Granted, the bun does tend to be a little soggy, but at least it’s hot, and the cheese melts with a spread that would make any Las Vegas odds-maker smile. Not bad for five bucks, especially when you consider that, for almost twice that ($8.00), Walt Disney will sell you something that’s room temperature, with cold bread and cheese, and that tastes like mouse meat (not that I’ve ever eaten a mouse). In fact, Amtrak’s Angus burger is so good that it’s worth lurching your way to the Café Car as the train (even the popular “Fast Pig” Acela Express) is engaging in excessive lateral motion through no. 20 turnouts that need some serious attention.
So, I was interested to receive this press release that came across my inbox from the 12,000-member Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:
Amtrak: Protect Passengers’ Cabooses from Processed Meats, Says Legal Petition
Doctors Urge Amtrak to Eliminate Processed Meats to Fight Colorectal Cancer
WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee, a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors, is submitting a legal petition on March 1, the start of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, urging Amtrak to protect passengers from colorectal cancer risk by eliminating processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage, from its menus.
“Amtrak should help passengers protect their cabooses from colorectal cancer by eliminating processed meats from its menus,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., Director of Nutrition Education for the Physicians Committee. “Evidence shows that banning hot dogs and sausage will also put passengers on the track toward improved heart heath.”
The World Health Organization recently released a report announcing that processed meats are “carcinogenic to humans.” The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found an 18% increased cancer risk per 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. Researchers also observed associations between red and processed meat products and stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
Those who consume the most processed meat also have an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study of more than a half-million people.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), which was signed into law in 2015, requires the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to consider “product development” in a section titled “Food and beverage reform.”
“As Amtrak reforms its food and beverage service and develops new food products, now is the perfect time to safeguard passenger health by eliminating processed meat from Amtrak’s food service,” says the petition (downloadable from the link below), which was submitted to Charles W. Moorman IV, President and CEO of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
“Some Amtrak menus already feature a black bean and corn veggie burger and veggie lasagna with vegan mozzarella,” says Levin. “Amtrak should consider bringing on board more healthful, plant-based options like these to replace processed meats.”
There’s even a video, shot in Washington, D.C. Union Station about the petition featuring Physicians Committee President Neal Barnard M.D. In it, the good doctor says, “You know, the most dangerous things that happen in train travel aren’t on the rails. They’re in the food car.”
As a bladder cancer survivor, I can certainly appreciate all efforts to educate people about lessening the risk of getting this disease. But honestly, when I heard the statement about danger in a food car, I had to take a step back and say, “Wait a minute.” I also wondered, “Why Amtrak?” and “What’s the deal with the ‘cabooses” reference?”
So I asked the Physicians Committee a few questions, and received a prompt response:
Why is the Physician’s Committee zeroing in on Amtrak food services? Why a legal petition? Are legal petitions being sent to other organizations, like Burger King or McDonald’s, or Smithfield Foods?
According to Mark Kennedy, Esq., Vice President of Legal Affairs for the Physicians Committee, “Amtrak received more than one billion dollars from American taxpayers each year for the past 14 years. Congress recently directed Amtrak to conduct -‘[f]ood and beverage reform,’ so there is no time like the present to make changes that will safeguard Amtrak’s 30 million-plus annual passengers. The First Amendment right to petition for redress is as American as Amtrak. In recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we sent a similar petition to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates more than 1,700 health care sites and provides meals, food service, and nutrition care to veterans. We also asked children’s hospitals in six cities to protect patients by removing processed meats from patient and cafeteria menus.”
In the video, recorded on the main concourse of Washington, D.C. Union Station, Neal Barnard M.D. says that the most dangerous part of train travel occurs “in the food car.” Pardon me, but in my opinion, the most dangerous part of train travel is the train potentially hitting a motor vehicle (like a tractor-trailer or hazmat tank truck) at a grade crossing whose operator has chosen to ignore warning equipment (gates, lights, bells) and tried to beat the train.”
“Dr. Barnard wanted to emphasize that far more people die of diet-related chronic diseases than train crashes,” Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., Director of Nutrition Education for the Physicians Committee, said. “According to the CDC, chronic diseases and conditions—such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis—are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.”
Just as an aside (mainly because as a trade magazine editor I like to be technically accurate, and I’m also a bit of a “rivet counter”), I asked, “Why did you choose to use the term ‘cabooses’, which were phased out of freight train services some 35 years ago? Passenger trains never had cabooses. Most people have no idea what a caboose is (or was).”
Again, Mark Kennedy: “We chose the term ‘caboose’ because it is commonly known as the end of a train. The term caboose appears several times on Amtrak’s website. This campaign uses caboose as a euphemism for the colon/rectum (end of the large intestine).”
OK, I get it!
Physicians Committee spokesperson Michael Keevican added:
“As Dr. Barnard says in the video and Ms. Levin says in the news release, the Physicians Committee commends Amtrak on its healthful options and looks forward to seeing even more of these on its menu.”
I asked Amtrak to respond. Spokesperson Christina Leeds submitted a statement:
“Amtrak offers numerous onboard menu options for passengers to choose from, including a variety of healthy, vegetarian and regional food choices. We have enlisted the expertise of prominent, well respected chefs, restaurateurs and authors to create exciting and flavorful onboard menus for passengers to select from. Customers can plan their meal plans in advance and view nutritional content, caloric information and food allergens at Amtrak.com.
The Physician’s Committee assured me that former Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.), who when Chair of the House Railroad Subcommittee targeted Amtrak in general and Amtrak food services in particular (specifically, the cost, even going as far as holding a press conference in a McDonald's, of all places), has nothing to do with this.
Besides, he would probably have had Amtrak passengers eating Purina Cat Chow, if it cost less.
See Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s June 24, 2013 column, “What’s with Congressman Mica, the foodie?” for further information (or entertainment).