Dreaming of the Pure Vegetable Kingdom

And alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade:


On a July night in 1987, scores of elderly and chronically ill patients at Bird S. Coler Memorial Hospital in New York City began to fall violently sick with food poisoning from eggs tainted with salmonella. 

 "It was like a war zone," said Dr. Philippe Tassy, the doctor on call as the sickness started to rage through the hospital. By the time the outbreak ended more than two weeks later, nine people had died and about 500 people had become sick. 

It remains the deadliest outbreak in this country attributed to eggs infected with the bacteria known as Salmonella enteritidis. This year, the same bacteria sickened thousands of people nationwide and led to the recall of half a billion eggs. 

Despite the gap of decades, there is a crucial link between the two outbreaks: in both cases, the eggs came from farms owned by Austin J. DeCoster, one of the country's biggest egg producers.

Since we last spoke on this, change has been hard. Red meat was relatively easy, as I wasn't raised eating it. Chicken a little harder--I've had it twice since I came back. I think I've had fish once or twice. I'm generally able to get eggs locally, so I'm hoping that's OK. Or maybe not.

The last time we did this, there was a pretty big row. A few important points:

1.) It's important to understand that I've spent most of my life in and out of various phases of vegetarianism. As a young child I was allergic to fish, and at the time, no one in my house ate any other meat, so I pretty much ate only eggs and milk. For awhile we didn't use milk either. I grew out of my fish allergy later, and my Moms went back to eating chicken, and so my plate expanded. My point in noting all of this is to point out that I'm not so much going somewhere new, as going back home.

2.) I'm uncomfortable with the notion of eating something that I don't think I have the courage to kill and butcher. While I know I could gut and clean a fish, I don't really think I have it in me to kill and carve up a cow. I think I could deal with a chicken, but I'm really not sure. My own personal morality is uncomfortable with eating things which I can not kill, and perhaps, that I have not killed. I'm not sure about that last part yet.

3.) This blog is, as I've said before, a work of selfishness. It is, in the main, a log of me thinking my way through things. I am generally (though not totally) unconcerned with "convincing" other people, if only because my own thinking is constantly in a state of flux. I may well decide a year from now that what I should be doing is eating everything, but buying it from the farmer's market.

In that spirit, if you're here to debate definite answers than you're in the wrong place. If you're here to pose interesting questions, you've found a home. I am as uninterested in telling people how to think, as I am in telling them how to eat. I am, to some extent, motivated by societal questions (the effect of beef on the environment, for instance) but I am not here to offer societal solutions. 

I do not aim to change you. I aim to change me.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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