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Freedom in America

2010 July 8

In this week after the Fourth of July, I’ve heard a lot of talk about what it means to have freedom as an American. Not that I necessarily agree with this view of history, but that sort of talk generally focuses on a sentimental reflection of how a ragtag people’s movement stood up to the evil and oppressive British and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Who cares that when other countries do that nowadays we call it insurrection or communism, for us it was all about our freedom. To be American means to have freedom.

I love freedom; I appreciate the freedoms I have. What I find intriguing though are what exact freedoms it is that we celebrate in this country and which ones we could care less about. The freedom to hold a sign with a racist slur about the President is apparently something we hold dear, as is our “right” to have free and immediate access to porn (not to mention guns). The government had better not interfere with our access to junk food or dare tell our kids how to eat healthy; we’ll develop diabetes and drive up insurance rates if we want to. But we’re okay though with the government tapping our phones and having a kill switch for the internet. And apparently we are also okay with the government allowing companies to sell contaminated meat to our schools and passing laws making it illegal for us to publicly question the companies that do so. Let’s just say our relationship with freedom is complicated.

Anthony Bourdain addresses the food contamination issue in his latest book, Medium Raw, wondering why we are okay giving up the freedom of our access (our children’s access) to uncontaminated food. His snarky, uncensored take on the subject is one of the best I’ve read yet. And this is from Bourdain, the guy who is not shy in his frequent mocking of vegetarians or the organic/locavore movements. He writes on the meat industry in America –

In another telling anomaly of the meat-grinding business, many of the larger slaughterhouses will sell their product to grinders who agree to not test their product for E.coli contamination – until after it’s run through the grinder with a whole bunch of other meat from other sources. Meaning, the company who grinds all that shit together (before selling it to your school system) often can’t test it until after they mix it with meat they bought from other (sometimes as many as three or four) slaughterhouses. … It’s like demanding of a date that she have unprotected sex with four or five guys immediately before sleeping with you – just so she can’t point the finger directly at you should she later test positive for clap.

I believe that, as an American, I should be able to walk into any restaurant in America and order my hamburger – that most American of foods – medium fucking rare. I don’t believe my hamburger should have to come with a warning label to cook it well done to kill off any potential contaminants or bacteria. I believe I shouldn’t have to be advised to thoroughly clean and wash up immediately after preparing a hamburger. I believe I should be able to treat my hamburger like food, not like infectious fucking medical waste. I believe the words “meat” and “treated with ammonia” should never occur in the same paragraph – much less the same sentence. Unless you are talking about surreptitiously disposing of a corpse.

Is it too much to feel that it should be a basic right that one can cook and eat a hamburger without fear? To stand proud in my own backyard (if I had a backyard), grilling a nice medium-rare fucking hamburger for my kid – without worrying that maybe I’m feeding her a shit sandwich? That I not feel the need to cross-examine my mother, should she have the temerity to offer my child meatloaf? P.98-100

Seriously, when did cheap and convenient become more important to us than avoiding consuming fecal matter, chemicals like ammonia, and deadly viruses (or for that matter the right to question the presence of such things in our food)? In the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world, that we have given up the freedom of knowing that the food we eat is safe is telling. Or perhaps it’s just that we value the freedom of the meat-industry to serve us contaminated food more. Like I said, our views of freedom are complicated. Or just plain crazy.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010

    love this post and the connection between freedom and food choices. i’ve been railing about this insanity since reading peter singer’s “the ethics of what we eat,” and “animal liberation.” ooo also “the omnivore’s dilimma.” it makes me crazy that we freak out certain “rights” and/or “privileges,” but don’t even think twice about what we allow food companies to sell us. jamie oliver’s “food revolution,” was a smart and prophetic presentation of what we’re doing to ourselves and to our kids. i want to be a culinary activist! except that i can’t cool well. but i eat well! :o] also tony bourdain is my tv boyfriend.

  2. July 8, 2010

    “Twas the 4th of July, when all through the land; facts were forgotten, and the truth could not stand.” Julie, as always, I love the way you address issues so forthrightly.

  3. July 8, 2010

    Here, here!

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