If you're wondering why our country seems so bizarrely fearful, here's the answer: We absolutely cannot understand that risk is inherent in everything, even things that are outrageously safe, like eating raw cookie dough.
Recently, thanks to an off batch of General Mills flour that sickened 42 people nationwide (none of whom died), the Food & Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control warned us, yet again, not to eat dough. They did not just say, "Get rid of that bad batch of General Mills flour" (sold under the brand names Gold Medal, Signature Kitchen's, and Gold Medal Wondra). They said, basically: Don't eat raw dough, because dough contains raw flour, flour comes from the fields, fields are not antiseptic and, therefore, you could end up very sick.
That's despite odds of 320,000,000 to 42, or about a million to one, in our favor. The odds are even better if you get rid of the bad General Mills batch that has been recalled.
So why is the government acting act as if all flour, a staple of human life since the dawn of agriculture, is anthrax?
Because once it has evidence of a few, extremely rare cases of anything, it cannot keep the idea of "extremely rare" in perspective. It's operating on worst-first thinking: Go to the very worst-case scenario first, no matter how remote, and proceed as if it's likely to happen. In fact, proceed as if it's always happening.
We live this way and it's making us crazy.
One child dies of "dry drowning" — an extremely rare condition where water in the lungs of a child who went swimming kills them even a day or two later — and suddenly there are stories all over the media about dry drowning "warning signs" and how to be more vigilant.
One child is accidentally served an alcoholic drink at Applebee's and suddenly the chain vows never to serve anything other than individual juice packs. As if it had been serving kids mai tais on a regular basis.
One zipper-pull falls of a children's sweatshirt, and suddenly the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls all 140,000 of them — because the detached zipper-pull COULD pose a choking hazard. Not that it did. And not that zipper-pulls even fell off the other shirts. But the Commission treats all defects great and small like meteors hurtling toward the earth.
This is not a safe or smart way to live. It throws out products and practices that are perfectly fine. It mandates new products and practices that are unnecessary. It wastes time, money and resources. I just got an email from some playground surfacing company begging me to run a piece about the dangers of modern day playgrounds and how they must be made even safer.
What would that mandate cost society? How many playgrounds would be closed because new standards would make the old ones (even those covered in squishy surfacing) legally untenable? Who wins when "extremely safe" is not safe enough?
Some of you may recall that just a few years ago we were being warned to avoid eating cookie dough not because of the flour but because of the raw eggs. I did my research back then and discovered that only 1 out of 30,000 eggs carries salmonella, and of the people who contract it, 94 percent don't go to the hospital.
Naturally, if you are living with folks who are very young, very old, or very immuno-compromised, you have to take extra precautions. But why should the whole country be tasked with acting as if it's sick and weak?
Why should we treat one-in-a-million dangers as if they are common?
Who wins when we become afraid of everyday life?
These are the questions that drive many an American to one thing only. A heaping spoonful of soul-salving cookie dough.
Photo credit: regan76