To Your Health?

Brother Benen and Rick Perlstein have long written about “E. coli conservatism,” the right-wing belief that food inspection isn’t terribly important and constitutes a waste of time and money. (Rachel Maddow ran a great segment in 2011 on this mentality.) “E. coli conservatism” almost rivals climate-change denial as the scariest manifestation of right-wing dementia; after all, what person in their right mind would not care about their own health, to say nothing of the health of our planet?

If the right had its way, what you eat would likely wind up eating you. A story from the Boston Globe illustrates the importance of food and restaurant inspection–and the foolishness of those who don’t take this issue seriously.

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause food-borne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

At least two violations that can cause food-borne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of food-borne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Now imagine if those inspectors weren’t on the job. Imagine if some right-wing hyper-libertarian nutjob managed to convince Bostonians that the restaurants could regulate themselves, that unelected bureaucrats shouldn’t interfere in private business transactions, that government was the problem. How many Bostonians would wind up dead as a result?

Right-wing ideology can be fatal. Just how fatal? Think about this.

Food-borne illness typically causes relatively minor symptoms — the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food-borne illness each year — but it can be much more serious. An estimated 128,000 people nationwide are hospitalized because food-borne illnesses each year and 3,000 die from them.

That’s right. Because we don’t inspect enough, because we aren’t vigilant enough, because we haven’t pushed back against we-don’t-need-government! ideology enough, we suffer the equivalent of a 9/11 death toll every year.

I’d love to crack a joke about right-wing parasites, but “E. coli conservatism” is no laughing matter. Right-wing ideology is quite literally hard to stomach.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.