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The recent egg recall is a real-time example of everything that's wrong with our current food system. Well-meaning federal regulatory agencies hamstrung by outdated rules and limited authority? Market economics that practically mandate the use of illegal migrant workers who are helpless to fight abusive working conditions that approach and sometimes become slavery? Consumers who unwittingly play along by shopping on price alone?

It's all there—and, as Joe Fassler's gruesomely fascinating, newly reported timeline of shame shows—there's a wily tycoon at the center of it, always able to stay one step ahead of inspectors, regulators, and courts, crossing state lines to evade rules, flouting rules time after time even when he's caught outrageously breaking them. (For a cartoon-like graphic showing exactly how central DeCoster is and in many states, see this from this morning's Boston Globe, and the accompanying story about ongoing Congressional investigations of unseen ties between DeCoster and egg factories in Maine and Iowa.)

We all need the Food Safety Modernization Act to pass in the current legislative session! And there's not much time left.

That Jack DeCoster is a particularly clever and unstoppable figure out of "Chinatown" or, Fassler suggests, the age of the robber barons doesn't mean he's unique. As Barry Estabrook pithily pointed out and Josh Viertel echoes this morning, the real problem is the very centralization and industrialization of farming. It will inevitably give rise to colorful, relentless lawbreakers like DeCoster.

Only policies and national subsidies that allow small and mid-sized farms a fighting chance against industrially produced food, and national policies that strengthen regulators and prosecutors like the ingenious and dedicated ones in Maine Fassler documents, will stop moguls like DeCoster—and the many other faceless factories where Salmonella and slavery can quietly co-exist.

My own attention has been taken by the human-rights violations that have been reported and that Fassler's new timeline reinforces in repeated detail. And, as I wrote, I'm eager to see the FDA get the power it shockingly doesn't have to force mandatory recalls. We all need the Food Safety Modernization Act to pass in the current legislative session! And there's not much time left.

So, take your pick. Marion Nestle's is food safety, as she strongly reminds us here and in many other posts since the recall began. And don't miss Fassler's original, disturbingly readable timeline today.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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