Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Put away that Trader Joe’s Cilantro Dressing, Fish House Foods Ceviche, and Chef Solutions Mexican 5 Layer Dip–it just might kill you (or more likely make you pretty sick).

Friday Orval Kent Food Company announced a recall of more than 20 tons of food, all containing cilantro. Just one more reason to avoid the nasty stuff, if you ask me.

Details in the Orval Kent press release. And if you want a healthy dose of reality, subscribe to the FDAs food safety recall email list, it’s a real eye opener.


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There’s so much fodder in any given issue of the New York Times, it’s a wonder I ever get around to reading anything else. It’s not that it’s the best publication out there for news or anything else, far from it, but they’ve mastered the ability to hook me with one story or another before the break and it remains my homepage of years despite consistent urges to change it (I’m reading Into the Wild — it’s bound to have some effect).

I think of the New York Times as a website first and newspaper second, not that these are mutually exclusive things, certainly not in this milieu. I think of the [New York Times] magazine as a magazine because I generally read it in print. Anyway, I love the New York Times as website. I look at the slide shows, watch Mark Bittman’s videos and enjoy the “Most Popular” emailed, blogged and searched articles for quick ideas of where to head next. These are all features made possible by the Times as website phenomenon, features I like.

It is through this interface that I read today’s “A House Not for Mere Mortals.” Awkward headline aside, I’ve been transfixed by the text-based article and audio slide show all morning. To sort of summarize, this apparently important couple has built this house in East Hampton. It’s hyper-colorful, very “open,” and, probably most notably, has a strange undulating, bumpy, moon-like floor throughout. The basic idea of the place, as I read and hear it, is to make dwellers uncomfortable. That through discomfort, trying to find our balance, etc., we remain young and vital. Ms. Gins, the woman in the couple, says, “It’s immoral that people have to die.” I think that’s absurd, it’s neither moral nor immoral that people have to die, it is a fact of nature completely detached from any reasonable sense of morality, but I digress. The point is these folks seems to think it is through challenge, discomfort, whatever you want to call it, that we remain young and stay alive.

While I don’t find death immoral I do have a vested interest in staying alive (never argue with Darwin — you will lose). I prefer to be comfortable than uncomfortable, (I like Pumas more than stilettos) but I get what they’re saying, I think, at least in a way that someone who more-or-less accepts that she will die one day can “get” what they’re saying. One of my favorite things — learning stuff — is an inherently uncomfortable process. Few things are more uncomfortable than tackling the unknown, whether that be organic chemistry, Excel spreadsheets, German philosophy or, in the case of Into the Wild‘s Chris McCandless, the Alaskan wilderness. (It is worth noting that he died in his pursuit of the uncomfortable.) But many of these uncomfortable things, challenging things, yield the most intellectually, spiritually or otherwise insightful results. Yes, I suppose many of us thrive on adversity, on difficulty, on trying to find our balance.

This of course got me to thinking about my ever-growing relationship with cilantro. Now I’m not one to draw metaphors, (I have a penchant for the literal) but I’ve never shied away from drawing parallels. As I’ve written through other lenses before, this cilantro hate thing isn’t always bad. Maybe my deep passion for hating cilantro keeps me young and virile — alive even. It’s all-too easy in our culture of convenience, materialism and excess to become, well, comfortable. We ignore the world’s injustices and straight-up outrages, many at the hands of W, but more at the hands of our own unforgivable (yes immoral) selfishness, isolation and indifference. And in doing so we destroy ourselves, slowly but surely. The environment’s shit. Iraq is a quagmire of the finest order. And don’t get me started on our prison system.

I think we have a tendency, as Americans and maybe as people, to avoid conflict (except war, we like that) and to shun criticism. To complain is bad, negative. I agree in a sense. I actually quite hate complaining (of the my life is so hard variety; no, your life is probably not so hard) but a healthy dose of criticism, of questioning as I think of it, maybe I’m alone here, but I think it’s healthy, it’s good and it might just save all our lives in the long-run.

While I don’t pretend that my cilantro hate is going to save anyone’s life or even really perpetuate my own, for me, this passionate hate stirs a spirit of criticism that I like and find good, however ostensibly negative or contrary. Cilantro makes me uncomfortable. It makes me frown. It throws off my balance. Eating it makes me immediately seek homeostasis of some order (water, wine, other food, anything, please, now). In other words, eating it, musing on it, writing about it shakes things up. And shaking things up, to quote Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

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Jewish Friend whose mother has just died: Erin, don’t you run out of ideas for your i hate cilantro blog?

Erin: No, check this out — shiva: cilantro-free.

JFWMHJD: Got it.

Here’s one thing the world’s great religions (by great religions I mean the ones I like, not the ones that are big; see, as I carry a minor in religion I’m equipped to have these sorts of opinions) have in common, despite seemingly limitless differences: they realize the importance of food and drink in not only everyday life, but especially in major life events, as part of the mourning process very much included.

Last week I attended my first shiva and before going, everyone that mentioned the event and their experiences with them in the past pointed to exactly one thing and nothing else: food. At shiva there will always and forever be copious amounts of food. Is it, we wondered, somehow irreverent to serve a hoagie on such an occasion, as one friend had seen during his grandfather’s shiva? Well, what is it that somehow makes casserole more holy than a hoagie, another friend questioned. Good point. And who doesn’t love hoagies?

Upon arrival at my friend’s home last week, I did immediately notice a wide and diverse spread of food. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the large boxes of coffee sitting next to the handles of single malt Scotch. You gotta figure, everyone wants one or the other (or both). Then, on to the food: mixed green salad with nuts, fruit, cheese and an impressively emulsified balsamic vinaigrette (on the side); lots of bread; grilled vegetables; cold cuts and cheeses; cake; gluten-free cupcakes; cookies (full of gluten); Whole Foods’ mezze platter; macaroons; fruit; no hoagies. In this diverse spread, what was, to me (and I’m quite certain no one else), noticeably missing was cilantro, or any food that might reasonably contain it.

According to the McCormick “Enspicelopedia”: “Ancient Hebrews added Cilantro to an herb mixture in the ritual of Passover.” According to my modern-day Jewish friends whom I’ve consulted on the issue, what with their constant reading of the Torah, obsession with regular temple attendance and relentless shunning of bacon, experts on and representatives of Jews everywhere, cilantro really has no presence in foods traditionally (read currently) eaten during rituals like Passover, Hanukkah, etc. While a lack of cilantro might not save the Jewish cuisine from crimes like Gefilte fish, I never met a latke I didn’t like and even the most ardent cilantro supporter might agree that cilantro’s presence would bastardize and ruin the perfect condiment vehicle that is the latke.

See, the thing is, that as unmitigatedly sad/tragic/existentially unnerving as death is, especially to those closest to it (friends are just sort of fumblingly along for the ride) I conjecture, to me it isn’t religion’s ability to really alleviate any of this through its dogma, theology or words of wisdom. Instead, it’s its insistence that one eats, that one’s friends bring and prepare the food that one eats. That it is through this bringing and preparing of food that people are able to show, in some small measure, that they care. And that, yes, in the case of my first experience with shiva, this food is not only ample and diverse but provides no unwanted herbal distractions from the matter at hand — eating, searching for the right words.

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Cilantro Kills

So, cilantro kills bacteria. That’s according to scientists at the University of California Berkeley and the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, if you want to trust Cal-Mex science, which has always been my favorite flavor. More specifically, 11 of 13 isolated cilantro compounds that were studied were demonstrated to have some effectiveness against pathogenic bacteria, especially Salmonella choleraesuis (the thing that causes the thing you get when you have unprotected sex with raw poultry) and, more specifically, one of those compounds, dodecenal, was “particularly effective.” This is all according to the New York Times, but I’m sure anyone really interested could find the original journals, if one were into that sort of thing; I’m not into that sort of thing.

Interesting news? Sure. I was even on board with the Times’ seemingly objective reporting up until the point it declared “Eat Cilantro,” which was actually the title of the snippet, so I guess I really wasn’t ever really on board. I know what some of you cilantro lover, bacteria hater-types (poor fools) are thinking: I can eat something I love and kill something I hate? Win-win! Easy Killer. Let’s backup for a moment.

First, each year only 40,000 cases of Salmonella are reported and only 600 people die from it*. OK. So, that’s kind of a lot, as compared to, you know, rabies’ 6 annual deaths, which The Office handled with its usual sensitivity and grace. But, let’s not go turning into Salmonella alarmists here; if you really want to avoid the disease, you’ll do as the CDC recommends and avoid the following: raw meat, at-all pink meat, hollandaise, tiramisu, cookie dough, cross contamination and pet turtles. If you can find a reason to keep living without these things, I suppose cilantro might as well be a part of the miserable life you’ll be left with.

Second, as my cousin the doctor, whom I always refer to as my cousin, the doctor, frequently suggests, we’ve become positively scared shitless of bacteria, and that, perhaps more than anything, is why we’re always so sick. I like the idea that she’s right — because who wants to worry about everything all the time? — but since she has an MD next to her name, she must be. So, you know, the way I see it, cilantro with its whopping 11 compounds of bacteria fighting, is actually slowly killing not only the bacteria you hate, but also the person you try not to — you.

Third, many studies have basically shown in countless ways that fruits and vegetables tend to be really good for you. The nuances of these studies I tend to find, well, sort of irrelevant. We should do as Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) suggests, which is to eat food (ie carrots and mushrooms as opposed to vitamins that would seem to carry the “compounds” their originals definitely have in combinations that work and our bodies can accept) and as I would add, we should eat what we like and not what we don’t. We should also cultivate palates that enjoy broccoli (which scientists in Estonia have proved kills cancer every time it’s consumed) at least as much as, say, creme brulee, or our health will be pretty screwed. We should also probably quit telling each other what to do.

So, you know what? Eat Cilantro or Don’t eat cilantro, but just remember every time you take a bite, you might be killing someone.

*The CDC suggests that the estimate might be “thity” or more times greater, whatever that means.

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