“Don’t order the stuffed chicken. It could be stuffed with an old shoe, for all you know!” warned my husband’s grandmother.

The idea seemed outlandish – a major upscale Italian restaurant chain stuffing its chickens with old shoes? Whoever thought of such a thing? And then I thought about it – my great-aunt, who was born in 1905, had warned of the same things. Don’t get the fish with the sauce. Don’t order stuffing outside. And never, ever eat the chicken salad.

Why were all these older people like this? So distrustful? So wary?

It’s because they grew up in a world with limited consumer protection. After Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” but before Nader. After the creation of the Federal Trade Commission, but before the banning of lead paint in homes.

And now that we’ve seen a decline in consumer journalism and worker protection, it’s probably not such a bad idea to get skeptical again — even of the big restaurant chains that don’t need to stoop so low as to stuff a bird with bits of imitation shoe leather (which, by the way, does strike me as a more expensive option than using some bread crumbs. But I digress.)

Consumers need protection and over-vigilant types to keep an eye on things. Or even just to train them to keep an eye on things themselves, because we have grown far more trusting and far less skeptical of business than our ancestors ever were. And skepticism, when it’s not debilitating, IS protection.

Me? I live in Seattle. I grew up in Boston, in Dorchester, and have also lived in Philly, New York and L.A.

I’ve worked at a bunch of newspapers and magazines as a copy editor, including the Los Angeles Daily News, the Philadelphia Daily News, The Trentonian, the New York Post and Bon Appetit. I was senior editor at Movieline and executive editor at the short-lived Teen Movieline. Most recently, I was a producer at The Seattle Times.

Fun fact: I was a Penn English major who found a job that was sort of related to the field — and I paid off my maxed-out Stafford and Perkins loans within ten years. (It could be done in the 1990s. Can it be done now? Will kids even get the financial aid they need?)

In my spare time, I read too many labels and research far too many semi-obscure medical conditions. (Yes, for fun.)

Got a consumer complaint? Need help? Email me and I will see what I can do.


Jillian O’Connor