Fear and loathing in Las Vegas: mint (julep) and food safety family values version

As the plane landed in Las Vegas, I barfed.

I’d been sent here to speak about food safety issues at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Mint Industry Research Council and, since their product is processed during harvest and the oil extracted by heat and then used primarily in toothpaste and chewing gum, I had little to offer.

Whether it was the turbulence throughout the flight into the record western U.S. rainfall – and we were at the back of the plane so we could get an extra seat for daughter Sorenne – or something else that upset my delicate constitution, there really is nothing quite like barfing into one of those paper bags provided in every seat jacket while a plane lands. In a rainstorm. In Las Vegas.

(The volume those bags can hold is amazing.)

Next it was off to one of those hotel-casinos where the meeting was to be held, just as news broke that a norovirus outbreak had sickened hundreds of guests and staff at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel in North Carolina.

Workers at Harrah’s are cleaning slot machines every two hours with a solution of water and bleach in an effort to control the outbreak. Door knobs, escalator handrails and restrooms are being sanitized hourly.

The night was spent zoning-bordering-on-hallucinating. I didn’t sleep. A bottle of Gatorade later, I was ready, and spoke during lunch about the need for growers of anything to explain and articulate their practices in a consistent and compelling manner, or face the wrath of a public wary of unsubstantiated food safety claims.

I still really like hanging out with food — including mint — growers. Mint Industry Research Council executive director dude, Rocky Lundy (above, with me, left), explained to me there were about 550 growers in 7 states with total acreage close to 120,000. That’s a lot of mint. But the numbers have declined somewhat from foreign competition. It’s a familiar tale.

Feeling better the next day, we decided to take in Jimmy Buffet’s Magaritaville restaurant. Sure it’s touristy stuff, but who doesn’t like Jimmy? (Chapman). And while the establishment did feature the usual, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” sign (above, right), at least it was under the apt words from Jimmy’s underappreciated 1978 song, Manana:

Women and water are in short supply

(The next line is, “Not enough dope for us all to get high.” The song also contains bits about Steve Martin asking if anyone wants to get small, and Jimmy hoping that Anita Bryant never ever does one of his songs. So many cultural touchstones for 1978 in one song. Oh, and usually when I take pictures in bathrooms I do it when no one else is there because people might think it was creepy, but traffic flow – I said flow – was constant so took the pic anyone with the dude at the urinal and another, properly, washing his hands.)

Las Vegas also features a prominent letter-grade restaurant inspection disclosure system as shown in this picture from a Vegas-strip Denny’s. Promote that A (above, left).

Today it’s family, football and food in Vegas before a hopefully less eventful return to Manhattan.

And this is Sorenne watching the Minnesota-New Orleans game this afternoon, with a bunch of Minnesotans in Las Vegas.