Everyone has some food that they just won’t touch under any circumstances. For me, I don’t like anything with buffalo sauce on it. It reminds me of when you throw up in your mouth a little bit. My sister-in-law gags at the sight of mayonnaise. My dad won’t touch chicken. Some of us are definitely more picky than others.
Today, I read this piece by Barry Estabrook Civil Eats entitled “Five Things I Will Not Eat.” Except in his case, it’s not just because he doesn’t like the taste of these foods. Estabrook gives about a paragraph’s worth of reasoning for his decision to swear off each food item, and none of his reasons were particularly news to me. I think everyone should have some serious reservations about eating these things.
In case you didn’t read the story, the five foods he refuses to eat are ground beef from the grocery store, salad greens in plastic bags or clamshell containers, bluefin tuna, out-of-season tomatoes and farmed salmon.
For instance, recalls and e. coli outbreaks associated with ground beef have been widely reported in recent years. I’ll never forget the chills that ran down my spine when I read about Stephanie Smith, the 22 year-old dance instructor who was left permanently paralyzed after eating part of a hamburger tainted with e. coli. The hamburger in question was a frozen patty from a local Sam’s Club. That could have been anyone in my family. It could have easily been one of my nieces, who likely would not have survived the episode. Like in other recent outbreaks of illness associated with tainted food, the responsible company, Cargill in this case, settled with Ms. Smith, but many would say it was “too little too late.” It seems ground beef recalls are becoming the norm. Just Google “hamburger recall” and you’ll get hundreds of hits, many from the past few weeks.
I’d like to say I never eat hamburger that I don’t know where it came from, but I do from time to time. It’s hard to go to a cookout at someone’s house and decline a hamburger without getting the third degree. I do try to limit actually eating grocery store hamburger, though. When possible, I volunteer to bring the hamburger (and I know the farmer and the butcher it came from) and I volunteer to “man” the grill. The problem with grocery store hamburger is that it can be composed of hundreds of different cows from around the world. The burger that Stephanie Smith ate was from cows from at least three countries. Also, cooking burgers to 160 degrees will kill e. coli, but you’re basically left with a chewy, charred lump of something that used to resemble meat. I’m always amused that some restaurants ask how you would like your burger cooked when you order one. Please, for your own safety, do not ever order a burger any way except well-done. (Steaks are different.)
I do frequently buy pre-washed salad greens in bags or plastic containers. I will definitely reconsier that in the future. Estabrook explains these containers are perfect for encouraging bacteria growth, as it takes very little heat, even sitting out of refrigeration for a short time, to raise the temperature inside the bag to a level that would allow bacteria to grow rapidly. I did stop buying alfalfa sprouts at the store for this reason. I used to not wash them since they were “pre-washed” but I decided that is way too risky. I can’t believe I ever did that. Estabrook recommends buying lettuce by the head and cutting it up yourself for a salad. And that’s sound advice since that is often cheaper and only takes a few extra minutes. Besides, presumably this lettuce would last longer than the bagged stuff since that was probably picked more than a week before you actually buy it.
Reading this article got me thinking what foods I would say I never eat. There are a number of foods that I really try my best to avoid for some of the same reasoning Estabrook does.
The top of my list is soda. I quit drinking it a few years back and haven’t looked back since. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was a diet soda junkie, but more and more evidence is mounting that it’s worse for you than regular soda. And even that isn’t great for you. I’m all for having a treat occassionally, and if an ice cold Coke is what turns you on, by all means, indulge. But our country’s soda habit is taking a huge toll on our overall heath, and I hate that it’s the drink millions of Americans reach for several times a day instead of water.
I also don’t eat any kind of processed meat like lunchmeat or hot dogs. A while back, the Hubs and I started trying to pack our lunch more rather than buy lunch every day, in an effort to budget our money better. Cold cut sandwiches are an easy staple for brown bag lunches, but the Hubs is at a higher risk for colon cancer. Eating processed meat increases your chances of colon cancer, and I don’t think that’s a chance I want him to take. It’s just something that we cut out, and I haven’t really missed them. I have eaten hot dogs about three times in the last three years, and that’s plenty enough for me.
Also, like Estabrook, I don’t eat seafood that isn’t sustainable, like bluefin tuna or farmed salmon. Many of our fisheries are in serious trouble because of overfishing and pollution. A lot of health advice encourages us to replace red meat with fish because it is such a lean and healthy protein, but there isn’t enough fish and seafood on the planet for everyone to add more of it to their diet. Better advice is to observe Meatless Monday for your health. I have the Monterey Bay Aquarium app on my iPhone, which I’ve written about before. You can check seafood to see if it is a good choice, when you are either in a restaurant or at the seafood counter at the grocery store. You can consult the website, or there is a pocket guide you can carry with you, but really the app is the easiest thing to use. Check it out.
Because every post should have a picture… Here’s one I took a few weeks back for something else I was going to post about. Why does this steak rub contain partially hydrogenated soy bean oil? That’s a fancy word for transfat. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years–definitely avoid transfats. They are super bad for your heart.
There are dozens of things you can buy at the grocery store that are bad for you and you shouldn’t eat, but it’s almost impossible to adhere to a perfectly heathy diet all the time. That’s just life. Somebody is going to offer you some pizza at some point, you’ll be in a hurry rushing from one kid’s activity to the next and have to grab a fast food dinner, or your coworkers will inevitably buy a supermarket cake to celebrate a birthday. But if you try to generally avoid just a few bad things, you’ll be healthier than if you didn’t pay any attention to what you eat. For example, you could cut out junk food from vending machines, or try to cut soda, or fast food. It’s a process that takes baby steps over a period of time. Each little step is a step in the right direction though.
So, let me know in the comments what food you don’t eat and why, or if there is something you’d like to try to cut out but haven’t had the motivation yet.