I haven’t been in half as many living rooms as the partners at Marler Clark have, but I’ve certainly seen a lot of suffering over the past six years, doing what we do.  Kids on dialysis; adults suffering in the miserable comfort of a hospital bed after having big pieces of their intestines surgically removed; and the permanently reddened eyes of elderly widows who have lost their World War II hero husbands of 50 years.  And, today I visited Stephanie Smith.  

When you see in living color what these people have endured, you can’t help but think what life would be like had things turned out just a little different–if I had chosen one package of ground beef or spinach over another; or if it was my mom or dad who had died.  What if I was the one who could no longer do something as simple as run my dogs after getting home from work?

More often than not, when I think about the people we represent at Marler Clark, I can’t help but frame my thoughts against the backdrop of one particular remark that I overheard from an executive of a national organic grocery chain.  It was during the legislative debate in California over the passage of a bill concerning bacteria levels in raw milk.  

I was lucky enough to sit two chairs away from him, and unlucky enough to hear what he said quietly to his friend beside him in response to testimony questioning the health benefits of raw milk.  After somebody testified about the particular vulnerability of the young, elderly, or immune-compromised, the guy said with a roll of his eyes, "Oh here we go, the straw man argument"–as if it were junk science of the sort typically espoused over the "benefits" of consuming raw milk.  

My guess is that this particular person had never seen the inside of an intensive care unit.  He’s never seen a young mother who was just told that her first born will lose his kidneys by the time he’s 21, and he’s sure as hell never come face to face with a girl who can’t even walk because she ate a hamburger.

Though it may not sound like it, I certainly don’t fault food manufacturers for their typically human responses.  It’s natural, sometimes, for people to fail to be moved until they are forced to confront an uncomfortable reality.  And I also admit to being more than a little on edge as I write this on the plane back to Seattle after visiting Stephanie Smith.

But I do fault the people, like the executive from the raw milk hearing in California, who apparently are simply unwilling to confront the reality of foodborne disease–that people do get more than a few days of diarrhea, and that young and old people, and sometimes even supremely healthy teenagers, can suffer devastating, life-altering injuries.  The truth of the matter is that there is no room for even the slightest bit of jocularity or passivity when it comes to this stuff.