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FIVE THINGS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE SENATE’S FOOD SAFETY BILL BUT WEREN’T

1. THE COSTCO AMENDMENT

What do you do with eight gallons of stewed tomatoes? A 4-pack of 120 oz. mustard jars? 50 lbs. of rice?

If you’re like most households, you stick them on a shelf in the back of the pantry and try to ignore the fact that the giddy joy you felt because you saved so much money can’t possibly last long enough to counteract the guilt you’ll feel when you end up throwing half of it out.

This amendment would have legally prohibited club stores from selling bulk items that:

(a) the average consumer can’t possibly consume before the expiration date
(b) the average consumer doesn’t need – i.e. cashew butter, creamed spinach, dried parsley, tapioca pudding, etc.
(c) or that taste so good when sampled in the store nobody can resist their multi-ounce siren call.

2. CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR FOOD HYPOCRISY

This amendment would have made it illegal for anyone to cop a militant attitude about food – holier-than-thou vegans, organic-only food-nazis, food processing plant owners and/or executives who roll their eyes (and mobilize their lawyers) if anyone questions their quality or commitment to cleanliness, etc.

3. SPECIAL PROVISION FOR SPOKESPEOPLE AND OTHER PUBLIC RELATIONS EXECUTIVES

When it comes to outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli, listeria or other types of foodborne illnesses, it takes a special kind of flak to stand at a podium in front of a bunch of reporters and claim the company’s products are “perfectly safe” and that the media is making the situation out to be a lot worse than it really is, or that it’s not really company’s fault but the work of disgruntled employees and/or unscrupulous food activists, and that in either case, the company is “cooperating fully” with authorities to resolve the situation in a safe and timely fashion.

Since spokespeople can’t be sued for lying, this amendment would have made it mandatory for them all to attend a special private banquet where the only food they got would have been the very food they claimed everyone could “trust and continue to consume without any health and safety concerns.”

4. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET – OR ELSE

Ever order anything online, or from the back of a magazine because the photos looked so good?

This amendment would have not only banned the use of Photoshop and other means of digital enhancement, but made it illegal for anyone selling direct-to-the-consumer food to hire a photo stylist to, for example, sort through 10,000 bushels of pears to find the one – and only one – in the lot that looked like you’d want to eat it.

It would also have made it illegal to embellish descriptions, meaning that if a wine-of-the-month club promised “world-class” bottles, they had better come from a part of the world that’s actually known for its vineyards and taste really, really good.

5. VEGETABLE JAIL

This amendment would have authorized the FDA to work with state and local law enforcement officials to create “vegetable jail,” so that instead of threatening kids who won’t eat their broccoli, carrots, green beans, etc. with no dessert or having to sit at the table until everything – “And I mean everything!” – is finished, parents could just say “Look… it’s either spinach or 18 months hard time.”

(Not that some kids wouldn’t choose jail over spinach, of course, but at least it would have helped.)

LOAD OF CRAP?

Rumors are swirling around that Pampers new, reformulated Swaddlers and Cruisers lines of diapers are causing rashes and chemical burns. But is this true? Has anyone come forward with conclusive proof that this is actually happening? Has anyone come forward with conclusive proof it’s not?

According to P&G, these allegations are “completely false.”

This response makes sense because we live in an age where misinformation gets passed off as gospel, and large, multi-national corporations like P&G have to act decisively.

On the other hand, we also live in an age where large, multi-national corporations spin just about everything, so who’s to say that 25 years from now, after some kind of “Jane Doe v. Pampers” class action lawsuit has been filed, all appeals have been exhausted and 150,000+ boxes of research, focus-group results and internal memos have been subpoenaed, cataloged and read in search of a smoking gun, P&G won’t pay a nominal fine and admit that while they didn’t lie, intentionally ignore some data, or make a critical error in judgement, they are sorry their long-since-reformulated product might have caused a limited number of cases of diaper rash all those years ago.

What strikes me as really silly is that P&G didn’t stop at denying the rumors were true, but went on to claim they were actually part of some giant conspiracy.

“These [diaper rash] rumors are being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers,” said Pampers Vice President Jodi Allen in a statement.

A cabal of disgruntled former customers, Huggies families and the cloth diaper mafia?

Seriously?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that we are Huggies family and have been for 10 years.1 That said, I don’t personally have anything against Pampers, and can’t honestly remember why we chose Huggies over Pampers in the first place, though I suspect it was because the supply of newborn diapers the hospital gave us ran out at 2:40 am some night, and when I went to the nearest all-night drug store to find more, I grabbed the first box of diapers I could find, which happened to be Huggies.)

While it’s possible that P&G is right, and eventually some hidden camera footage of the secret meeting where the plot was first hatched between the aforementioned groups will emerge, but until then, do they really want to handle the concern parents have for the health and well-being of their offspring this way?

CONCERNED PARENT: Your diapers gave my pride and joy a rash.
FICTIONAL P&G SPOKESPERSON: That’s a lie.
CONCERNED PARENT: Then why was my little angel, whose life I care more about than even my own, crying in pain?
FICTIONAL P&G SPOKESPERSON: We don’t know. But let us ask you a question: Are you now, or have you ever been a member of an anti-Pampers organization?
CONCERNED PARENT: No — but I guarantee that I will be in the future.

However this all shakes out, one thing seems clear clear: just because Pampers is in the diaper business doesn’t mean they can handle a big mess.

1Yes, we should be using green diapers, or at least cloth diapers, but we don’t and to the extent we are ruining the planet, we are sorry.

XBOX VS. DIGITAL THERMOMETER

Just because kids say they’re sick doesn’t mean they actually are sick.

Which means for parents, trying to decide if a child should stay home or go to school can be quite a challenge.

(And even though teachers and principals almost always say keep kids home if there’s any question about how well they feel, that isn’t either practical or fair – for many of us, the fact that our kids learn something at school isn’t nearly as important as the fact that somebody else has to put up with watch them for a few hours each weekday so we can catch our breathes.)

So how do parents figure out if their kids are nauseas because they have the flu or because they have to turn in a 10-page report they completely forget to even start?

While medical electronics can be helpful, they’re not nearly as accurate as consumer electronics: all parents have to do is ask the child who complains about not feeling well “If you stay home sick, what are you going to do all day?”

ACTIVITY % CHANCE SICK
  • nothing

    99%

  • watch TV1, listen to iPod

    80%

  • play Nintendo DS, Gameboy, PSP, games on cell phones, check e-mail2

    50%

  • play XBOX 360, Playstation 3

    25%

  • play Wii, text friends3, play online multi-player game

    5%

  • Do any of the above while electronically linked with a friend (or friends) who just happen to be home “sick,” too

    0%

1This mostly depends on what they watch — a Cartoon Network Marathon would raise suspicions, CNN’s The Situation Room would not.

2Though given the rate at which most kids check their e-mail, actually checking e-mail might be a sign of some kind of fever-induced delusion.

3With the chance they’re sick dropping one percent for every 5 texts they send and/or receive.

ANOTHER REASON TO HATE H1N1

PARENT: C’mon.
KID: Where are we going?
PARENT: I’ll tell you when we get there.
KID: Uh-oh – you’re taking me to the doctor, aren’t you?
PARENT: Why do you say that?
KID: Because that’s what you always say when you take me to the doctor.
PARENT: I do?
KID: Either that or the dentist.
PARENT: It’s not the dentist.
KID: I knew it! But I’m not even sick!
PARENT: I know, but it’ll be over before you know it. And then we’ll go for cupcakes.
KID: CUPCAKES!
PARENT: I thought you liked cupcakes?
KID: I do like cupcakes, but cupcakes after the doctor mean I have to get a shot.
PARENT: Not always.
KID: Yes always.
PARENT: No, sometimes we go for cupcakes even when you don’t have to get a shot.
KID: So does that mean I don’t have to get a shot?
PARENT: Unfortunately, no – it turns out the H1N1 vaccine you got last year takes two shots.
KID: Two shots!
PARENT: Two shots.
KID: That’s so unfair.
PARENT: I know. But I tell you what – after cupcakes, I’ll let you get one small toy at the toy store.
KID: NOOOOOOOOOOO!
PARENT: What’s wrong with getting a toy!?!?!?!
KID: Getting a toy after the doctor means they’re gonna use a big, huge needle. AHHHHHHHHHHH!

REALISTIC NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

  • To go to the gym three days a week for two weeks, then once a week for the next three to five weeks, then three time a week for a week or two, then twice a week for one week before stopping entirely and resolving to resolve to go to the gym more next year.
  • To go on a diet until something happens to necessitate a massive intake of comfort food that will lead to the slow, steady return of the bad eating habits that become entrenched in 2009.
  • To talk about going on vacation someplace new and different, but then go to the same place as last year and the year before and the year before that because it’s easy and cheap and who needs the stress and uncertainty of a big trip anyway?
  • To buy a lot of books about getting organized, but never have time to read them, let alone utilize any of their tips and suggestions.
  • To spend more quality time with the kids, but only when its convenient and/or they’re not being needy, loud, destructive, insolent or pouty, which is probably never.
  • To be greener, but only in ways that don’t involve hardship, self-sacrifice or extra work because, let’s face it, the environment is important but there’s just too much going on right now.
  • To try to cope with the stress of modern life in a productive way, but eventually give up and just over-eat, drink an extra glass of wine or two each night, and take a variety of prescription medications.
  • To save more and spend less, unless there’s a really great sale.
  • To be anxious about the economy, health and well-being, work, family, marriage, saving for college and the future, but hopefully not all at once unless there’s a bottle of wine handy.
  • To come home after a difficult day at work and yell at the kids for no apparent reason, but then feel more guilty about it than normal.
  • To tell the kids again and again to “be careful” and then not be completely surprised when they aren’t and must be rushed to the emergency room for stitches and/or a cast.
  • To worry less about what other people think, unless those other people are the neighbors, selected co-workers or somebody we want to impress.
  • To find meaning and purpose in life, but then forget what it is thanks to chronic sleep deprivation, the never-ending demands of work and our household’s perpetual state of chaos.
  • To maintain a positive mental state, even though it still looks like we’re all screwed.

PAGING DR. GOOGLE

Google is great for things like finding answers to obscure homework questions and getting directions to distant soccer fields, but it’s terrible for checking health symptoms.

Search: bloody nose
See 1 to 10 of about 1,234,784, 987 results for “horrible wasting diseases that parents often overlook because they think ‘Hey, it’s just a bloody nose.’.”

You’d think something that’s sophisticated enough to be able to figure out what you really want to search for even when you type in the wrong word or phrase would be smart enough to filter out (or at least de-prioritize) the rare, deadly, one-in-a-million afflictions that always seem to pop up when you search for something minor.

Search: headache
See 1 to 10 of about 1,831,187,321 results for “things you shouldn’t worry about at all, not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever.”

But no.

Instead, you’re faced with page after page of terrifying results.

(Exactly how many pages is unknown, since what you read on the first page alone is usually enough to make even the most anxiety-proof parent pass out from a panic attack.)

All of which would be fine – even amusing – if a visit to the doctor’s office or emergency room offered relief.

But it doesn’t because even if you catch your M.D. muffling a scoff when you admit you googled the symptoms and freaked out when you read the results, he or she will run a bunch of test anyway, “just to be sure.”

Why?

Because doctors use Google, too.

Search: malpractice
See 1 to 10 of about 4,876,876,987,382,876 results for “multi-million dollar settlements against doctors who fail to spot rare, deadly, one-in-a-million diseases in anxious patients.”

POLL: TIPPING FOR PUKE

If your kid throws up in a restaurant, how much extra should you tip?

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DO YOU REALLY NEED A HAZMAT SUIT TO HANDLE NUTS?

First peanuts, now pistachios.

It seems like salmonella is everywhere these days, making a lot of people equate eating a handful of nuts with playing a game of Russian roulette. But if you look at statistics, you realize you have just as much to fear from a cold winter’s day:

U.S. Deaths Per Year
Salmonella
600
Hypothermia
600

Which means all those nut products you emptied out of the cabinets “just to be safe” are just as dangerous as walking out to the trash in bare feet and a t-shirt to throw them away.

It’s clear that worry served us well in our hunter-gatherer days when that rustle in the bushes really might have been something deadly, but what we seem to have now is the reaction without the rustle — we worry there might be a rustle and if there is, it might be something that could hurt us.

The problem is that “what it might be” is usually wrong — as anyone who’s ever googled a health symptom and then rushed into the emergency room knows:

YOU: So… how long do I have?
DOCTOR: To live?
YOU: Yes.
DOCTOR: I have no idea.
YOU: But I just read this particular flesh-eating virus is usually fatal within 72 hours!
DOCTOR: It is.
YOU: And?
DOCTOR: You have poison oak.
YOU: Oh.

Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our perspective on worry. Which probably explains why more people are afraid of being attacked by sharks — which kill an average of 2 people per year in the U.S. — than they are of equally strange, but much more likely causes of death like elevators and escalators, lightening, bees, dogs and even Bambi:

U.S. Deaths Per Year
Elevators and escalators
30
Lightening strikes
48
Bee, wasp and hornet stings
82
Dog bites
170
Deer collisions 1
223

In our defense, part of the problem is that we’re constantly reminded of the many things we have to worry about, with dozens of freaky possibilities brought to our attention every day by a 24/7 news cycle that loves to spotlight the odd and the unusual (without mentioning it’s also “the highly unlikely”).

Leaving us in a position of rushing off to the ER in a panic because we’re worried we might be one of the few hundred people killed each decade by the deadly whatever the Evening News just warned us about, when what we should be worried about is being one of the few hundred people killed each day by medical errors.

STAY HOME OR GO IN TO WORK?

Are you throwing up? YES stay home
NO
Is your boss out for the day? YES stay home
NO
Can you get your work done tomorrow? YES stay home
NO
Can you get it done this week? YES stay home
NO
Has it been more than a week
since your last sick day?
YES stay home
NO
Is there something you could
watch on TV instead?
YES stay home
NO
Is there anything else
you’d rather be doing?
YES stay home
NO
go in