Two years ago, we did a podcast on a dining experience Stephen Dubner had at Le Pain Quotidien. The podcast was called “Mouse in the Salad,” so you can probably guess what happened. And it looks like animals in salads are all the rage lately — The Atlantic Wire reports that a Wall Street Journal editor recently found a frog in her Pret A Manger nicoise salad. The reason given by Pret was similar to the one given by Le Pain Quotidien CEO Vincent Herbert in our podcast: it’s organic. From WSJ.com:
Ellen Roggemann, vice president of brand marketing for the company in the U.S., said that Pret A Manger’s goal of selling “handmade natural food,” often made from organic ingredients, could be partially to blame for the frog in the salad.
“We don’t use any pesticides with our greens and they go through multiple washing cycles,” she said. “An unfortunate piece of organic matter has made its way through,” she added.
Season 2, Episode 4
We have just released our second series of five one-hour Freakonomics Radio specials to public-radio stations across the country. (Check here to find your local station.) Now these episodes are hitting our podcast stream as well. These shows are what might best be called “mashupdates” — that is, mashups of earlier podcasts with new interviews.
Season 2, Episode 4
In this episode, we look at the tension between “slow food” – a return to the past – and the food future. You’ll hear from slow-food champion Alice Waters and uber-modernist Nathan Myhrvold, who advocates bringing more science into the kitchen – including, perhaps, a centrifuge, a pharmaceutical freeze drier and … a food printer?
The infamous egg recall of 2010–which identified over 500,000 eggs infected with salmonella–inspired not only widespread condemnation of industrial egg production, but a reactionary upsurge in the trend of keeping backyard hens. For reasons that seem intuitively straightforward (but lack concrete substantiation), a critical mass of do-it-yourselfers determined that it was, among other benefits, safer and more humane to raise their “own” birds and eat their “own” eggs. As this movement continues to take shape, it’s worth asking if these evaluations are all they’re cracked up to be.
As for safety, we’ve really no way of knowing at this point. To the best of my knowledge (and please, if I am wrong, show me), nobody has calculated comparative rates of infection between backyard and industrialized birds. What we do know is that backyard chickens aren’t immune to disease outbreaks. Just last month Food Safety News reported that the CDC had identified 71 cases of salmonella (more than half under the age of 5) linked to backyard chickens. Eighteen people were hospitalized. Read More »
The news that In.Gredients, a “package free, zero-waste” grocery store, will debut in Austin, Texas is certainly cause for optimism. The store, which will be located on the rapidly gentrifying east side of town, is bound to find an eager market of young, progressive consumers raised on a steady diet of environmental ethics, especially the unmitigated horrors of plastic. In addition to its quest to eliminate waste, the store, according to its press release, also promises to promote local and organic food, thereby achieving a trifecta of green grocer bona fides. It should do well.
That said, I think the brains behind In.Gredients vastly underestimate the environmental implications of their bold idea. The tawdry rhetorical appeal to reduced packing, local production, and organic food might resonate with an audience accustomed to associating these traits with eco-correctness. But the carbon-footprint complex isn’t so simple. Fortunately, in this case (and somewhat coincidentally), it happens to be far more consistent with the store’s purported mission. Read More »
We’ve been preparing a Freakonomics Radio piece on the hidden or overlooked costs of eating organic food. (Hint: living creatures that might be deterred by pesticides might not be deterred without pesticides.) In the meantime, a massive example has arisen in Europe, where the recent deadly E. coli outbreak has been traced to organic bean sprouts grown in northern Germany. In his Wall Street Journal column, Rational Optimist Matt Ridley makes a fervent argument that such an outbreak needn’t have happened:
A technology that might have prevented contaminated produce from infecting thousands of Germans with E. coli was vetoed—by Germany—11 years ago for use in the European Union. Irradiating food with high-voltage electrons is a process that can kill bacteria on or in solid objects, just as pasteurization can kill them in liquid foods.
When the European Commission proposed in 2000 that irradiation be allowed for a greater range of foods and at a higher dose, the German government vetoed the measure. In the U.S., food irradiation is used for various products, including ground beef, but most retailers resist the practice, lest the word “irradiated” on the label scare off customers.
In case you think the argument for irradiation is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, consider this Huffington Post article by the A.P.’s Lauran Neergaard, titled “Is Irradiation The Future Of E. Coli Prevention?”