Thirty-six million pounds of Cargill Inc. conventional ground turkey was recalled last week due to salmonella contamination. One person is dead, 22 people have been hospitalized, and countless others made ill by the meat. Victims range from the very young to the elderly; from those under the age of one to those aged 88 years (two populations most vulnerable to infection). Salmonella is known to cause fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and oh yeah — death. It’s a scene gruesome enough for the government to get involved and shut down the plant, right? Think again.
After an investigation by the USDA which confirmed the presence of the salmonella in the Arkansas plant, Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business, said in a statement, "Given our concern for what has happened, and our desire to do what is right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace.” After six months and dozens of reports of illness in 26 states the government was finally incited to explore the turkey facility. When results came back positive for salmonella last week, no demands were made by the USDA; instead consumers were left with a cordial conscientious voluntary recall by Cargill. Conveniently or coincidentally, Cargill is also the nation’s largest agricultural company; it has collected millions of dollars over the last decade from government subsidies. From 1995 through 2010, Cargill’s turkey manufacturing branch collected a total of $17,593,150 from the government.
A few states over in California the same week, Rawesome, a private organic food-buying club was raided at gunpoint by a SWAT team in what is being called an illegal and unconstitutional arrest. The raid was led by LA County Sheriff's Office, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control. The food club’s organizer, James Stewart, farmer Sharon Palmer, and local
volunteer Victoria Bloch Coulter were all arrested. Rawesome’s $10,000 food inventory was poured down the drain, confiscated, or otherwise destroyed by the raid team. Stewart was never read his rights and forced into an unmarked car, all without any sign of a warrant.
The crime? Selling organic eggs, chickens, raw milk and cheese, bison, fresh fish, coconuts, and watermelon to members of the food club, in a state where these products are perfectly legal to sell. (Raw dairy products are only legal for retail sale in ten states including California, though many other states allow farm sales, herd share sales, or sales for raw dairy as pet food purposes). The actual charge was Conspiracy to Commit a Crime via the sale of these products, but this crime still remains to be understood. The bond was set at $123,00 with no possibility of bail. These kinds of raids are nothing unique, however, and are frequently directed at other raw dairies and organic food suppliers across the country.
Raw milk and cheese (products that are not pasteurized or cooked) are controversial in mainstream circles, despite their consistent safety record. Over and over, raw milk from organic farms and grass-fed cows has been proven many times safer than pasteurized dairy products and other conventional foods. Each year, 76 million people get sick by way of food poisoning, 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 die. But between the years of 1999 and 2010, illnesses attributed to raw milk accounted to about just 42 per year -- a significantly low number which suggests that raw dairy from organically raised cows is generally safe.
Pasteurization has a strong presence in America, despite its French roots. Most condiments, relishes, and drinks we’ve come to love were once raw cultured and unpasteurized products: root beer, ketchup, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, sour cream, wine. This raw culturing process allows healthy bacteria to proliferate, which in turn, feeds the symbiotic bacterial balance in our digestive tract, on our skin, eyes, mouth, and other unmentionable areas -- you may often see commercials for probiotics, which serve the same purpose. Healthy bacteria also modulate our immune system, balance hormones, help neurotransmitters in our intestines (yes, intestines) to function properly, calm the digestive tract, produce vitamins like B-12, absorb nutrients from food, and more. In fact, there are 10 times more bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells. So it makes sense that they’re important by large number and we might cater to them.
The drawback of pasteurization is that the good bacteria that keeps us healthy is lost and destroyed in the heating process. Foods that humans evolved to eat, full of healthy bacteria, are now sterile. This leaves us especially vulnerable to infections. One common source of risky infection: food-borne contamination (ie: food poisoning); which brings us right back to Cargill Inc. and their tainted ground turkey. That potent combination of pasteurized, sterile food, combined with actual infected foods throws the natural order of things off balance. It leaves us susceptible at the hands of food conglomerates.
But with all this bad news, here’s some good: you can take power back in the form of your food choices, both as a political statement and for health reasons. A good start of course is to avoid conventional ground turkey for a while, and choose organic whenever possible. But just as importantly, rediscover the healthy bacteria we’ve lost in the pasteurization process. You’ll find kitchen confidence in the lost art of a real food diet (the way great-great-great grandma used to cook), and you also won’t be a sitting duck to any future food outbreaks.
Watch more of the Rawesome raid and aftermath here:
Liz Schau is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who specializes in nutritional changes for women with thyroid disease, food allergies, autoimmunity, and digestive health concerns. You can find her at LizSchau.com.