Making Supper Safe: A Q&A with the Publisher

April 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

This is a pre-release interview that I had recently with my publicist at Rodale Books about Making Supper Safe: One Man’s Quest to Learn the Truth About Food Safety.

Q: In Chapter 1 you spend time dumpster diving with a man who dumpster dives for most of his meals and has only gotten sick once in the 10 years he’s found food this way. How can you explain this?

A: What I’ve come to understand is that some of our fear regarding pathogenic bacteria in our food is overdone. Yes, outbreaks of food borne illness are getting bigger and we definitely need to seek solutions to this problem, but the fact remains that relatively few people become acutely ill or die from eating contaminated food (As an interesting aside, the CDC recently cut its estimate of foodborne illness/hospitalizations/deaths almost in half).

In regards to my friend Edward, I strongly believe that a lifetime of consuming a diversity of bacteria through his food has helped keep him healthy. Recent studies show that it’s incredibly important to our overall health and well being to maintain bacterial diversity in our bodies. Indeed, when we have robust microbial populations in our bodies, we are less vulnerable to the bacteria that can make us sick. I think this goes a long way toward explaining why Edward has had such good “luck.”

Also, it’s worth noting that in a sense, Edward is very particular about what he eats, from the trash and elsewhere. He doesn’t eat junk food, and he only dumpster dives at producers and retailers of high quality foods.

Q: What’s the logic behind the raw milk movement if people are getting sick from it? How can we produce raw milk without the risk of harmful bacteria? What are the benefits of raw milk?

A: It is definitely true that people can and do get sick from raw milk, but on a per-serving basis, it’s much safer than many of the foods consumed by the majority of Americans. The best way to produce safe raw milk is to ensure that it’s produced in sanitary conditions. One of the problems with the increasing demand for raw milk is that people are purchasing it from farms producing milk intended for pasteurization. Because they know the milk will be sterilized, they often aren’t as careful regarding the cleanliness of the milk. Regarding the benefits, they are much debated, but raw milk advocates will tell you that it contains a greater diversity of healthful bacteria and enzymes.

Q: While researching and reporting for this book have you become more fearful and cautious with how you eat and how you feed your family? Have you taken any new steps to prevent contracting a foodborne illness?

A: Interestingly enough, I’ve become less fearful. It wasn’t what I expected, but the more I learned about the interplay between humans and the bacteria that inhabit us (there are about 10 times as many bacterial cells in the human body, as there are actual human cells), the more I felt empowered to make good choices regarding the food I feed myself and my family. This includes foods that are diverse in microbes, such as fermented vegetables and dairy products, like yogurt. I will say that after writing this book, there’s not a chance in heck I’d eat a pre-formed hamburger from ANYWHERE.

Q: Can you break down what the S510 Food Safety Modernization Act means for the everyday consumer who wants to protect their family from food-borne illnesses? Do you oppose or support the bill?

A: I’m somewhat ambivalent regarding S510. I believe the intention of the bill is honorable, but I’m concerned that over time it will continue to erode our food rights or simply impede access to the foods of our choosing. Frankly, because the bill isn’t yet funded, I don’t think it will have any near term impact on the safety of our food.

Q: What do you think is the most important first step in decreasing the amount of foodborne illnesses?

A: To decrease the amount of foodborne illness, it’s essential that we work toward regionalized food production and distribution. This does two things. First, it means that the scope of potential outbreaks will be smaller; you can’t have 22,000 people getting sick from a single contamination event if you don’t have a producer that’s serving tens of thousands of people. Second, it creates a degree of accountability and traceability that is lacking from our modern, industrialized food system. When it takes the CDC four months to figure out which food is responsible for an outbreak (as it did during the 2010 salmonella outbreak in shell eggs), you know things have gotten out of control.

If you’re interested in purchasing Making Supper Safe, please consider supporting your local independent bookseller and your local economy. If mailorder works best for you, you can order from the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont and support my local economy!

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§ One Response to Making Supper Safe: A Q&A with the Publisher

  • [...] Hewitt tends to be a bit scattered in his approach to explaining food safety, but the complexity and depth of the topic left him little choice. Hewitt manages to pack a wealth of information into a densely informative, but entertaining 288 pages.  Each topic highlights a range of statistics that help explain the nuances of our current food safety climate. “Perhaps most alarmingly, there is an assumption that individuals should not have the right to make informed choices about the food they consume.” [...]

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