The Chicken That Threw Me A Change-Up
Seven years ago I had big dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. My fastball topped 86mph. My curve broke from 12:00 to 6:00. And at 15, I was already entering my second season on varsity. Local scouts were drooling. They called almost every night, and even invited me to professional tryouts.
Then I ate a chicken caesar salad that changed my life.
It was two weeks before my first sophomore start and I was rearing to go. I’d added 3 inches and 20 pounds to my frame in the off season and an extra 5mph to the fastball. I owed it to hard work and a healthy diet. Baseball meant the world to me, so I did everything I could to gain an edge. That’s why I went with a chicken caesar salad instead of pizza one day when my teammates and I went to lunch after practice. It was the healthy choice, right?
Three hours later I was doubled over in the back of our car on the way to the emergency room. I had to wear a diaper. The chicken was contaminated with Campylobacter, a food-borne illness. It ate right through the lining of my intestines. Our bathroom was covered in blood.
The doctors had no trouble diagnosing me. Campylobacter is not uncommon. It’s supposed to be treatable with any wide spectrum antibiotic, two to four days tops.
Mine lasted a month. It was a “superbug,” like the ones you’ve heard about on the news.
Nothing would cure me. We tried antibiotic after antibiotic. Nada. I just kept withering away.
By the time it was all said and done I’d dropped 30 pounds. I couldn’t even trot out to the pitcher’s mound without wheezing. My season ended, and so did the calls from scouts.
I never pitched again.
It took me several months to gain my strength back. And when I did I decided to focus on football, a sport that let me feel invincible again. Fortunately, I made a full recovery and went on to play football at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But a lot of people aren’t as lucky.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill more Americans every year than AIDS. I met the families of some of those victims last year when I went to Washington, D.C. with the Pew Foundation to lobby for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA, H.R. 965, S. 1211). Their stories inspired me to share mine in a new documentary film called Food Patriots.
Food Patriots is about ordinary people who are taking revolutionary steps to change the food system. The goal of the project is to get consumers to change the way they eat, buy and educate the next generation about food by 10%. That’s 10% more fresh, local and organic foods — 10% from wherever you are on the continuum.
Superbugs are the byproduct of unsustainable meat production, in particular, the overuse of antibiotics in Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Factory farms suck up 70% of America’s antibiotics. And worse, they use most of ‘em on healthy animals!
We have the power to change that. If consumers demand antibiotic-free meat then producers will absolutely give it to them. It’s basic supply and demand. As consumers learn to demand better food they’ll pressure supply and policy changes to our food system.
But change won’t come all at once.
That’s why Food Patriots is asking consumers to make a reasonable 10% shift. It’s doable. And effective.
Chicken caesar salads shouldn’t be able to change lives. So I hope you’ll take the 10% challenge with me, because even if I can’t pitch again, together we can strike antibiotics out of the food system.”
Sam Spitz will graduate from Colgate University in Spring 2013, where he transferred after playing football for UW-Madison. Sam is a frequent speaker with Food Patriots, a film and public engagement campaign by Groundswell Educational Films, and an advocate for a more sustainable food system. He has also appeared on Maryn McKenna’s blog and lobbied with the Pew Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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