When my parents brought me home from the hospital in 1957, they were focused on ensuring I was handled with as much love, care, and safety as humanly possible. Yet, like most children of the time, I was likely being held by my mother in the front seat with a sturdy metal dashboard inches away from my head—a scenario that we would never see today.
Child safety seats and installation checks were not part of the equation way back then. And seatbelts? If the car had them, they were likely stuffed in between the seat cushion and backrest because they were considered a nuisance. Oh, and in all likelihood, my father was smoking a Dutch Masters cigar.
My how times have changed.
Now, when I take my grandchildren for a drive, I lock them into rear-facing child safety seats designed by NASA and engineered to withstand re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and a splashdown in the South Pacific. It sometimes takes longer to secure the kids in the seats than it does to drive to our destination.
Modern cars are safer than ever, with seatbelts, airbags, and warning systems that make sitting behind the wheel of an SUV feel more like being in the cockpit of an F-16. Despite all of these improvements to reduce the risk of driving, accidents still kill and injure thousands of Americans annually. Yet any lawmaker that proposed banning driving would be laughed out of office because the economic damage that would result—to say nothing of the political backlash from depriving individuals of their personal freedom—would be far more devastating that the losses in life and property that come with everyday driving.
The same goes for the homes we live in. Updated building codes, higher quality materials, and alarm systems that detect smoke, gas, and intruders, have dramatically improved our overall safety. But house fires and hurricanes still strike, and burglaries still happen. We could design even safer structures and mandate that we all live in them, but, the cost-benefit analysis of these draconian measures makes such proposals implausible if not impossible
Risk is everywhere. Every day we make calculations to decide if we want to take a risk—like driving or entering a building—or avoid it.
The food we eat is no different. Like most, I purchase my fresh produce from the local grocery store. During the summer months, I also frequent Farmer’s Markets and grow as many fresh vegetables as possible in my backyard garden. I raised a mean crop of tomatoes this year.
Doing this, I understand that there is some risk involved. The bags of “triple washed” packaged lettuce grow in dirt and are likely treated with some sort of chemical fertilizers and herbicides. The tomatoes from my garden and the peaches from the Farmer’s Market are fertilized with—well, you know— and are never inspected by a state or federal regulator.
There is always a chance that if not washed and prepared properly, one small microbe of something unpleasant may make its way into my GI system, and, on very rare occasions I may actually develop an upset stomach as a result of something I’ve eaten. Generally, an Alka-Seltzer or a spoonful of Pepto-Bismol takes care of those problems.
One thing I don’t do is look for someone to blame if I happen to get a tummy ache. First, there is almost no way to definitely determine what caused the problem, whether it’s undercooked meat, moldy cheese, or an unwashed carrot. Second, I make the conscious decision that the health benefits—and enjoyment—of eating fresh produce is worth the risk. ‘
Finally, what are the alternatives? Eat a diet of canned foods that have been cooked until they scream for mercy? I don’t think so.
We all make risk management decisions every day. Ultimately, we may decide to reduce risk by avoiding certain activities; mitigate risk by using safer tools or techniques; or transfer some of our financial risk by purchasing insurance. But we can never eliminate risk because life, after all, is a risky business.