Jim Hightower

Hamburgers That Glow

A doctor says to a patient, “What’s ailing you?” The patient twists his arm way back behind him and says, “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor slaps him upside the head and says, “So, dummy, stop doing that!”

I thought of this old slapstick routine when I heard that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently ruled that the giant meat packers can now start irradiating the raw beef, pork, and lamb they sell to us. That’s right, the U.S.D.A. authorized them to zap our burgers, chops, and steaks with a heavy dose of X-rays, using radioactive cobalt-60 to do the job. How heavy of a dose? Each package of meat gets hit with the radiation equivalent of up to seventy million of the x-rays you get in your doctor’s office.

It doesn’t make the meat radioactive, but it does shrink the nutritional value, alter the taste, kill the beneficial bacteria that meat provides, destroy vitamins A, B-1, and E, and create new chemicals in the meat that might be cancer-causing. Irradiation also raises the price by about a nickel a pound. And get this: there have been no studies on the long-term health effects all this will have on us. Our families are the industry’s guinea pigs.

The U.S.D.A. and the industry say irradiating meat is necessary to “protect us” from such deadly bacteria as E. coli, which, in the past decade, has contaminated so much of the meat we eat. But what they don’t want you to know is that this gross contamination is the direct result of the disease-causing factory feedlots that cattle are now subjected to, and the sloppy practices and filthy facilities of the meat packers themselves.

So, dummies, stop doing that! If the industry would simply clean up its own act and stop contaminating the meat, there would be no need to make the problem worse by further contaminating the meat through irradiation. To fight this irradiation insanity, call Public Citizen: (202) 546-4996.

CHEF’S SURPRISE

It’s the paranoid’s worst fear: they really are watching you. We’ve learned in recent years that privacy is passé in practically every aspect of our lives as corporate and governmental snoops track our movements at work, in schools, walking down the street, browsing on the Internet … and now, even while we eat.

The New York Times reports that some of the city’s finest restaurants have installed cameras to monitor your meal. You wouldn’t notice, unless you happened to look up at the ceiling, where a small camera lens is peering down at you, conveying the image back to a screen in the kitchen. New digital surveillance cameras provide remarkably clear pictures of your dining habits, and they have zoom lenses that can capture such up-close details as what you’re writing on a check. They also allow “remote access,” meaning a chef away from the restaurant can tune into the dining room through a computer and watch you eating.

The rationale is that these peek-a-boo systems allow chefs to know when you’re finishing your appetizer so the entree can arrive right on time. But the cameras can also pick up your intimacies (should you and your date get a little smoochy), providing voyeuristic fun for the kitchen staff. Also, if the chef can catch the action online, so can any twelve-year-old computer whiz who wants to take a peek around the tables.

In addition to the cameras, the Times reports that more and more restaurants are building personal profiles on their customers, compiling databases that include your phone number, address, profession, eating preferences, how much you drink, etc., etc. Again, this nosy bit of data collection is done in the name of efficiency and meeting customer’s desires – but the bottom line is that your intimate dining experiences are being watched, recorded, stored, and used without your permission.

This digital prying gives new meaning to the term “chef’s surprise.” The hell with efficiency – give me some privacy!

DOGS IN SPACE

Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the uncharted universe of eternity, where time stands still, and you can live forever.

Well, maybe you can’t, but your dog Fido, your cat Fluffy, and all your other pets can. At least Richard Denniston, an expert in reproductive physiology, thinks it’s possible. The Associated Press reports that Denniston’s beloved Scottish terrier was about to die. So he took a tiny skin sample from the dog, cultured it, and froze this bit of DNA in liquid nitrogen – saving it for the day when dog cloning will let him bring his terrier back, genetically speaking.

Can it happen? Mark Westhusin, head of a dog cloning team at Texas A&M, thinks it will happen, and soon. Remember Dolly, the sheep that was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell in 1997? the A.P. notes that cattle, goats, mice, and monkeys have likewise been cloned in labs since, and pets are likely to be next. Westhusin is hard at work on it, having received a $2.4 million grant from a wealthy dog owner to advance canine cloning, and experts say a successful clone is only about five years down the road.

Already, entrepreneurs are leaping at the financial opportunities of this technology like dogs chasing Frisbees. Richard Denniston, for example, has launched Lazaron BioTechnologies, which will collect your pet’s DNA for $500 and store it for a monthly fee of $10. Also, Professor Westhusin has created a company with the clever name of Genetic Savings & Clone. But the pet-cloning company with the best name is called perPETuate.

If they can clone your dog tomorrow, why not you the next day? Then you and Fido can play “go fetch” for eons.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or write [email protected]

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