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Relative Risk: Life’s Full of Choices

Life, as the title of this post says, can be thought of as a series of choices; of risks, and our responses to them. There’s always a chance that something could go wrong, as we are made painfully aware of day in and day out by sensationalism in the media telling us every little thing that goes wrong, and then making it seem like it could happen to anyone else at any time. It’s true: my cookies could spontaneously combust in the oven, or I could get salmonella from eating the raw cookie dough. Something could suddenly get into the water supply. I could have an adverse reaction to a vaccine, or contract a disease that I’m not vaccinated against. However, I still bake and eat the cookie dough. I still drink the water. I still get my recommended vaccines and I go outside and have contact with actual people who might have germs whose names I’ve never heard of. The point is, I’m still alive and healthy and happy, and my cookies are still delicious. Except when they burn.

I’m not saying that we should go out and take stupid risks; rather, we need to learn how to accurately assess the risks we take. Too strict, and we confine ourselves to existing in bubbles. Too lax, and we don’t exist much longer at all, or if we do, it’s from sheer luck. I do put a good deal of trust in modern technology that pasteurizes my food and filters my water and creates the vaccines I get, but I also do rely heavily on my own intuition, and think about what I’m doing before I do it. I don’t take risks whose possible negative consequences would be things I couldn’t cope with.

So, I don’t eat cookie dough (or anything uncooked) that has farm fresh eggs or raw meat. I wash my hands regularly, but I also play in the mud a little. I don’t smoke or do drugs, and I have one drink or less when I choose to imbibe. I go to the dentist twice a year and get a yearly physical exam. I don’t drive when I’m not awake enough. I stick to sidewalks and well-lit areas. I don’t leave drinks unattended when I go out. I take my vitamins and drink my (soy–I’m lactose intolerant) milk. I don’t play with knives, or with fire in uncontrolled environments. (I have to qualify there because I use a gas stove/oven when I can—I prefer them.) If there were ever to be a water boil advisory, I’d heed it. I’m still shaky on flying in airplanes because I have issues when heights and enclosed spaces are mixed, but I know that’s all in my head and I’m working on it.

My dad works for my state’s department of health, drinking water section. He’s the one who really hammered this philosophy in, but even at that, we do have different preferences for the risks we take. For instance, he loves riding his bike to and from work up and down a crazy hill that I’m not really even fond of driving in a car. He’s been in two accidents, and each time, his helmet probably saved his life. He also came out of the more recent accident with more ugly injuries, and I really wish he wouldn’t take that risk, but he does. As for me, I stick to mostly clear residential roads with nothing too gnarly when I ride my bike. We each know the risks we’re taking, and we don’t accept more than we want to.

As a side note, people are often shocked that we don’t have a water filter or something at home, especially given my dad’s profession. The reaction is often something along the lines of, “But if anyone knows how dangerous the water is, he would, right?” Well, yeah. That’s why we don’t have a filter. Our water is not dangerous. It also tastes just fine, which is something a lot of people around here filter for. I don’t quite understand it, since I can never taste the difference, but hey, whatever works. Just don’t expect us to have a nice filter in our fridge or on our tap when you come over.

I’ve also been asked how I can eat cookie dough with no issue but would never in a million years eat raw meat. First, I think the texture and taste would be gross. Second, from what I’ve gathered, raw eggs are by and large safer than raw meat. So, tell me I can get salmonella from eating raw cookie dough all you like; believe me, I’m aware of it. Unless I get salmonella, though, I’ll keep eating it. If I do get sick, I’ll reconsider the relative risk. Until that day, I will happily gobble down my unbaked bliss, and if you don’t like it, more cookie dough for me!

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