I’ve been reading quotes and references over the last couple weeks from the mother of a two-year-old girl who became seriously ill last fall from E.coli. In today’s New York Times, testimony by the mother, Elizabeth Armstrong of Indiana, to Congress last week, is put into large type in the business section: “You live in the United States of America and this isn’t supposed to happen.”
What happened to her is a situation not unlike what happened to the children of Mary McGonigle-Martin and Melissa Herzog. Her daughter became so sick, from HUS, that her kidneys shut down, and now it’s said she may well need a kidney transplant. The main difference is that the Armstrong girl got sick from spinach, and the Martin and Herzog children appear to have become ill from raw milk.
What’s most intriguing to me is Armstrong’s solution to the problem. According to a profile done of her family in a local paper, she has decided that the best way to protect her family is to keep fresh produce out of her kitchen, and instead rely on white grains and canned vegetables.
Of course, she is free to eat whatever she wants. It just feels sad. Sort of the equivalent of a crime victim deciding to buy a gun and lock himself into his house. A search for a solution, any solution.
What bothers me further about her approach is that she is becoming a “poster girl” for problems in our factory agricultural system, and her message is that we (our government, corporations, etc.) must eliminate all the bacteria in our food, no matter what or how.
She’s part of an hour-long CNN documentary, “Danger: Poisoned Food”, being shown this evening at 8 (EST). Excerpts, including part of an interview with Armstrong, can be viewed online. (Her interview is headlined "Surviving E.coli.)
Though I haven’t seen the CNN program, I got a feeling for where it’s headed by watching the slide show about protecting lettuce—it features a supposed food expert showing us how to clean iceberg lettuce, an essentially worthless food to begin with. (Its heading is "Making Lettuce Safer".)
I suspect that what’s going to come out of things like Armstrong’s congressional testimony and the CNN documentary is a call for more regulations that will, finally, at last, solve the problem of leaks in our factory agricultural system (and more money for the poor strapped federal Food and Drug Administration). No questions at all, of the kind raised by many on this blog, about the dynamics of E.coli that make some people sick and don’t affect others, approaches to building up immunity, ideas for further understanding the conditions under which it thrives, and trying to understand what its relationship is to a global factory system of agriculture.
If you want something more uplifting, I suggest taking a look at a segment from a documentary-in-progress, "We Are What We Eat". I don’t fully understand where it’s headed commercially, except that a few people in a PR/advertising firm seem to be producing it. The 15-minute excerpt features about a dozen highly articulate experts providing sound bites about what’s wrong with our current approach to food production–people like Charles Walters of Acres USA.
There are also several individual short segments; I recommend the one by Joel Salatin, “Sissy Farmer”, in which he describes a sustainable farming system. A segment, “Raw Ninja”, features old friend Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures, the California raw milk producer. He comes across as a preacher for raw milk, a little strong for my tastes. His message seems to be that raw milk is the cure for all our ills and, what the hell, there’s also a lot of money in it.
There’s some interesting commentary about the deficiencies of "consumer driven" health care from Andrew Fischer following a previous posting about vaccines. He makes the point that the majority of medical expenses are apart from any choice that individuals have about treatment, such as end-of-life care. Anna’s consideration of European system confirms something I’ve suspected as well. There are those in this country (mostly doctors) who would argue that the tendency to avoid aggressive treatment, such as in prostate cancer, leads to higher mortality rates.