Having traveled a bit and sampled foods that seemed to suffer from less than proper handling without getting sick has made me question these beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of refrigeration and I think it should be used whenever possible.
“Surely that must be a refrigerated table,” I thought to myself as I gazed at the chicken parts piled high on the stainless steel table while shopping in a grocery store in Thailand. As I walked towards the table to check the temperature, I thought, “even if this is refrigerated, the bulk of the chicken is still not being held at a safe temperature”. No worries, it was not refrigerated. None of the chicken was held at a “safe” temperature. Yet people were buying it. Presumably, the grocery store was not in the habit of killing people with its food. That couldn’t be good for business.
On multiple occasions, I dined on a variety of “street meat”, as I like to call it. It was certainly a leap of faith to eat pork and seafood products that had been stored in the ninety-degree Thai heat without any visible means of refrigeration. Not only did it taste fine, it didn’t make me sick. There are many more examples that I could cite of times I gambled with my life for the sake of some local cuisine.
The real irony comes from the fact that we have been told not to eat spinach, peanut butter, and canned chili. Our developed nation that is full of oversight has repeatedly allowed tainted food to enter the marketplace; foods that reasonable people would always consider to be healthy. How can it be that we cannot feel safe eating spinach, peanut butter, or canned chili, yet much of the world eats perishable protein foods that sit without refrigeration and they do not get sick?
For starters, the folks at the supermarket in Thailand could probably tell you everything about the chicken farmer that supplied those room temperature chicken parts. They probably know his name, where his farm is, and the names of his wife and kids. While working in Italy, it was common for the chef to secure products from his neighbors. Pork, produce, wine, etc, all purchased outside what we would consider “normal” distribution channels. This is not allowed in America. One cannot simply buy a pig from your neighbor and sell it in your restaurant.
Our mega-farms with our mega-distribution channels ensure mega-exposure of unsavory elements like E-Coli and botulism. Perhaps the biggest shame of the recent outbreaks is the medias total failure to educate the public on the benefits of buying local. I never heard a single talking head say that you could still buy local spinach, provided you don’t live near the mega-farm. They didn’t even say you could cook your spinach. That kills E-Coli. They simply said throw all of your spinach away.
The more items get recalled, the greater the need for people to start buying local, the more opportunities are missed by our news media to inform people of the benefits of eating locally.
Keep your mega-farm products, your Wal-Mart meat, your canned chili, and give me some room-temperature pork.