Salad haters of the world unite! And just in time for the annual celebration of gluttony. When we pile our plates high with a third helping of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, we are safe this year in the knowledge that we need not add any — not even a token amount — of green leaves to our Thanksgiving feast, by order of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nation’s supplies of romaine lettuce are apparently contaminated by E. coli, a bacterium that can cause watery or bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening form of kidney failure, in one case so far.
This is not the first time this year that the supposedly innocuous romaine has had it in for us. In August, it was linked to cases of cyclospora — a pesky parasite that can cause stomach upsets, headache, fever, diarrhea and other things too distasteful to mention here, according to the CDC. And a few weeks before that came another E. coli outbreak that put 96 people into hospitals.
First came a summer of bleurgh. Now is our winter of dysentery.
These were once the sorts of things we would expect to encounter in faraway lands, with dubious hygiene and stick shifts.
Now, there can be only one conclusion. Ignore what the dietitians and nutritionists tell us. They can join the other so-called experts debunked by our new populist overlords. The truth is that healthy food is trying to kill us.
In fact, the experts knew. In a 2015 study, the CDC found that about half of food poisoning cases came from fresh produce, compared with only about 20% from traditional bad guys dairy and eggs.
This is nothing new for those of us who have spent time living in the developing world. The two golden rules were to iron your underwear and let nothing pass your lips that was not piping hot. You might still consume parasites, but at least they would be dead. Salad was a definite no-no.
It was far from foolproof. All the best intentions could be undone if the roadside vendor chose to carve the hot, grilled chicken breast with his thumbnail (as happened to me during a visit to the flood-hit plains of southern Pakistan. Of course, I ate it. I was hungry.)
And there wasn’t much that could be done if the server’s hands were dirty.
But I like to think I did the healthy thing by subsisting almost entirely on bread, meat and bottled beverages.
The good news, for those concerned about killer leaves on Thanksgiving, is that this approach can be largely consistent with life in America, where the average consumer is expected to tuck away a record 222 pounds of meat this year, according to a US Department of Agriculture forecast, and where if you put all the nation’s burger buns end to end, they would stretch around the average waist.
Personally, I would have been happy for the bland greenery of the romaine never to enter my mouth again. I’ve always found it limp and lifeless, unlike the ancient Egyptians, who apparently saw meaning in its phallic shape and used it as a sacred symbol of Min, god of fertility.
It is just boring compared with the atomic crunch of your iceberg or peppery attitude of arugula.
Yet its new role as the bête noire of the holiday table has me interested. If you ever needed a way to make greens sexy, then this might be it: Add an element of danger.
So, whisk me up a raw-yolk mayonnaise or a Russian roulette dressing. All of a sudden, I fancy a salad.