In the News: Driving Me Batty

Bagged saladsThe recent news that someone found a dead bat in a packaged salad mix is pretty horrifying, but I admit a welcome relief from other current news in the world, such as Number 45’s latest temper tantrum tweet or a passenger being violently dragged off a United Airlines flight for no good reason.

Also, I’m not missing news of April the Giraffe. Is she about to give birth? Any day now for two months. I wish her well but also wish the vets at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York had more accurate information.

So, for a while I get to ponder the bat issue. From both the bat’s perspective and imagining myself opening that bag.

That poor bat. How did it go from hanging in a cool, dark cave to hanging out in a lettuce field or factory? Was it exploring or confused when it accidentally got stuck in a head of lettuce or assembly line machinery? Did one of these workers see it and decide to leave it (for any number of reasons):

After interviewing a scientist who wrote a book and a blog about food safety, I usually stay away from pre-packaged salads. They are the most likely to be contaminated, she warned. But there are the occasional times I’ll grab a bag of greens, especially when I’m entertaining. I would NOT be a happy host if I got down my special salad bowl, poured out my lettuce and out plopped a flying rat. Or would it be folded inside, clinging to the cellophane? Actually, it was dead, partially decomposed, and the two people already munching away on the salad had to go for rabies testing. In another recent incident, a woman opened her salad package to find a LIVE scorpion still crawling around inside.

I’ve only had two experiences like this in my life, neither as horrifying. When I was about 11, my mother showed me a box of oatmeal crawling with weevils. It took me YEARS to get over that. I still ate my oatmeal most mornings (my dad was Scottish) but I cringed with every speckled bite. Do you have any idea how many specs of dark color appear in oatmeal?

My second experience involved a rice cake 20 years ago. You know, those faux crackers supposedly good for you made of sawdust and cardboard. In an effort to be virtuous and save time while out running errands, I bought a single, wrapped rice cake in a health food store. I opened it and took a bite. Then I noticed a black what looked like wire sticking out from the piece in my hand. I looked closer. A roach! A whole roach inside the rice cake. Since then, rice cakes have evolved into flavored and seasoned snacks, but there is NO WAY that attempt at sophistication has me fooled. Gag me. I will not eat you if you are the last food on earth. No wait, that’s roaches ….


Embarrassing Moments

Most of my most embarrassing moments – funny in retrospect – have involved mishaps with food.

In one college apartment, two just a few months apart.

My roommate and I had just moved in. We made a big chocolate cake. One night our next-door neighbors, two cute guys, knocked on the door. My roommate was out.

I invited them in, a little flustered. Not knowing what to say, I offered them cake. The cake was on top of the fridge. This was a tiny studio apartment, so even though the guys were in the living-sleeping area, they were looming right into the kitchen. In my nervous hurry, I reached up for the cake and pulled it down. Too fast. The whole cake went flying off the plate across the kitchen and landed near the guys’ feet.

We stared at the chocolate blob. “Guess we’ll see you later,” they said.

A few months later, I was dating another guy in the building on the ground floor. My roommate and I had gone grocery shopping. I saw my sort-of boyfriend sitting by his window, so I made a big show of leaping up the stairs, bags in my arms. I tripped. The bags fell over. Worse, I was stuck, landed awkwardly on my hand and couldn’t get up. We had bought malted milk balls and eaten some, so the little balls spilled out and were bouncing all around me on the stairs. My boyfriend ran out to help and he wasn’t sure whether to catch me or the malted milk balls.

I got through the next few years without too many mishaps. Well, there was one overturned chef’s salad in my lap when I tried to cut a stiff tomato wedge.Family Dinner

But then came Day One of a new job on a local newspaper. The reporter I was replacing took me to a luncheon to meet all the city officials: mayor, police chief, city manager, council members, etc. I was squeezing a slice of lemon into my iced tea and it slipped from my between my thumb and forefinger, catapulting across the room and landing on a council person’s plate.

“Good going,” said my reporter friend. “Great first impression.”

Since then I have been either more careful or lucky, who knows.

Funny FaceThe other major food-related mishap was not totally my fault. A girlfriend and I had ordered special salads in a fancy restaurant, not knowing they were jello-aspic salads. Shaped and decorated like clown faces. As soon as the server put them down, the faces wiggled and wriggled. We started laughing and couldn’t stop. In fact, we had to leave. I guess you had to be there to appreciate the enhanced vision.


Food Fashion. What’s In (Our Mouths)?

“Remember when sushi was so popular? So what’s in now?”

My son was asking as we passed a former sushi restaurant turned deli, next to the old theater turned rug store.

Hard to say. Almost anything goes. We have endless food fusions and varieties – Chinese/Japanese, Italian/Afghan, French/Californian, Thai next door to Mexican, Hawaiian next door to Indian, ice cream and yogurt next door to cupcakes.

What’s in seems to be two extremes. On the one menu-held hand, we have farm-to-table and organic restaurants and juice bars. On the other, we have some new restaurants featuring old-fashioned comfort food, where the chefs like to show off their childhood and family favorites. If they’re from the South, they fix lots of fried chicken, catfish, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy. If they’re from New York or New Jersey, pastrami, liverwurst or submarine sandwiches, deep-dish, pepperoni pizza. If they’re from Kansas City or St. Louis, how about them ribs?

DiningWho doesn’t want to go back to childhood sometimes, especially before we worried about measuring our cholesterol or waistlines?

If we do stuff down too much fattening food, we can walk, drive or roll over to the other, lean end of the street. Self-righteously order a wheat grass and beet smoothie, or even better, a two or three-day juice cleanse! Get rid of all the toxins! I swear this obsession with being “toxic” is the New Age version of Original Sin. We can never be good enough and so have to accept (without any scientific proof) that 20 carrots and apples a day will absolve us.

Give me (or let me buy) fresh, whole foods any day! Yes, I like the idea of eating organic foods and enjoying farm-to-table cuisine, even if it does conjure up images of cows and chickens walking through the door. If this is the latest trend, I think it’s a good one, encouraging us to eat healthfully, cook creatively, and respect the environment and animal rights. I’m not a vegetarian myself (some fish and chicken), but admire those who are and aim in that direction. Most of us would live longer with less ailments if we ate fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat. Of course, there are no guarantees. We’ve all heard of or know the 45-year-old vegetarian marathon runner who drops dead of a heart attack or the 95-year old aunt who smokes cigars and drinks bourbon and eats steak every day.

As long as I can have my cupcakes occasionally and eat them too, I am happy – and so far lucky enough to be healthy.