche and runny omelets at home.

My husband was poisoned by a lasagna that evidently sat out too long before a party.

I've never been poisoned by shellfish, then again I can't afford to each much of it either.

Jesus, Woman, what a way to live the last years of your life! Have you not heard of "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Go read a book by Mary Baker Eddy or Norman Vincent Peale, even.

Haven't eaten beef or pork for 25 years. Gave up on most chicken and fish long ago. For protein - I eat a lot of fruit, nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, and occasionally hard cheddar chess (which I love). Lots of rice and black beans add more good protein. Have lost 45 pounds and loads of bad cholesterol totally due to a good diet. And I really love living this way.

I was born into a very poor family in the mountains of West Virginia. We didn't eat much meat in those days anyway as it was rationed during most of my young years during WW II, so I really don't much miss eating meat. It didn't mean much to me when I was young, and it sure doesn't mean much to me now.

Sometimes, like during Depressions and Recessions such as now, it pays to be poor. There isn't much for them to take away from you anyway!

I love kosher poultry - it is expensive but sometimes when I run out I have to buy the supermarket variety. I tried Purdue chicken breasts and it was ok. As for raw oysters or clams, yuck...just the look of them, never mind putting in the mouth, oye!!! As for meat, again I like kosher but a good steak in a restaurant once in a while - like the rib eye...nice!!! Some people eat to live....I live to eat...but not gluttony...when the body says enough...then its enough.

Had the food illness on a plane a few years ago -- last hour was h*## with weekend bad, too. Lived in the little room with stewardess yelling at me to get out, while she was pre-occupied discussing her schedule with co-worker.

Think I'll get a pet chicken, but with your cat, guess you better not.

My husband is like you were... no worries about food poisoning. Geesh! It doesn't so much scare me for HIS sake. I mean, if he's gonna feel that way, he shouldn't be surprised if he gets sick. What worries me is if I get sick and he is taking care of me. Feeding me. Oh boy...

Is it a governmental issue? It surely has become one, if it wasn't before. Still, I don't trust THEY will look after this very well, either.

Tarzana, I never shared my husband's fondness for raw oysters (he grew up in a state and a time when eating shellfish was safe if the month had an R in it). I, too, associate oysters with a large yuck factor. He's only eaten them once getting so sick several years ago, but he subsequently decided it just isn't worth the risk. Otherwise, we try to buy local when we can, wash our hands and take the usual precautions. However, we don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether what we eat is going to poison us. As you note, there are far too many other things to be concerned about.

I agree with janinsanfran, too--it's a great start for Congress to pass stricter food safety laws (and this needs to happen), but unless the funding to enforce them is allocated, they'll have no real impact.

One other factor that I rarely see mentioned is that Planet Earth is overpopulated. What was once farmland is now covered with concrete, houses and apartments; rain forests are being destroyed for wood, and the food supply is simply being outstripped. In my view foreign aid to developing countries should contain funding for birth control and choice. In my dreams! If Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh ever read TGB, I'm toast!

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