MAD DOG: Scared Beefless

The American public sure scares easily. No sooner do 16 people get sick in Colorado from eating hamburgers tainted with the E. coli bacteria than Hudson Foods (Over 10 billion cows slaughtered!) recalls 25 million pounds of ground beef, Burger King stops selling Whoppers and starts hoping they don't get sued for false advertising and have to change their name, and President Clinton obliviously plays a few dozen relaxing rounds of golf on Martha's Vineyard, secure in the knowledge that his beloved Big Macs weren't infected. Or affected.This certainly isn't the first time a scare like this has happened, though it may be the most over-reactionary one. A few years ago when 60 Minutes reported that the pesticide Alar might be harmful, apple sales plummeted $75 million. But that may be a drop in the proverbial burger bucket. Newsweek reports that 54 percent of the people they surveyed said they'll be less likely to buy burgers in a fast food restaurant, 41 percent will be less likely to buy ground beef in a grocery store, and 87 percent didn't have time to answer because they were trying to remember if E. Coli was the guy in their high school graduating class who blew up the toilet in the men's room or whether that was E. Howard Hunt.In their hurry to run away from hamburgers and hopefully live longer, people may make the mistake of becoming vegetarians. Not only is this wrong because they won't be able to eat three of the four food groups anymoreobarbecued ribs, fried chicken, and meat loafobut because it means they're going to start eating lots of healthy food like bean sprouts which may be more hazardous than hamburgers.That's right, bean sprouts. Besides the usual hazards of eating sproutsobreath that smells like dirty sweat socks, fighting the urge to wear Birkenstocks 24 hours a day, and being beaten up by guys named Biffoit turns out you may stand an even better chance of becoming ill from the E. coli bacteria than if you stuck to Quarter Pounders with Cheese.Just this past spring, 108 people in Michigan and Virginia got sick from E. coli after eating alfalfa sprouts. That's 675 percent more people than got sick from the Hudson Foods hamburger and you didn't see them recalling 25 million pounds of sprouts, did you? Okay, so they probably haven't grown 25 million pounds of sprouts in the history of mankind, I still don't remember hearing people swear off sprouts or vowing not to eat at Sprout King again.But Americans aren't the only ones in this easy-scare mode. The Japanese, never ones to let common sense get in the way of a good fad, have taken the E. coli fear to new heights. In order to try to combat what has become something of an annual summer bacteria breakout (not to be confused with the annual summer boredom breakout we get from watching last season's lame-ass TV shows a second excruciating time) a whole new industry has sprouted up in Japan: anti-bacterial products that supposedly help protect consumers from E. coli.Among this year's additions to the Calvin Klean line are germ-resistant lamps, memo pads, earphones, clothes dryers, telephones, and even baseball mitts. How you catch E. coli from a baseball mitt is something of a mystery and should probably remain that way, though the concept could give way to a new phrase with which to taunt the Chicago Cubs: Hey buddy! You couldn't catch E. coli with that mitt!Remember though, we're dealing with Japan here. This is a country where it's perfectly acceptable to eat sushi made from blowfishoone of the most poisonous fish in the worldobut if you have a lick of sense you'll listen to germ-free CDs over bacteria-resistant earphones while making sure your teriyaki-burger is cooked to 160 degrees in the middle. And watch out for your Tamagochti. Virtual viruses are lurking everywhere.There's really nothing wrong with being scared, just be scared of the right things. Be scared that the incidence of violent crime in this country is rising. Be scared that there are high school students who think New Mexico is a foreign country. Be scared that Saturday Night Live will be on for yet another lame season and that there are executives in Hollywood who continue to pay SNL alumni big bucks to make movies nobody wants to see. Be scared that one day the California parole board may eat shrooms before they meet and think it would be fun to let Charles Manson see daylight. And be very scared that Dan Quayle is seriously thinking about running for President in the year 2000.But stop eating hamburgers? Hell, every year over 418,000 people die from tobacco related illness and 50,000 from automobile accidents. And each day 25,000 Americans are hospitalized because they slip and fall. How come none of this scares anyone?

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