In 1992 and 1993 when the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak occurred, and I got my introduction as an attorney to outbreak-related litigation, the meat industry looked very different than it does so today. The company that manufactured the hamburger patties for Jack in the Box—Vons Companies, Inc.—purchased meat to grind into hamburger from numerous companies, including Beef Packers Inc., Cattleman’s Choice, Fresno Meat Co., Monfort Inc., Orleans International Inc., RBR Meat Co., Service Packing Co. and Westland Inc. At the time, most of these companies were regionally-based, and not vertically integrated. Consequently, there were separate companies that ran slaughterhouse, boning operations, and packers, each sourcing from within their more immediate area of operations. There were also local and regional feedlots.

Today, that has all changed. Instead, there are huge mega-plants that combine all aspects of meat-production in a single, tightly integrated operation that produces meat products that are then distributed nationwide. That is why when you have E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving meat products, the illness and death are widely spread, and the initial source of the contamination is sometimes difficult to trace back to its source. Back in the day, it simply was not possible to have product recalls involving millions of pounds of meat because no one was really producing and distributing it on that scale.So if you are looking for an additional argument in favor of a more local and regional based food supply, the prevention of mega-outbreak, courtesy of “Big Meat” (also known as the mega-meat industry, or  Cargill/Conagra/Tyson triumvirate), is definitely a compelling one–in my humble opinion.

With this thought in mind, click on the Continue Reading link and check out a press release that was forwarded to me yesterday, which announced a recently released report about the demise of local small meat processing operations. And if you’re so inclined, read the entire report. It’s worth your time.Continue Reading A Big Reason Outbreaks involving meat are so big: Mega-Meat Plants

In addition to being a lawyer, I am a longtime foodie.  So my attention was definitely grabbed this morning when I was listening to NPR and there were segments on two food-related books that I defintely will be reading soon.  The first is Watching What We Eat, by Kathleen Collins.  It is a history of cooking shows, from its beginning on radio, to its current near-ubiquity on television, like on the Food Network.  Here’s a link to the author’s fun blog.

The other book that merited a segment on NPR is The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky, who also brought us a fascinating history of a fish: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Here is an except from the new book’s description on Amazon:

In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, FDR created the Federal Writers’ Project under the New Deal as a make-work program for artists and authors. A number of writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren, were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project, called “America Eats,” was abandoned in the early 1940s because of the World War and never completed.

The Food of a Younger Land unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure and brings it to exuberant life. Mark Kurlansky’s brilliant book captures these remarkable stories, and combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery superstore was a thing of the future. Kurlansky serves as a guide to this hearty and poignant look at the country’s roots.

I have not read Kurlansky’s latest yet, but I have read a great book that covers the same territory, and does so really well. It’s called: America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA – the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food, and its author is Pat Willard.  I highly recommend reading it.  (Did I mention that I have over 100 cookbooks?)

For an excerpt from Kathleen Collin’s book, copied from the NPR website, please click on the Continued Reading link.Continue Reading Before Food Was Fast: Some Looks Back to a Time when Food was Local, Slow, and Safe