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Food is scary, but so is life

(ran W, E editions)

In less than a year now, I have been informed by well-researched television specials that there are serious problems with our supplies of meat, poultry and fish.

The problem areas are how they are stored, slaughtered, cleaned, packaged and cooked, and what they were eating before all of those things happened to them.

When the problems aren't chemical or bacteriological, they seem to be political or ethical. By the time I decide to avoid one restaurant chain because it discriminates against gays, another because some women are offended by its double-entendre name, another because dolphins might have drowned in the nets that caught its tuna and yet another because its lettuce was picked by non-union farm workers . . . my lunch hour is pretty well shot.

If I still have a few minutes, I can meditate on the cruelties of veal production, the alleged unbridled happiness of free-range chickens, the relative morality of boiling lobsters alive and _ if I'm really paranoid _ the tiny screams of living bacteria in yogurt cultures as they plunge down my throat into the black hole of all things edible.

Switch to the vegetable kingdom and you are besieged by horror stories of pesticides, irradiation, dyes and the almost Zenlike question of whether it is better to find a worm _ or half of one _ in an apple.

Friends of mine with small children spend time worrying about the cumulative effects of growth hormones in milk, antibiotics in animal feeds, and radioisotopes in everything.

I understand their concerns and, on their behalf, I refuse to belittle their concerns and will try, when I have time, to manifest a little uneasiness from time to time.

For myself, however, I have stopped worrying.

I decided, when I hit 50 recently, to stop worrying about the small stuff and to remain as fixated as possible on the realization that nearly all of what seems like big stuff is really small stuff.

To satisfy my doctor I will continue to eat enough fiber every week to outfit the entire Spanish Armada in rope, I will avoid fat and seek lean and will try to keep my caloric intake within the four-digit range.

But enough things have had enough shots at killing me that I am no longer going to regard every plate of food as a terrorist bomb.

For anyone whose lifestyle includes driving on U.S. 19, returning obscene gestures offered by people with full gun racks, NRA stickers and country radio station bumper stickers on their pickup truck bumpers and leaving the toilet seat in the up position late at night every once in a while _ food fears are crazy.

I refuse to spend the rest of my life grazing, and, even if I did, doesn't anyone remember that that's how strontium-90 got into the milk supply?

And so sometimes, maybe not every time but sometimes, a plate of raw oysters gives me that come-hither look, a politically incorrect chicken wing crooks itself suggestively in my direction or a rack of lamb with paper pantied legs goes by on a waiter's tray _ I may decide to plunge in and let the triglycerides fall where they may.

Oh, I know people who own a superb vegetarian restaurant where it is almost impossible to get unhealthy food, and I promise to put in the required hours there and at salad bars around the world to keep my macrobiotics yin and yang in a semblance of balance.

But I have lived through too many of life's little ironies not to know that I have a sizable statistical chance after one of those great and healthful meals to be riding with my seat belt fastened in my smoke-free van sucking on a sugarless lozenge when I get taken out by a truckload of plumbing fixtures destined for installation in a Sarasota condominium.

I just want to have an equal statistical opportunity to, with my last breath, remark that I am glad I went for the lamb, the mint jelly and the fudge brownie sundae on that particular day.

Jan Glidewell is a columnist for North Suncoast editions of the Times.

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