I suffered a similarly ill-conceived false premise just as the bill was being debated, when I returned from Washington to New York on a Bolt Bus.
I got on the bus, sat in an empty seat, took off my shoes, and started catching up on email. A man boarded the bus with a bag from Subway. He moved a few rows behind me, and after a minute of loud paper crinkling, strong smells started telling all the passengers about this man's sandwich. I can't name every ingredient, but there was absolutely bacon (unmistakable), a distinctly scented deli meat (maybe sliced turkey), and an assault of raw onions. It was bad. It was industrial food, it smelled the part, and we were stuck with it.
I explained that I was almost sure that the strong smell of onions, turkey, and bacon we were being forced to suffer emanated not from my feet but from the Subway sandwich a few rows back.You can imagine the embarrassment and confusion that swept over me when another man--on the other side of the aisle, two rows ahead--turned back to me, looked at my socked feet, and asked me to put my shoes back on. I explained that I was almost sure that the strong smell of onions, turkey, and bacon we were collectively being forced to suffer emanated not from my feet but from the Subway sandwich the guy was eating a few rows back. His response, like a preschool teacher being patient with a student making excuses, was, "Well, that might be, but could you put your shoes on for now, and we can have an experiment." Sure. I put them on.
The man finished eating half of his sandwich, and the paper crinkling resumed as he put the remainder away. Finally, the smell dissipated. We all breathed a sigh of relief. A half hour later, without my plaintiff noticing, I took off my shoes, and there was no smell. Vindicated. Case closed.
Much to my horror, not long after taking off my shoes the paper crinkling resumed, and the smells--bacon, turkey, onions--returned. I wanted to stand up, point at the sandwich eater and announce, "That smell: It is NOT my feet! It is that man's sandwich." Instead, I hurriedly attempted to return my shoes to my feet before my plaintiff noticed. But he turned, took in the sight of me in my flustered, embarrassed, almost frantic attempt to put my shoes on, and gave me a look. The look said, "I am disappointed in you, Josh. I know and you know that the smell is from your feet. You tried to convince me otherwise, but now we both know. Please keep your stinky feet in their shoes."
I thought about my first philosophy course in college. We read David Hume, and he showed that constant correlation does not imply causation. I wanted to tell him about it. I wanted to tell him that this was like a Seinfeld episode, to tell him that it wasn't my fault. Instead I shrugged, finished putting on my shoes, and kept them on for the rest of the ride. Busted, but innocent.
It brought me back to 2006 when I stood at a table full of gorgeous spinach, unable to sell a leaf, and people looked askance at me, all because Cargill's cows pooped in Dole's lettuce. It didn't seem right then. It doesn't now.
There is, of course, a right way to regulate food safety: The law should be appropriate to the scale and to the operating principle of the producer; it should encourage diverse, decentralized, local farming; it should be thorough, it should have teeth. It should put the bulk of its resources into regulating the centralized, large-scale, industrial operations that are responsible for most outbreaks of food born illness. In this last round, and before, we fought for these things. One day, we'll get them.
In the meantime, please tell people that this other food we've got--the food from the farmers market, or the CSA, or your backyard, or your window-box--has about as much to do with the latest food scare as my socked feet have to do with a Subway sandwich.
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