Lessons can be learned from food scares

By Ryn Gargulinski: Columnist

Just when New Mexico folks thought that burrito was safe, new news says a tainted bag of spinach found its way to the Land of Enchantment.

The spinach E. coli scare has now strained its way to 23 states, killing one in Wisconsin.

While the scare heavily hit California — since that’s where it originated — and nearby Oregon just because it’s nearby, it’s sad to hear of its migration to the High Plains.

On a positive note, I don’t recall many New Mexico recipes containing spinach. Even the vegetarian burritos opt for much heartier green stuff such as chilies.

But spinach is a nice break from the popular fare of rice, beans and beef or its counterpart of beans, beef and rice.

Of course, one can merely try to substitute a different green thing for spinach, but there’s something less romantic about romaine lettuce quiche.

And everyone knows chomping on iceberg is about as nutritious as drinking from a garden hose.

Every era gets its share of food scares. Spinach just happens to be hip in 2006. A timeline can outline outbreaks supposedly caused by everything from mad cows to fast-food fries. Rat hair in the bean dip. Bad bananas. Cancer from red-coated candies. Mice that float in soda cans.

Going back to the 1940s, one finds that whole hullabaloo about arsenic and old lace.

Even medicine is not exempt, as evident by the Tylenol thing in the 1980s.

This was doubly annoying as one couldn’t even quell the headache the scare caused by popping a pill.

Thankfully, many of the tales spun are simply urban myths. Or, in the case of New Mexico, High Plains hijinx.

There is at least one upside to deadly dining — it takes a heck of a lot of poison to kill someone.

When a friend of mine was mad at her mother, she squirted at least five solid sprays of Windex into her coffee — with no ill effects whatsoever.

Lizzie Borden, too, initially tried to poison her parents. Since they were found mutilated and decapitated with an ax, one can rest assured the poisoning didn’t work.

One can also rest assured that arsenic is easy to detect by its distinctive almond flavor. And it takes massive quantities to kill a human with it. The amount of arsenic it would take to take out a person is equivalent to the quantity needed to eradicate not only all the mice in Memphis but every single one that also floats in a soda can.

Of course, the soda-can mice are most likely already dead — but with no thanks to the arsenic.

At least a lesson or two can be learned from all this talk of fatal food.

The best way to stay safe is to simply eat dirt. Unless, of course, the E. coli spinach was grown there or mad cows once grazed there or the plot was used to bury Memphis mice.

The second lesson may be more helpful — never use Windex to plan a murder.