Herbal Tease

Being a consumer can feel like a crapshoot. Last night we went to our local “Modern” Mexican restaurant for dinner. I ordered una Ensalada de Cilantro y Pollo. A minute after submitting our order, the server returned to inform me that there has been a recall on Mexican cilantro and that I would need to order something (anything) else.

While waiting for my substitute meal, a quick google revealed that cilantro from Mexico was found to be contaminated after many people suffered from a gastrointestinal illness. The FDA banned the cilantro imports. So how did the cilantro become contaminated? Human waste.

Investigators found toilet paper with feces in the cilantro fields. Let’s tease this out, shall we?
First, I can’t un-think this. This was not a piece of errant toilet paper. The implication of the findings is that not only is this disgusting, but the disgust is beyond what we think of as edible or unsanitary. Finding used toilet paper in the fields, implies that workers were (are?) not allowed to go to the bathroom when nature calls. Now that should be unthinkable.

Next time you are ordering farm to table, consider what happens between the farm and the table. Healthy food should be clean from contaminants of any and every sort. And sorting the food needs to be in sanitary conditions (which, apparently much of the cilantro sorting facilities were anything but sanitary). The food chain is actually more than what gets eaten. It’s all the processes and conditions of getting the food to your belly.

It seems as though we would rather risk health to create more crops or processed foods or consume products and produce from anywhere in the world where it would be cheaper for us to import, because it costs too much to produce here. We profess certain labor practices and other such pesky regulations that other countries may not employ.

Even those who attempt to adhere to a diet and health regimen as close to nature as possible need to tease out the processes and conditions by which herbal teas and remedies and other “natural” products deemed better and healthier are brought to the market. Without regulations and information, we assume an awful lot, and I am concerned that we are often being teased with the idea of betterment that actually includes questionable practices, rather than with actual better conditions and products.

Of course, this isn’t merely a cilantro problem or an herbal problem. Nor is it merely an agricultural problem. Whether it’s herbal or wearable or anything else usable or consumable, demand standards for products as well as work conditions and practices. It may seem like old news or common sense, but these issues don’t die, and they resurface only after health or safety crises.

The cilantro recall was appalling to me, not because there was a contaminated crop, but because of why the crop became contaminated. It reflected horrible practices and conditions that couldn’t be limited to cilantro, and a broader disregard for human beings—both the agricultural workers and the consumers. Don’t be teased by abundance and availability or marketing. There’s a backstory. Tease out the conditions and practices behind what you consume or want, and demand standards and practices and regulations that ensure health, safety and decency.

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