Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

popeyeNever fails. About the time I develop a taste for healthy food, I discover it’s deadlier than three packs of Camels.

Spinach happens to be the bad boy right now.

It’s the source of an E. coli outbreak that has killed several people and sickened hundreds, coast to coast. As a result, store shelves have been cleared of standing stock. Farmers are plowing their crops under. The ag-biz economy has fallen.

As a child, I would’ve greeted this news with unbridled joy.

Back then, I was force-fed tons of spinach. This was not a pleasant experience because spinach came canned or frozen and was always boiled to a stringy, nasty green goo. Popeye must have been on drugs to ingest the vile stuff. Maybe he thought it was wacky tobaccy! (I seem to recall a few cartoons were he sucked it in through his ever-present pipe.)

Then I discovered fresh spinach.

Wow! Delicious! Delightful! I got hooked. In the last few years, I’ve consumed enough to send Popeye and Olive Oyl on luxury cruises for life.

Spinach is a superb salad green. It’s also a great sandwich condiment. Who else do you know actually eats spinach sandwiches?

Yes, I really do. This is like a tomato sandwich minus the ’mater and mayo. Just take a couple of slices of light bread, a squirt of ranch dressing, pile on several handfuls of fresh spinach, give it a good mash (otherwise, the leaves fly out), and enjoy.

So what happens? They take spinach off the market, that’s what.

Eventually, spinach will work its way back onto the “good” list. But will it and I remain estranged? Or will we reunite like old lovers?

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, I’m sensing culinary déjà vu all over again. This isn’t the first time a food scare comes along just after I’ve climbed aboard the bandwagon.

The first was liver.

My mother served up liver planks—I swear you could’ve driven a nail with them—on a regular basis. As a young adult, I happily took revenge with a vow of liver abstinence.

Ahhh, but then I discovered liver doesn’t have to be cooked to the consistency of plywood. I actually began enjoying it. At least I did until liver jumped from the “good” list to the “bad” list because of cholesterol. See ya later, liver.

Then there was mackerel, supposedly an exceedingly healthy fish because of its oil.

Eat lots of mackerel, the food experts said. It’s good for your heart (really and truly, not in a beans-beans-musical-fruit sort of way.)

So I became a mackerel-aholic. Broiled, grilled, canned, you name it. I ate enough mackerel to sprout my own gills.

Naturally, mackerel was then yanked off the market because of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants that tend to collect in its flesh. Goodbye, my finny friend.

After that came red wine. It’s supposed to help your heart and lower cholesterol.

Maybe for some, but surely not me. Hoo-boy. You ever had a red wine headache?

Suffice it to say the closest I come to any type of red wine these days is a sip from the communion cup at church. Any more than that and it feels like one of my mother’s liver planks has hit me between the eyes.

Reversals are always possible, of course.

Eggs have gone from “good” to “bad” and back to “good” again. So has coffee. No doubt spinach will as well.

In the meantime, I hear a dozen doughnuts calling my name. When it comes to dangerous dining, I say stick with the tried and true.

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at