Writing and running in Austin, TX.
For over two years now, I’ve been a fairly strict vegetarian. I say “fairly” because while I won’t eat any meat (including fish), I will pull bits of ham off a “Meat Pretzel” that surprises me on a 5-hour train to Munich because, well, five hours is a long time and I’d already bought the pretzel and therefore contributed to the poor pig’s demise. (Honestly though – who would think to put meat on a pretzel??)
Before you ask: No, I don’t have trouble getting enough protein. No, I’m not judging you for eating meat. No, going veg won’t melt away the pounds (although I hear the full-on vegan diet can be successful in this regard). No, you don’t need meat to be a successful athlete. See: Ultra-runner Scott Jurek, track icon Carl Lewis, and Biggest Loser star (and PETA’s “Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity 2010”) Bob Harper.
And most importantly: No, it’s not hard to be vegetarian in Germany. It’s actually been much easier here than in Texas. Most restaurants have at least a few vegetarian dishes, if not entire vegetarian menus, and the Germans really do make the most remarkable fake meats I’ve ever tasted. Our local Bio Markt (organic grocery) stocks multiple varieties of faux Schnitzel and Wurst. Never again will I be satisfied with a plain old Boca Burger. Really, I’ve been spoiled.
Until about a month ago. That’s when, for reasons unknown, Germans and visitors to Northern Germany began dropping dead from a mysterious food-borne illness. As you may know, the government response was a complete disaster. First they recommended we avoid all cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes. Then, they announced that the culprit had been found: e. coli in Spanish cucumbers.
After destroying the livelihoods of numerous Spanish farmers, they announced, “Oops! It wasn’t Spanish cucumbers. It’s bean sprouts from Hamburg!” (Ahh, it’s just like home. Remember those supposedly salmonella-infested Mexican tomatoes?) Then they tested the sprouts and found no E. coli, but they did find it in week-old cucumbers in a trash can in the former East Germany. But then somehow it was sprouts again.
The results of all this? Russia has banned all vegetable imports from the EU. In an already dire economic environment, the EU is offering up 210 million Euros to reimburse farmers who lost income in the outbreak – a paltry sum that doesn’t even come close to the lost income. As late as June 13th, the BBC was reporting that the death toll is still rising. And most relevant to yours truly, every time I order a salad at lunch, my dining companions watch me out of the corner their eyes, as if no one wants to miss the moment when I drop like a stone into a plate of killer lettuce.
Seriously, the impact of this thing is everywhere. A couple weeks ago, I ordered my usual sandwich off the lunch truck: lettuce, cheese, mayo, and cucumber on a whole wheat bun. It’s advertised as a “Käse und Salat Goldkörnchen”. That day it was a “Käse und Mayo Goldkörnchen”. I must say, it feels rather nutritionally deficient to dine on a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, even if it is on whole wheat.
To add insult to injury, on a recent run I was listening to an NPR Your Health podcast in which they were discussing American food safety regulations, or rather lack thereof. They included audio of Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn arguing vehemently against a regulation that would make it illegal in the US to knowingly sell meat that is infected with one of the 6 most-deadly strains of E. coli.
First off, how is this not already illegal? Secondly, her argument made my eyes bug out. “The American people are hopeful for jobs. And what you [White House spokesman] are doing by sending out all these regulations is wrong.”
Umm…yes, jobs are important. But it’s kind of hard to work if you’re dead! I don’t mean to get political – this is just a running blog after all – but I can’t help but think that if it was 35 Americans who were dead, instead of 34 Germans and 1 Norwegian, we might care a little more. Besides, isn’t food safety really a “both sides of the aisle” type of concern?
As runners, we spend so much time filling ourselves up with sport drinks and hyper-concentrated-calorie-delivering gels that it’s easy to forget how much any healthy diet relies on access to the basic staples we’ve been pulling out of the ground for thousands of years. Next time someone suggests that you eat more vegetables, I heartily suggest that you take that advice. Believe me, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.