Saturday, February 18, 2006

'Turns Your Lungs into Bloody Rags'

There's nothing like the specter of a global pandemic to really bring out the paranoid germophobe in a guy. Yesterday at lunch, I watched in horror as the busboy refilled my glass. He came in too close and brought the pitcher practically into my water, close enough that the lip of it brushed against my straw. OK, so what if the pitcher did touch the straw? The problem isn't that the pitcher touched my glass, because I'm fine. But what if the people at the next table all have colds? Or worse?

I have a friend in LA who lives with OCD. It almost ruined his life a few years ago, but he's controlled it with drugs and now seems to have a semi-normal life. He's still a freak, but in a manageable way. He leaves the house, has a family, runs a business, and so on. He's also, as is often the case with OCDistes, brilliant and funny and preposterously knowledgeable. He knows too much. For instance, he knows that smoke alarms contain minute particles of radioactive Americium-241. He's afraid of radioactivity in all its manifestations. Even though the radioactive particles "travel only a few centimetres in air before they are absorbed and hence will not escape from the smoke alarm [and] ... do not have sufficient energy even to penetrate the dead layer of human skin" (source), he goes out of his way to avoid any proximity to smoke alarms. He never set foot in my house, back when I had one. Vintage watches terrify him, because radium, the substance that used to make watch dials glow, is radioactive. I once gave him a non-toxic glow-in-the-dark toothbrush. He laughed ruefully.

His obsessions don't stop at radioactivity. At lunch in LA a month ago, he urged me to have his toast, declaring himself with no irony "the most germ-free person you know."

I don't want to go down that path. I have no hope or intention of becoming a "germ-free person." But I've been reading about the bird flu creeping its way toward us across the globe, country by country -- haven't you? -- and maybe bottled water isn't a preposterous luxury. I wonder if whisky kills germs effectively.

Here's how Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society of the U.S., describes what happens if you come down with bird flu:
    "[Y]our immune system kills you. The virus triggers an overreaction of your immune system, which attacks your lungs and basically turns your lungs into bloody rags and you essentially drown in your own bloody secretions."
Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. Get me the fuck off this planet!

You can read the rest of the interview in Satya, a NY-based magazine focused on vegetarianism, social advocacy, and animal rights. The current issue is all about chickens. I haven't eaten chicken in about six years, but now I'm having a hard time even thinking about the eggs in my fridge, let alone eating them. Not because of bird flu, but because of the way chickens are treated. In the interview, Greger talks about how factory farming is the real cause of bird flu:
    "One can trace H5N1 to the explosion of intensive poultry production in Southeast Asia and the developing world in general. Over the last few decades, meat and egg consumption has really exploded and led to mass industrial animal agriculture and transport—the perfect environment for breeding a super flu virus like this one ... The blame can really be laid at the feet of intensive poultry production. This is truly a virus of our own hatching coming back to roost."
To roost! Who says doomsday prophets have no sense of humor?

You may recall that factory farming was behind that other laff riot, mad cow disease -- having something to do with feeding dead and diseased cows to other cows in the form of food pellets. Kind of a toxic feedback loop upsettting the laws of nature. Step back in time for more on the horrors of factory farming cows. Maybe we'll all get lucky again, just like we did when Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis came a-knockin' but so few humans died.

In the meantime, whenever a busboy refills my water, I think "bloody rags!"

Bon appetit!



sarah said...

you can buy cage-free shell eggs. restaurants can't though, yet, because - get this - they buy shell-free eggs. yeah. most restaurants buy liquid eggs (pre-shelled and sold en masse) and it turns out there is no provider yet of cage-free liquid eggs.

Lord Zim said...

At McDonalds, the hard-boiled eggs in a chef's salad come to each venue in long cylinders to ensure uniformity of slices. I'm not sure how they create the concentric circles.