Friday, June 20, 2008

Tomatoes and Drunk Drivers

The CDC has reported that since April, 552 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul. As a nation, our reaction has been almost heroic. We've pulled tomatoes from store shelves and fast food restaurants, banished them from sandwiches and let tons of stock spoil. In spite of its long-known and far-reaching health benefits, the tomato has overnight become the worst villain in the culinary industry. (Fortunately for our family, home grown tomatoes are still considered safe—for now.)

In 2006, the last year for which numbers are available, an estimated 17,602 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents. In 2001, more than half a million people were injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present (source). That's one injury every minute of every hour of every day for the entire year. For those keeping score at home, that's one Salmonella case for every 208 alcohol-related injuries, just since April.

Although no known deaths have occurred due to the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, we've bent over backwards to "fix" that problem, but whatever efforts we make to curb drunk driving seem to have little effect. Putting my personal religious disdain of alcohol aside, it would just seem sensible to put the same vigor into the problem of drunk driving as we do to contaminated tomatoes. We seem to accept drunk driving and the consequent deaths as an unfortunate part of life, whereas we have a right to eat tomatoes risk-free. Maybe it's just me, but this seems a bit backward. I guess it just shows that the rational man is still an elusive creature.

As Joseph Stalin once remarked, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic". And that smells of rotten tomatoes.

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