A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

Something big happened in the world of foodstuffs this week. It’s not so much surprising as it is a fantastic headline.

Two flavors of Hot Pockets, both having something to do with Philly Cheesesteak in what I imagine can only be some vague and tangential way, have been recalled for being filled with meat that has been officially described as “unwholesome, unsound and generally unfit for human consumption.” Said meat came from the Rancho Feeding Corporation, a company whose name makes it sound like they’re supposed to be servicing the unsound creatures it shoves into Hot Pockets. Actually, in the USDA press release addressing the recall, they refer to “diseased and unsound animals” (emphasis mine), and then they go on to list various parts of cows (Hot Pockets fans, just be glad you didn’t eat their “Beef Heads”).

I like the idea of diseased and unsound animals. Not for eating, of course, but I like to imagine a gang of unsavory bovines staying out until 4 a.m. and going on meth binges and spending all their money on cow prostitutes and back alley dice games. They’re a bunch of loose cannons, dangerously emotionally unstable, and they get into violent fights over absolutely nothing. There has been more than one goring among the group. No one would eat us, they think, because who would want to consume such a repugnant bunch of degenerates? Unwholesome doesn’t even begin to describe us!

I just feel sorry for their veal. Er, calves.

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, obviously. Consuming meat via the vehicle of a budget-friendly, frozen sandwich pouch which comes in a variety of improbable flavors is essentially a tacit acknowledgment that you don’t much care whether you’re eating Philly Cheesesteak or Filly Diarrheabomb. You’re probably drunk or high and it’s probably 4 a.m. anyway, so what do you care? Nothing, I bet. And if you’re not and it’s not, you’ve possibly given up on life in a way that no amount of quality meat can remedy, so what’s the difference?

This “meat” recall comes on the heels of another Federal food warning. A couple of weeks ago, the FDA issued a warning regarding Uncle Ben’s “flavor-infused” rice, which is sold in large quantities to places like schools and hospitals. The rice is thought to have contained an excess of niacin, which caused skin reactions in school children most recently in Texas.

As the parent of a child who has recently begun eating food in earnest, these types of stories are particularly terrifying. It seems as though food has become so much more complex an issue than it ever was—and it’s never been a very simple one for me. There’s nutrition and weight and body image and emotional eating and animal cruelty and environmentalism and sustainability and the Agricultural-Industrial Complex and locavores and other buzzwords I don’t totally understand and so much more, but let’s focus on the issue of quality. Nobody just buys groceries anymore. It’s not sliced turkey, it’s hormone-free, antibiotic-free, nitrate-free, all natural roast turkey with no preservatives so it costs $15 and goes bad approximately seven minutes after you open the package. They’re not eggs, they’re cage-free eggs. Oh, except they aren’t. Or maybe they are. We have to buy organic and whole grain and all natural, except none of those things have to mean what you think they mean, so you might as well give up and buy EZ Mac. Or Hot Pockets. 

No, I really never would have done that.

It’s easy to see these two incidents as being isolated or having nothing to do with you. But they speak to a much bigger problem in this country, which is a food supply which is pumped full of crap and massively under-supervised. Google pretty much any baby product and you will find a spotty past of recalls (often voluntary) and urban legends (or are they?!) about maggots in the pea puree. I think I’m starting to understand why all those rich, underemployed hipsters are fleeing to the countryside (and Brooklyn) to raise their own chickens and churn their own butter. I don’t think I’ll ever finish understanding, but the panicked mother in me wishes I could figure out how to exert more control over whether my child ingests diseased food. And as someone who has been on the receiving end of an uncanny number of food poisoning cases, I’m particularly wary.

Unfortunately, beyond driving around to farms and buying directly from the source, we can only do the best we can do. And sometimes, in spite of everything you know and fear and try to stick to, you also just have to eat a hot dog at 4 a.m. on the sidewalk.

Like I said, it’s a complex issue.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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