If you really want to have nightmares, all you need to do is follow this link, which indicates the maximum level of all sort of harrowing things that can go in food.
It’s grim stuff. Basically, food cannot be completely clean. Things get in food, specifically insects, sand, grit, mold, rot, and rodents.
Given this, the Food and Drug Administration has what they call “Food Defect Action Levels.” These are standards for the maximum amount of really horrible things that can go in food before the FDA deems the food unfit for human consumption. Anything lower, and it’s okay to put it on the market.
This is the stuff of nightmares. There can be four insects in 100 grams of apple butter before the FDA takes notice. There can be up to 59 aphids, mites, or thrips (whatever they are) in frozen broccoli. Random samples of 100 grams chocolate may contain up to 60 insect fragments.
You have had enough, I’m sure.
I think about these shudder inducing statistics as I continue to hammer out essays and stories, still keeping to my pledge to post one of them a day.
Posting one of them a day means putting a lot of stuff out there. And as I think about this, I paraphrase a line from the classic sketch comedy series “Mr. Show:” if you write enough sketches, you’re going to have some rat feces in there.
The FDA sets the limit at mammalian excreta for cocoa beans at 10 milligrams per pound. Just saying.
So it is with these posts, and so it is with my writing. I do what I can to make my words clean and precise, but it’s just not always going to be that way, especially not when I post the volume of things that I’m posting. There will be foul passages, moldy sentences (up to fifteen percent of cranberry sauce can be moldy), and whole essays and stories that are rife with rot.
I’m not sure how much this would change if I were one of those writers who spends days agonizing over each and every sentence. No matter how much I revised (and revised and revised), I’m sure that a whole lot of my writing would still contain those stray bits of filth that would find their way into people’s minds when they read them.
Yet read them they do, if the web statistics that I check each day are to be believed. People consume my writing, as they consume apple butter, broccoli, chocolate, cocoa beans, and cranberry sauce. So far, none of them seem to have gotten ill, and I have yet to be sued for publishing a piece with a stray insect fragment.
So I continue to write, hoping that I keep it within the minimum level of filth allowed by, I don’t know, not the FDA, but at least within the standards of “The Elements of Style.” It is the best I can do. Write as many essays and stories as I do, and you’re going to have some rodent hairs in there.