Des Moines, Iowa – “It was the worst experience of my life,” said Cyrus Greenleaf, head of Vegetables Entitled to Respect and Green Equality (VERGE) after he and several other heads of lettuce, as well as several pounds of spinach and green onions, were abruptly tossed from a local grocery store after shoppers and USDA officials became concerned that the group was potentially carrying E.coli bacteria.
Consumers have been on high alert lately following recent news stories and studies linking green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach to E.coli outbreaks. Speaking on behalf of his group, Greenleaf claimed that he and his friends were victims of “veggie-profiling” and that they were being singled out for “traveling while green.”
“This is obvious vegetarianism,” he said. “The public and the administration gets its undies in a bunch and suddenly it’s ‘E.coli this’ and ‘E.coli that.’ It’s simply easier to blame somebody than to address the root causes. I blame the American culture; people in this country learn to hate green vegetables when they’re young and then when they get older you shouldn’t be surprised when their prejudice crops up. Green vegetables are peaceful and nutritious; these latest charges are harassment, plain and simple.” Greenleaf indicated that the group may seek redress in the courts.
While definite links between vegetables and illnesses such as E.coli, salmonella and hepatitus have been discovered, there is still some uncertainty about the organic nature of the threat, even among government officials. For example, when asked recently whether lettuce or spinach posed a greater threat, incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes, said, “I don’t know, I have a hard time telling one from the other.”
Meanwhile, both the FDA and the USDA encourage consumers to be alert, saying they are the best line of defense against E.coli attacks and other terra-ism. “Not all vegetables have E.coli, but all the latest E.coli carriers have been vegetables,” said Brad LeBeouf, a spokesman for the USDA.