CRETE–I must admit I have been a bit neglectful in my weekly duties of getting my Publisher’s Platform in on time.  This week I actually did have time to think about doing it between visits to a former Leper Colony (lawyers still welcome), very old Cretan churches and even older Minoan ruins.  The pace here on Crete is much slower (except for driving) than my usual, but I am learning to adjust.  Getting sleep and eating something other than airplane food does a wonder for your attitude.  I may actually be enjoying myself, and being tolerated by my wife and three daughters.

In addition to the pace of life here, there are several other changes that certainly would seem odd to the average American.  The home (a.k.a. Villa) that we are staying at in Elounda has a refrigerator the size that I had in my dorm room in college.  Curious, I asked about it.  Nicely, the owner/caretaker said, “we buy fresh food every day, why would we need a large one?”  Most of the fruits and vegetables are local and there seems to be about a 40/60 relationship between processed food and fresh in the local grocery store.  My guess is that, even in upscale grocery stores in the U.S., processed food would command a much larger percentage of the shelf space.

Frankly, other than emails from the office–and reading Food Safety News–I have not really thought much about food safety in the last week.  To be sure, my bet is that Crete–especially in the tourist centers–might well have its fair share of food poisoning incidents.  However, it is easy to get lulled into a “fresh and local” safe food belief–especially, when the food tastes so good.  Perhaps, food is not safer here in Crete, but it certainly feels like it, and after a while you believe it.

My guess is that the folks in Colorado that purchased (goat shared) raw milk from Billy Goat Dairy felt the same way about the raw milk that has now sickened 30–two with hemolytic uremic syndrome–with a combination of Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7.  They clearly “knew their farmer.”  And, then there is the recall of Bison Burgers contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 from Colorado that has sickened several in three states.  If asked, I think without question those consumers thought they were buying and consuming products that they believed were more healthful and safer than that mass-produced food depicted in “Food, Inc.”

The whole “local food is better and safer” movement is based upon a belief that it is true–whether it is or not.  It is true that most (vast majority) of the food poisoning cases that I have been involved with in the last 17 years have stemmed from mass-produced, far-transported products.  However, there is the clear possibility that local foods poison people, but perhaps fewer at a time so it is difficult to notice.  I am not sure we have the data either way to make the argument or shake a belief.

The belief that “local food is better and safer” does create both an opportunity and a responsibility for the local producer.  The opportunity is the built in belief that the customer has in the product that mass-produced and highly processed foods can never match.  The responsibility is that the local producer has much to live up to.

Well, its dinner time as I reach for the local olives and olive oil, and cross my fingers.

  • Doc Mudd

    Very well stated, Mr. Marler.
    Some folks do imagine that locally produced foods are naturally (magically?) exempt from quality problems. Trouble is, E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria didn’t get the memo, apparently. Bacteria fail to discriminate between large and small food producers, between the charmingly quaint yeoman and the common commercial farmer, between the anonymous food supplier in a distant foreign land and the vendor right next door whom we know and trust. Bacteria also exhibit the frustrating habit of utterly refusing to respect romantic wishful opinions of food consumers, even those of the trendiest and most zealous believers.
    Thank you for your well-reasoned and balanced essay. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!

  • Bill,
    Crete sounds wonderful. Hope the culture grows on you (sorry, couldn’t resist). No mention of raw milk on Crete? No mention of the traditional raw milk cheeses? Goats are part of their culture; have been for thousands of years.
    What are the statistics on Crete’s outbreaks attributed to raw milk? Does the population of Crete have healthier immune systems than the population of Colorado? Do you see a lot of kids with braces? Do they still love their raw milk products? Can you buy it straight from the farm, and markets?
    How does one explain 30 illnesses, when 150 drank the same milk? Is it possible that those 30 were also feasting at McDonalds, or Taco Bell? Consumers in Colorado, where raw milk herdshares were legalized just 5 years ago, might have less access to fresh local foods, compared to highly processed foods. (I can vouch for that – I live here.)
    I agree that consumers need to know more about their farmer than how close s/he is to their house, or what a nice person they are..they need to know what makes healthy animals and clean milk. They need to know about feed, access to pasture, fast chill-down, and milk quality. Consumers, Know Your Source!
    Until we get the funding to certify raw dairies, it’s up to the farmer and the consumer to self-regulate. 64 self-regulated dairies in 5 years, 20,000 consumers, 2 outbreaks. Not perfect, but not bad. Not bad at all. And it’s been nice for the economy – not to mention that we’re building a fresh local food supply. Think about that. 64 businesses started in 5 years! Accomplished with no bureaucracy, no regulatory oversight, no taxpayer money whatsoever.
    Trendy for a decade (Had to get bootleg milk for 5 of those years),