The Year of Eating Dangerously


was not a year for the faint of heart.
We saw an environmental disaster of unprecedented scale devastate one of the country’s richest and most diverse food sheds. We watched college-aged kids get liquored-up and wired– simultaneously– as they flocked to a new breed of caffeine-laced alcoholic beverages. We were stunned by the scale of an egg recall that opened our eyes to a new set of factory farm horrors. And a bit of food news hit where it really hurts when Kaiser Permanente reported that the BPAs found in everything from Coke bottles to green bean cans are implicated in low sperm counts and overall poor semen quality.

Here they are: the disturbing trends, the troubling reports, the scandals, and the travesties that defined a year in food.

There’s an old saying that says there are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation. This year taught us why as we saw a little too much of each. We learned that most ground meat in this country contains something called pink slime, industry jargon for just that—a slimy bacteria-prone mash of slaughterhouse trimmings that is treated with ammonia to reduce E. coli levels. Then we stood by as legislators grappled with our arcane, archaic, and under-funded food safety system. Legislation was nearly scuttled by everything from technical glitches and procedural hurdles to filibustering and a Tea Party phone blitz.

For years the Corn Refiners Association has waged a losing battle to convince the American public that high fructose corn syrup is not really so bad. But the media were on to them with increasingly cynical reporting, and market share was falling as food processors and consumers were fleeing in droves. Since there was nowhere to hide from the ugly truth of high fructose corn syrup, the refiners figured that if they shook the name, they just might fool enough of us to shake the reputation. In 2010, high fructose corn syrup was reborn, relabeled, and relaunched as corn sugar. It’s a new name, but still the same government-subsidized, over-planted, genetically-modified, mercury-laden, corn-derived sugar slurry.

The can is large and colorful; it comes in 8 fruity flavors; and for a brief, shining moment it captured the hearts–and livers–of America’s youth. One 23.6 ounce can of Four Loko packs the alcohol equivalent of four beers, while the caffeine content masks the intoxicating effects. You end up with a wide-awake drunk who is ready to drink some more. You also end up getting banned in almost all 50 states.

We were stunned by the scale of this summer’s recall of 550 million eggs potentially contaminated with salmonella. We were horrified to learn of the deplorable conditions for workers, animals, and the environment at the two Iowa farms at the center of the outbreak. We were not appeased by fines levied against the worst of the owners, habitual offenders who were previously undeterred by more than $15,000,000 in past fines and settlements. We are speechless now to learn that that a new recall has been announced for 300,000 potentially contaminated eggs produced by the same farm.


We have treated food as entertainment, as therapy, and as competitive sport. This year, we turned it into a freak show. The edgy, shock value of food stunts has always occupied the margins of the internet, with can-you-top-this creations like the sausage- and bacon-stuffed bacon explosion and the 1,800 calories a slice pie-cake hybrid known as the pumpple occasionally going viral. In 2010, food as maximum indulgence crossed over to the fast food mainstream. It started with the unapologetically gluttonous KFC Doubledown: a bun-less sandwich of bacon strips and cheese slices contained between slabs of fried chicken. Since then, we have seen a fried mozzarella stick-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich (Denny’s); Friendly’s burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches (would that be a fatty melt?); cheesecake-stuffed pancakes which IHOP likes to serve with 2 eggs, hash browns, and a side of bacon; and Burger King’s quadruple Whopper patty and pepperoni Pizza Burger.


There’s a lot we like, as we look ahead to 2011.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act allocates resources to FDA inspectors and gives some teeth to enforcement.
Menus are becoming more transparent, often nudged by legislation to reveal nutritional information.
We see thriving CSAs thriving and food processors cutting salt and sugar.

Next year’s Doubledown has yet to reveal itself, but the smart money is with fried lasagna.

One Response to The Year of Eating Dangerously

  1. Ugh!…it is amazing what “we” can dream up. Want some more stomach grumbling fried foods? Check out the annual finalists for Texas Fried Foods Contest at the Texas State Fair.

    I know “we Texans” are proud of thinking the “Bigger and Better” thing, but this borders on the insane. And it is now no wonder why the Dallas/Fort Worth zip codes cause the area to be one of the highest for health insurance premium rates…….

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