Evil, scary, and immoral: Are there any foods you’ll never eat? Why?

brusselsRaw sprouts, cut/washed veggies, raw or rare meat, raw oysters, unpasteurized milk or juice.

You might know this list. It’s the list of foods that food poisoning expert Bill Marler will never eat. It’s been in the news a lot lately. See here.

The one on that list that worries me is cut and washed veggies. I’m a lazy healthy eater and I get excited when I see little buckets of veggies in cafeterias. In fact just two days ago I pounced on one in the roadside rest stop off the Highway 401. Positively gleeful to find actual vegetables, I scooped up a little plastic package of carrots and celery. But it sounds like Marler is right. I ought to buy and wash my own celery. Boo!

Also, also, bagged salad is now dangerous too. I might never eat a cold vegetable again at home. And I guess that’s the thing. You need to weigh the health risks of the likely outcome, eating fewer vegetables, against the health risks of food borne illness.

I met a man who sounds a lot like Marler a few ago on a bike tour of Newfoundland. In addition to being  a fast solo rider who put in extra kms at the end of each day, after dinner (Who wants to go do that hill again?) he was an epidemiologist at
a large American hospital.

Each night on the bike tour we cooked for ourselves except for pizza night. On pizza night we ordered in. Lots and lots of pizzas. We stuffed our faces and went to bed but in the morning there were lots of pizzas left.

Fast-cyclist-doctor surveyed the crowd and cleared his throat, “I know you think cold pizza is good. And I know you think it’s just been left out over night. And maybe you think you’re tough and that nothing makes you sick. That’s wrong, by the way, you’ve just been lucky. You’ve rolled some dice and landed on the right numbers. The wrong numbers mean vomiting, hospitalization, possible death, and definitely missing out on the rest of this wonderful trip. The nearest hospital is aways away and I’m the only doctor here. So I’m going to advise you not to touch that pizza. The clock’s been ticking.” And then we got a lesson in how fast bacteria multiply and food borne illnesses. It was fast and effective.

“Good,” he said. “Now if you eat the pizza and get sick I won’t feel responsible. I’m not helping you. I’m on holiday and I want to ride my bike.”

Point taken. And I confess this vegetarian hadn’t worried about overnight pizza since there’s no meat on my pizza. Turns out I was wrong not to be concerned.

I’ve been thinking lately about the reasons we have to avoid this or that food and how they all tend to get run together. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, for example, people tend to think you’re doing it for health reasons but that’s often not the case.

There are three very different sets of reasons for staying away from various foods.

The first are the actual ethical reasons. Those are the kind of reasons that make Tracy a vegan and push me away from factory farmed animal products. See“Vegan” Is Not a Fad Diet (Tracy) and Experiments in Moderation (me).

The second are health reasons, like the risk of listeria in bagged salad or maybe you have an allergy to shellfish or peanuts. That’s all about risk taking.

And the third are the reasons that sound like moral reasons but really are about weight loss, as in “I can have a drink because I’ve been a good girl this week.” Ew. Those are the sort of reasons that really grate Tracy and me as ethicists the wrong way! See Why Food Is Beyond “Good” and “Evil”  (Tracy) and Just eat the damn cupcake! (me).

But back to chopped veggies and bagged salads…what decisions will you make? I’m curious.

7 thoughts on “Evil, scary, and immoral: Are there any foods you’ll never eat? Why?

  1. I eat a lot of pre-washed salad. I especially like the kale mix and I almost always have arugula in the fridge. Boo! I do buy whole lettuce but the convenience of the prewashed kale mix is great. I didn’t know either that listeria grows at fridge temperature and that you should eat stuff quickly. I often have things like carrots or cabbage that sit there for a long time. In a positive and safe food note: steamed rapini is my new favourite vegetable! And it’s got the all clear!

  2. We tend to buy our own produce and cut it up. Sure I enjoy fresh raw oysters when I’m on the Pacific coast, certain (not all) rare meat, some raw fish, etc.

    There are certain weird combinations I’ve seen…some raw Chinese veggies..which to me, is just wrong and not clean. Better to steam or lightly stir fry.

  3. They will take my rare meat from my cold, dead hands! Same with raw veggies and cold, leftoever pizza on occasion.

    However, although I’ve heard arguments for it being ethically produced, I’m worried enough about the ethics of foie gras and the practice of force-feeding that I won’t eat it. (Not that it’s something I’d otherwise eat frequently anyway, given the price point, but I do sometimes see it as an ingredient on a menu in one of my favourite ‘special occasion’ restaurants.)

  4. I’m going to continue eating raw vegetables because I never let one pass my lips without washing it and you can’t control every single bacteria that enters your body. At the end of the day, I don’t have any sort of immunodeficiency disease (I have allergies, which are kind of the opposite) and we’ve been on this planet and not avoiding reams of foodstuffs for a very long time, so from an evolution point of view it’s dubious to avoid so many things if that avoidance is removed from its ethical context. That’s like avoiding making friends with people just because some people are psychopaths and one might stab you to death one day. It doesn’t make sense to me. Having said that, I am very well-known for my very rigid food hygiene standards and I have ticked the in-laws off on several occasions by politely but assertively refusing to eat raw unwashed fruit from their disgusting fridge.

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