Blue Bell Creameries will lay off more than a third of its workforce following a series of listeria illnesses linked to its ice cream that prompted a nationwide recall, the Texas company announced on May 15.

Sue Ontiveros: A spoonful of change can lead to better American foods

SHARE Sue Ontiveros: A spoonful of change can lead to better American foods
SHARE Sue Ontiveros: A spoonful of change can lead to better American foods

Did something in the ice cream cause the death of three people?

While sorting that out, the entire supply of Blue Bell ice cream has been recalled.

Another company’s packaged macadamia nuts have been pulled from supermarket shelves because of salmonella concerns.

And chickens have been yanked from grocery stores because of concern the birds were exposed to a chemical used to bleach textiles.

All this, in just the last month.


I’m a former food editor who continues to blog about the subject. For me, food has always has been something to celebrate and enjoy. Now it’s also something that forces me to be on high alert about my choices.

I feel like a detective in grocery stores. Not just a wary private eye, but a David going against the Goliath of food producers and a government that doesn’t pay enough attention to what’s going on.

Chicagoan Jennifer Amdur Spitz knows firsthand what I’m talking about.

When her healthy college-age son (a football player) contracted food poisoning after eating contaminated chicken, he was given an antibiotic and the medical assessment that the whole thing would be over in a matter of days, five tops.

It wasn’t.

As he remained quite ill, as antibiotic after antibiotic failed to make him well, it was “scary as heck,” Amdur Spitz says now, remembering how helpless she felt, though her son did eventually improve.

“Everyone was perplexed as to why he wasn’t getting any better,” she says.

That was a wakeup call for Amdur Spitz,head of her namesake strategic communications/public relations firm, and husband Jeff Spitz, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. They decided they were going to be “more mindful” of their food choices. Through their company, Groundswell Educational Films, they chronicled their journey, which included raising chickens at the family’s former Northbrook home.

The result is “Food Patriots,” a 74-minute, often quite humorous film about a very serious subject: the safety of our food. I think those funny moments make the film so accessible to so many. For a little more than a year they have been showing it just about anywhere people want to gather and watch.

One message they hope people take away is the importance of improving our food choices. In the documentary, they introduce others who have taken small steps that eventually led to big changes in the food supply for not only their families, but their communities. It’s a really inspiring film.

Amdur Spitz started her family’s changes by making sure that 10 percent of their grocery purchases were fresh, organic and local. That’s doable, right?

In “Food Patriots,” Amdur Spitz and others go to their legislators with a signed petition that seeks to take the risk of antibiotic superbugs out of school lunches.

The lawmakers were, for the most part, unmoved, and they’re “still not interested,” Amdur Spitz says.

But if we, the consumers, change, oh, those legislators are going to notice. More important, food companies will pay attention. We change up our eating habits and the impact of those purchases are noticed.

“We can drive that change by what we eat,” says Amdur Spitz.

Impossible dream? Look at Target, with almost 2,000 U.S. stores. The chain just announced it’s moving away from processed packaged fare and – because of consumer demand – will offer more organic selections. Everyday shoppers made their preferences known, impacted the company’s bottom line, and change is occurring.

Let’s think about that the next time we go to the grocery store.


Twitter: @sueontiveros

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