One Complicated Sandwich
Who regulates our food? Who regulates which foods? More importantly, perhaps: why? Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate our food, but the division is shockingly arbitrary. Pepperoni pizza, for instance, is regulated by the USDA, while cheese pizza is regulated by the FDA. The FDA regulates a ham sandwich with two slices of bread, but the USDA regulates open-face ham sandwiches.
The very idea of a sandwich “made with bread, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato raises regulatory issues of terrifying complexity,” says Marion Nestle, in her book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism.
The addition of vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes throws the Environmental Protection Agency into the regulation mix, whose job it is to control the production of agriculture–as if a sandwich needed more guidelines.
Cheese, a sandwich staple, further complicates our tasty snack. That wholesome individually wrapped yellow square of Kraft cheesiness cannot truly be called cheese. It is, in fact, more accurately, a laboratory creation labeled by the FDA as “process cheese product.” This term postdates the previous term “cheese food,” which was deemed misleading to the consumer in 2002 by the FDA. Somehow, a grilled process cheese product leaves much to be desired. A ham and process cheese product panini simply does not appeal.
What is the reason for all the complexity surrounding our food regulation? Is it meant to keep us healthy? Despite the absurd amount of regulation, we still encounter problems when tomato consumption, for instance, leads to salmonella outbreaks. We are seemingly unaware of the fine print indicating the nuances of processed cheese. We must question the reasoning for the convoluted FDA and USDA regulatory efforts.
Before taking a bite of a ham and cheese sandwich, take these things into consideration: thanks to all of our nation’s tortuous food regulation, the lettuce and tomato are free from harmful pathogens, as is the meat, and for those who enjoy the details, the cheese packaging will tell you not only if you are eating real cheese, but even from where it came.
-Jordan Wondrack, Ethics Design Team