The egg is often called nature’s perfect food, but corporate agriculture has managed to turn it into poison. Something like half-a-billion eggs have been “recalled” by two commercial producers based in Iowa. Unlike a malfunctioning Toyota, a “faulty” egg can’t always be returned to the point of purchase, especially if it’s already been poached, scrambled, deviled, or fried — and then, regrettably, consumed.
This latest crisis in the industrial food system was not an accident but it was waiting to happen. Which isn’t to suggest that the eggs were deliberately tainted but they may as well have been: a criminal lack of oversight and regulation, along with the maniacal drive for profit at the expense of safety and quality have made large-scale contamination of the food supply inevitable. As long as American consumers continue to buy meat, poultry, dairy, and vegetables from industrial food mega-corporations, it’s a matter of when — not if — more deadly health threats will appear.
Jack DeCoster runs one of the egg companies that has issued the recall and he has a controlling interest in the other. He joins a long list of CEOs whose corporate crimes are well-documented if not actually prosecuted. Because legislation to toughen standards and increase inspections has languished for years in Washington, the FDA can only wring its hands when salmonella outbreaks and other hazards threaten public health. (The FDA can’t even issue the recalls; the companies must do it voluntarily. One can imagine how some of those in-house conversations go).
So it’s a political issue to be sure, though not a glamorous one, and thus not an urgent one. Yet it’s also a moral issue. More rigorous oversight of industrial farms and food factories is critical. But when will American shoppers, in statistically meaningful numbers, reject a system predicated on greed, exploitation, danger, and degradation? What has to happen for us to learn, to really absorb the sobering truth that cheap food comes at great cost, and that the least among us are bearing that cost — often with their very lives — for the rest of us?
Quick. Convenient. Cheap. We’ve been told for decades that this is the kind of food we want — the kind of food we deserve. We’re busy people, after all, with important things to do. Growing food, preparing a meal — these are time-consuming, labor-intensive practices of a bygone era. Just give us dinner in a sack or a microwaveable box.
But eating, as Wendell Berry has said, is an agricultural act. It binds us — no matter how far removed we may think we are — to the places and people responsible for growing and harvesting our food. Eating is also an act of pleasure but, again, the joy of good food lovingly grown and prepared is lost on a generation that eats on the run, in the car, in front of the TV, or — maybe worst of all — alone.
One need not to be particularly pious to recognize that eating is also something of a sacrament; that there’s mystery and grace and beauty in the gift of food; that sustenance from the earth — from seed to shoot to harvestable crop — is nothing short of a miracle.
So bad eggs aren’t just bad business and bad health — as troubling as the latter is. They’re also a desecration. And the bad eggs running the conglomerates who have turned perfection to poison need to be held accountable.