Smirking and Jaded

I don’t know how I got to be such a skeptic. I can’t just read a headline and embrace it for what it says. I tend to pick at words, and sometimes I smirk while I do it. Smirking and jaded. There’s a picture for you.

Let me tell you what brought this on. This time.

The Produce Marketing Association (there’s a smirk for you already) issued a statement on Saturday. Here’s the headline:

FDA Further Isolates Outbreak; Consumers to Enjoy Spinach

You got that already? The FDA has got a handle on this whole pesky spinach thing and you’ve got your orders: go and grab some of the green stuff and make Popeye proud.

The press release in question is actually pretty interesting. Clearly aimed at industry insiders -- which I and probably you are not -- it ends up giving outsiders perhaps more information than what is strictly intended. In any case, it’s better than the spinach-fueled balderdash that heavy hitters are dishing up.

This headline ran in the Houston Chronicle on an AP piece:

FDA lifts ban on most fresh spinach

So, first of all, was spinach banned? The stores all pulled it, but for our sakes or for theirs, I’m not really sure. No one would have bought the stuff in any case. So the stores could pull it and dump it, or they could leave cellophane packages filled with green sludge on their shelves. Either way, it’s not that appealing. But a ban? That’s something else.

The first line of the piece would seem to back me up:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted its two-week-old consumer warning on most fresh spinach Friday, revising the alert to say it now covers only specific brands packaged on certain dates.

Yeah, OK: so now it’s a warning? That’s different from a ban, right? And then we hear some more about it:

The warning now applies only to spinach recalled earlier this month by Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista and four companies that it supplied...

Another smirk gets applied here. Natural Selection Foods? That’s weird, right? Maybe even something straight out of Oryx and Crake.

And this headline from another AP piece that ran in The Salt Lake Tribune:

Spinach recall is taking a toll on bag salad industry

From warning to recall? We’re not talking about a shipment of bad tires here. Or faulty laptop batteries. This is food. They can make a big show of strutting around exuding confidence, rubbing their hands together in satisfaction and telling us, “Yes, yes: things were amok a minute ago, but it’s all good now.” This is spinach. A vegetable. Clean and green and no caffeine. No one’s saying how it got tainted in the first place. And now we’re supposed to go back to blithely stuffing it in our faces again? How ‘bout telling us what was wrong with it in the first place? Aside, you know, from that handy catchall E. coli. It’s not enough. We need more information.

Especially when, deep into the first cited AP piece, we get this:

Even as it reassured consumers that it's OK to eat spinach, the FDA once again told California farmers Friday to get serious about fighting E. coli in their fields.

You know how Miss Skepticpants reads that? “Don’t eat the spinach.” And, really, why would you want to? The desires of the produce marketing dudes notwithstanding, there are some pretty good spinach options out there: nice dark green lettuces to replace it in salads for the time being. Beet greens and many of the chards to replace it cooked. I love spinach, but I’m a skeptic, as I said. And I’m not, right now, smirking.


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