Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I've been bugged

You remember this one from elementary school. “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Finding half a worm in your apple.”

“What’s worse than finding a small brown beetle in your frozen dinner? Finding pieces of a small brown beetle in your frozen dinner.”

Last night, as I do most evenings on being reminded that drinking on an empty stomach leads to a host of negative physical effects, I went to my freezer and pulled out a dinner cube. I don’t think it was actually called “Chicken ‘n Other Shit” but that’s what it was. So I nuked it, tore off the plastic covering and sat down in front of the TV (you can only eat these meals in front of a TV. It’s on the box).

About halfway through the shit—I ate the chicken first, of course—something unusually crunchy did come between my teeth. I poked around in my mouth until I found what I thought would be an overcooked bit of broccoli and pulled it out for a cursory examination. It first appeared as if it was a burnt piece of food, dark brown, about the size of a shirt-collar button. Bringing it into better focus, I realized that the broccoli piece had tiny legs sprouting from it. Then I saw the distinctive segmentation of a beetle’s wings and realized that this was not something found among the listed ingredients. I put it on my napkin and recovered the rest of that mouthful of food. As I discovered more parts of the insect appearing on my napkin, my gag reflex started to kick in.

I’m all for the little guy in most David and Goliath situations, but I’ve never been able to work up much of a lather for those looking to squeeze millions from a company by claiming to have found a fingernail or a finger in their meal. Half of these people are lying, and the other half seem to be far more interested in a large financial settlement than true justice. Having now been through the experience, however, I find it far more disturbing than I would have guessed.

Eating a bug is bad enough—although I’ve unintentionally inhaled my share of mosquitoes—but the breach of trust with those who produce and package my food is what really matters. Prior to this, I would never think of looking for an insect in my food before eating it. Now, I won’t be able to take a bite of anything without giving it a once-over. Paranoia, it’s what’s for dinner.

I would love to blame this on President Bush, and in some distant, six-degrees-of-separation kind of way he may in fact be the culprit. Every aspect of our lives, from security to individual rights to environmental safety to food quality, has gone downhill since he and his cronies walked into the White House in 2001. The trust we have had in so many routine aspects of our day-to-day lives has been broken repeatedly.

The failure of Marie Callender to safeguard the quality of her food is for me a symbol of a system in decline, a society whose pillars are crumbling. It’s too bad. She looks so sweet and motherly on the box, but my mother never served anything with bugs in it. I’m sorry, Marie, but the relationship is over.

I can’t trust you any longer.

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