Saturday, August 23, 2008

Feces-Tainted Jalapenos? Somebody Git A Rope! FDA Reform, Now!

By Manifesto Joe

As one who leans left politically on notoriously right-wing turf, I've usually been something of an outsider in my home state of Texas. But Texan cultural mores, at least the better ones, stick with us natives. And one of the things I would cry bitter tears at having to part with would be the jalapeno pepper.

And it makes my South Texican blood simmer to learn that, for months before the recent salmonella outbreak, federal officials at the Mexican border were turning away fetid, contaminated shipments of fresh and dried chile peppers without unusual concern. These bozos, despite their reduced numbers, could and should have known that many such shipments were getting through, and that the resulting pico de gallo, chili powder and fresh jalapeno slices would threaten people's health.

At first the illnesses were blamed on tomatoes. Later, cilantro was mentioned. Finally, the outbreak was reportedly traced to two farms in Mexico where jalapenos and other chile peppers were grown for export.

With the ingredients we have so far, just add fresh onion and lime juice, and you've got the popular and usually healthful condiment called pico de gallo. Goes great with any style of beans, or with Spanish rice. And a plate of sizzling fajitas just wouldn't be the same without it.

Now, because of the negligence of those who are supposed to be watching out for our food safety -- not to mention the foolhardiness of certain free-trade agreements -- fans of Tex-Mex have to think twice, or thrice, before savoring pico de gallo or many other styles of chiles.

Yes, I realize there are hungry people all over the world who couldn't care less about chiles. But let's not digress. It isn't just about hot peppers. Americans, in the era after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, used to be able to trust much more in the wholesomeness of our food supply. Now, because of misguided economics, minimalist views of government and just plain greed, we cannot.

Predictably, deep cuts in FDA food safety and field staffers have been critical in this failure of government oversight. Because the reduced number of inspectors are overwhelmed, very little imported produce is turned away. That's not just hot chiles.

Here's the link to the CBS News online report about this continuing outrage.

I didn't grow up in a family of chileheads, so my initiation to the Texican Fraternity of the Holy Jalapeno was gradual. As a teen, I made the mistake a couple of times of trying to eat a pickled jalapeno neat. I wouldn't think anything about doing that now, but that's after 30-plus years of building tolerance for the heat. Back then, a Hispanic friend of mine managed to suppress laughter long enough to explain to my gringo ass that these are meant to be eaten with something, a small bite at a time, like with a sandwich or a burrito.

By the time I was 30 or so, I had graduated to the fresh, crisp ones. Muy caliente, y mas picoso!

But now, I can't trust in the safety of them, damn it. And, Texans of all ethnic backgrounds should be pissed. I've eaten in Vietnamese restaurants, too, and when you order the traditional noodle soups, fresh jalapeno slices are on the side.

We Americans, not just Texans, need to do something about this food debacle. Here's a link to a site at that petitions Congress.

Texicans, and Americans -- when it comes to food safety, it's time to turn up the heat on our lawmakers.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

No comments: