No germs in Israel (and no bugs in America…)
Being American born and bred, yet having lived most of my adult life in Israel, I suppose it’s no surprise that the contrast between the two cultures is a topic that occasionally gets me thinking.
However, while until now, these ponderings have been more of the sociological or perhaps anthropological variety – I have, as of late, made a startling scientific discovery that I believe may be worthy of the finest academic journals.
To put it short: I’ve reached the conclusion that there are no germs in Israel, and no there are no bugs in America. I shall now present my thesis by way of solid (though admittedly anecdotal) evidence.
Here in Israel, when planning to cook chicken for Shabbos, my general modus operandi had always been to take a couple of packs of chicken out of the freezer the night before and put them in a bowl on my kitchen floor (or just leave them in a grocery bag if it seems watertight) and by the time I get up Friday morning they are hopefully not still too frozen to cut – or conversely not yet fully room temperature, but left with a bit of a chill. It can be hit or miss, and whatever the case (barring any unseemly aromas) the show goes on.
I did it that way for years. We all ate it, enjoyed it, and nobody ever got sick.
Then once, on a visit to the US, where I’d volunteered to do the Shabbos cooking where I was staying, I’d proceeded with my same Thursday evening shtick. About an hour later, as I was about to go to bed, I heard a shriek emitting from the kitchen.
My host, who’d retired earlier and had wandered out for a drink of water, was standing over the poultry package with a look of abject horror. He then began to palpate the packages like a medic on an emergency call, squinting and shaking his head.
“I don’t think so…I think we’ll have to throw it out,” he said.
“Throw it out?” I asked, amazed.
“They’ve started defrosting already,” he said matter-of-factly, handing me the ‘patient’ – a frozen chicken coated with a bit of condensation frost.
“Well, it’s supposed to defrost,” I countered edgily. “I need to cook it tomorrow, you know.”
With a look that I could imagine mirrored that of Doctor Livingstone explaining the rudiments of civilization to a bone-in-the-nose savage, he patiently explained to me that chicken may only be defrosted in the refrigerator, lest it breed germs in the process.
Adopting my ‘when in Rome’ attitude, I meekly nodded and with great effort managed to convince him that the chicken was essentially still frozen and penitently whisked it into the fridge (FYI – until, I got up early the next morning and dunked the thing in hot water until it melted).
Among the numerous other no-no’s I was made aware of during my visit, included not touching shopping carts until one has sanitized its handlebar (is that the word?) first. In Israel we never do that (I’m usually too busy trying to run up to the next checking-out shopper to reserve inheritance rights to his coveted cart, handprints and all.)
And – also certainly unlike in the Levant – one should never buy unwrapped bread or rolls which might have possibly been previously handled.
All this made me wonder how we in Israel had dodged so many bacterial bullets for all these year and come out unscathed. The answer must be, I concluded, that there are no germs in Israel.
The next day, as I was diligently sorting through rice grains on a plate, I heard a snort. “What’re you doing?” my host asked me.
“Checking the rice for bugs,” I answered his, what struck me as a rhetorical question from this frum fellow.
“Why bother? It’s USDA inspected, you know. I just dump it in”
I nodded bemused as I continued my sorting, wondering how the USDA had managed to squeeze one of its inspectors into his pantry, where the rice had been sitting in a previously opened package for what seemed like a good while.
Later on, after the seuda, he brought out some dried fruit known to be infestation-prone.
“Oh, you check those?” he asked, eyeing my surgical procedure with amused interest.
“You don’t?” I countered.
“It’s a name brand, they’d lose business if they weren’t clean,” he said, popping one whole and carefree into his mouth as I cringed.
Then it hit me. This nonchalance I observed there and in sundry other instances while there wasn’t the result of negligence. Rather…there are simply no bugs in America.
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