What with reports of fish farms polluted by sewage, crawfish contaminated with salmonella and everything from formaldehyde to paraffin wax finding its way into biscuits and gravy, who would have thought that a little lowly wheat gluten would cause such a stir?
Then again, that wheat gluten found its way into our pet food, and as we all know, Hell hath no fury like a pussy lover aggrieved. So aggrieved, in fact, that the incident kicked off a series of recalls of imported food from China. Spurious reports of cardboard-laden buns coursed through the media, and in a display of its ardent devotion to the American digestive tract, the Chinese government even executed one of its food regulators.
Looking back, though, the whole six-month cycle seems so — I don't know, so 2007?
It's not that lax food-safety regulation in a vast developing country that supplies the U.S. with everything from garlic to shrimp to wheat gluten (w00t! w00t!) is not a serious issue. Only a fraction of tainted food imported from China is caught at our ports by FDA inspectors. The rest crosses the border, no problem. Worse yet: The tainted food that is turned away has traditionally been re-integrated into the byways of international commerce — where some plucky carrier attempts, once again, to import it.
Sure. But where does this episode rank in our nation's ongoing psychodrama with its food supply? How does it stack up against, say, the popular revelation (nearly a decade old now) that cows are cannibals and that our burgers have a fecal count? How about the great foodie crisis of 2006, when we discovered that corn (corn!) was the insidious backbone of our nation's diet, and, quite possibly, the cause of all those bulky BMIs? Remember GMOs? Back in 2001 we were introduced to a brave new future of glowing tomatoes and penicillin-producing Brussels sprouts. That's pretty scary, right?
In other words, who needs Fear Factor when we've got Safeway?
But fear is a funny thing. Once you start to fear everything — is there E. coli in my spinach? — you cease to fear anything. Except, perhaps, a tube of Fish-Cheese Sausage from Korea's Lotte Ham & Milk Co., Ltd.
It looks innocent enough: a package of tumescent golden tubes bedecked with an innocent-eyed Korean boy cuddling his favorite tube of Fish-Cheese Sausage. But peel back the plastic tubing and these cylinders of fish-cheese reveal themselves as neither creamy nor firm. They're spongy — yielding, yet resilient — and emit an odor that's one part La Vache Qui Rit, one part dried anchovies.
Eating the stuff is another matter. Like instant coffee, processed cheese foods are one of life's guilty pleasures, and at first blush my tube of Fish-Cheese Sausage promises to deliver the sort of amped-up cheesy flavor I've come to expect from the finer purveyors of cheese foods. And it does — at first.
Thing is, as the tube of fish-cheese dissolves in my mouth, the competing flavors start to quarrel. Here I taste Velveeta. There I taste the bottom of the ocean. Here dairy. There algae. It's a battle of the species: bovine v. piscine.
But this is the sort of match-up without a winner, and after a few bites I head to the bathroom to give what's left the water burial it deserves.
I just hope its remains don't leach into the water table.
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.