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Jewish World Review Feb. 19, 2004 / 27 Shevat, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Stuck in Aisle 3 | I'm standing in my grocery's meat department, paralyzed with indecision. Lay me on the floor, I could pass for a downer cow. I should be shopping for dinner, but I can't, because I just don't know what's safe anymore.

Besides tofu. Spare me the tofu lecture.

Seems like just a few months ago, food safety wasn't an issue. Going to the grocery was fun. So long as I avoided scary books like "Fast Food Nation" - and avoid it I did, because who wants to read about gut-splattered slaughterhouses? - I didn't give a second thought to where my dinner came from. As far as I was concerned, corned beef hash was born in a can.

And then, boom. One crazy cow and suddenly even committed carnivores couldn't help hearing horrible stories about cattle being fed other cattle. Chickens wallowing in poop. Farmed fish being fed the moral equivalent of Mercury Chow. And while we're at it, said the headlines, avoid tuna if you're pregnant. Avoid vegetables grown in foreign countries if you value a nonspasming intestinal tract. Avoid pretty much everything you used to eat, with the possible exception of spaghetti in red sauce.

Of course, Atkins adherents will tell you that spaghetti with red sauce is a one-way ticket out, too. But we're not going to talk about the Atkins people today because they are having a hard enough time digesting the fact that their guru turns out to have been a walking fat globule with arteries stuffed like bratwurst.

So, back to the newly depressing, increasingly frightening grocery store and what's happening there.

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My friend Hedi is a total foodie. She loves her steak. But the other day, she left the meat department empty-handed. "I couldn't make the purchase because I know too much," she said. The latest factoid she'd heard - that calves are fed the blood of cows - "was grossing me out." She went and bought organic beef at a health food store.

My friend Natalie had a similar experience. "I was in the supermarket this morning and thinking, 'Gee, you're not supposed to eat beef. But now that we have Asian bird flu, you're not supposed to eat chicken. It's just better to be a vegetarian.'"

It is indeed - for reasons moral, healthful and ecological. But many of us find it hard to shake our Neanderthal mantra: "Meat good." So now when I'm facing those succulent sirloins, part of me is ready to fire up the Foreman, while the other part is flashing warning signs: "Stand back! Avoid all beef! Turns gray matter into SpongeBob!"

So I head to the chicken case where it's the same thing all over again. Part of me is aching to Shake 'n Bake, while the other part's noodging, "Oven-roasted bird flu? This sounds good?"

By the time I hit the fish department I am so crazed, I wonder - maybe I already have mad cow disease? My head is spinning: The farmed salmon's got more heavy metal than a Megadeath concert. Better to eat a thermometer. But the wild salmon won't be around much longer if people like me insist that's all we'll eat.

I'd choose a different kind of fish entirely, but it's impossible to remember which are safe, which are endangered and which have been sitting in this very refrigerator case since Saturday.

This trauma may explain why yesterday I bought my first veggie burger, which was, to my surprise, quite good.

As good as a burger? On that, I'm of two sponges ... er ... minds.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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