Do you follow "America's $1 Funnyman" Neil Hamburger on Twitter? If not, you should. Not only because it's hilarious, but because, every now and then, he offers up an important public health service. It takes the form of a barrage of retweets from various Twitterers around the country who are in the midst of various states of food poisoning from Taco Bell. (Now and then, the retweets will focus on another fast food corporation, but mostly, it's Taco Bell at fault.)
For example, here's a recent barrage from Hamburger's account:
But this isn't all just fun and games. As Tim Heidecker, from the various Tim & Eric comedic enterprises, puts it:
When is the health dept gonna follow up on @NeilHamburger 's Taco Bell RTs... There is clearly a problem out there!— timheidecker (@timheidecker) October 25, 2013
To get the story behind the commentary-less retweets, I emailed back-and-forth with Gregg Turkington, the comedian behind the Neil Hamburger character. Here's a peek behind the scenes.
What's the point you're trying to make with the Taco Bell retweets?
Gregg Turkington: Just trying to entertain folks using subjects that I personally find very interesting.
The best part is how you never feel the need to add in your own commentary to the tweets.
Gregg: It's interesting how much of a point can be made without having to directly ever say anything, just by letting the retweets do the talking. I've had a few similar campaigns over the years. I think the one that shocked me even more than the Taco Bell stuff was the avalanche of tweets from young women after Aaron Hernandez was arrested, endless variations on "He shouldn't have to go to prison -- he's too sexy" and "I don't care if he killed anyone -- he's HOT!"
For the food poisoning ones, why do you specifically retweet complaints about Taco Bell?
Gregg: I've done the "research," and no other fast-food chain has anywhere near as many "I got sick" tweets on a daily basis as Taco Bell. It's an epidemic! They really need to hire me as a consultant -- I'd love to give a detailed "Food Preparation and Safety" lecture to a gathering of national Taco Bell managers. I retweet only a fraction of the tweets that appear daily from people who were made sick by Taco Bell. Just a fraction.
Do you think this is a systemic problem with the current state of food production?
Gregg: I do think that excessive cost-cutting and the overvaluation of "convenience" has really degraded the quality of life in general in America, and certainly when you're talking about fast food "restaurants." That said, on the flip side, I think we're actually living in a golden age as far as restaurants and the availability of quality food is concerned, it just takes some effort to find it.
When you initially started to do these food retweets, what made you put in those search terms? Did you get food poisoning yourself?
Gregg: I've only been food poisoned once -- worst week of my life.
My only food poisoning story took place at my sister's bachelorette party, where everyone decided it was a good idea to give the bowling alley's taco dip a whirl. That was a bad three days for about a dozen people.
Gregg: Oh god, bowling alley taco dip! That is bad, bad news. I tour a lot, rolling the dice on restaurants, so food poisoning is always on my mind. For a short time, my dad worked for the Los Angeles County Health Department inspecting restaurants. He had all kinds of truly insane stories that I found absolutely enthralling as a kid. I think I've always had a giddy, probably unbalanced, fascination with the subject.
Do you remember any stories from your dad's job?
Gregg: I remember my dad saying that one of the worst culprits as far as restaurants making people sick is the ice machine. If the plumbing was done incorrectly/illegally, sometimes the pipe that drains the melting ice water from the ice machine hooks up with the same outlet that toilet waste is exiting from. If that backs up -- the toilet waste can then end up going UP the pipes into the ice machine, and, well, you get the picture.
You're a vegetarian. When did that start and why?
Gregg: I've been a vegetarian for 25 years. Sympathetic to animals. I had worked on a ranch as a teenager, and knew how intelligent and sensitive animals were. But weirdly enough, the thing that was the actual trigger was seeing the mostly-forgotten movie "A Private Function," which had a pig as a main character. Eating them just wasn't something I felt good about doing anymore, and for me, personally, it made sense to stop.
I haven't eaten pig for about eight months now, and the only real reason for that was because my girlfriend happened to show me a YouTube clip of a pig being a very, very, very cute pet. That was enough for me.
Gregg: I actually stopped eating pig first, and then after a few months was like, "What's the difference? If I'm not eating pig, I may as well stop eating them all."
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