Archive for September, 2010

Do you live in one of these states? Watch what you say about your food…

Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas…

Corporate farms have seen to it that you can’t say bad things about the things they make.  For quite some time now–almost 20 years–you haven’t been able to say bad things about your food.  If you have, you’re lucky that wrong people didn’t hear you.  Because, like Oprah, you would have had to spend millions of dollars to defend yourself in court.  You see, Food Libel laws were written with a much different standard than other libel laws.  These laws abandon “the traditional common law product disparagement cause of action.  In its place, many of them punish protected expression, establish a lower standard for civil liability, and allow for punitive damages and attorneys fees for plaintiffs alone, and lend themselves to abusive litigation practices” (http://www.cspinet.org/foodspeak/oped/candm.htm).  If you publicly say something that is not absolutely scientifically true, you could be called to account.  The threat that you could be sued with no hope to recoup your legal costs is quite quieting.  The burden of proof, in these cases, is on the defendant.

Do you ever wonder why there’s so little coverage of the big corporate farms and the negative impact they have on local communities? Certainly, there’s a concern that huge food corporations will cut their advertising spending.  The food industry spent $3.3 billion between January and June of this year alone. Add to that the possibility that the media organization doing the reporting could be sued at the mere hint that these laws might have been violated and the picture comes very clear.  Why on earth would anyone risk a comment or new story on the food industry practices and/or the quality of a food product?

I can’t understand how these laws don’t violate First Amendment rights.  As noted in other places, what if, years ago, there were rules about tobacco like these?  What if you couldn’t even ask the questions that force an industry to be transparent?  Regular, thoughtful people who live in the situations created by these corporations  are restricted in their ability to ask questions or challenge practices.

In a time when agri-business is such a powerful lobbying group and can work behind closed doors to pass laws in their favor, it seems completely counter to the democratic process that we, the people who literally consume their products, can’t raise speculation or demand answers.  When will interests of the people again become the priority?  Why can the rights of corporations supersede the rights of citizens?

Can’t we all just get along? Finding ways to dialogue about food…

I follow “Food Inc.” on Facebook.  Inevitably, fights break out over the right ways to eat.  The discussions talk about the mistreatment of animals, the environment, the rights of meat-eaters to continue the evolutionary journey of eating meat…

And sometimes it gets nasty.  And while I love a good fight, making one another angry does little more than shut down discussion and more firmly seat people in their views.  A greater effort at finding common ground and building community is a much more productive way to go.

A look at the facts can help us all understand how to best deal with these questions.

Fact:  Meat is here to stay.

No matter how your steak knife cuts it, Americans love their meat.  Vegans and vegetarians, deal with it.

Fact: Factory farms are terrible.

They hurt the communities that surround them, they exploit workers, they create problems like e coli, and are devastating to the environment and the health of the people near them.  From fish kills to severe illnesses and unbearable living conditions, nothing good comes of these corporate farms.

Fact: There are more sustainable ways to raise meat.

Increasing numbers of farmers are moving in the direction of free-range and organic farming.  It’s more humane for all involved and respects the environment.

Fact: We shouldn’t be eating all the meat we eat.

It’s not good for our health and it consumes too much land.  It also makes produce more expensive.  By using land for animals, we are feeding them grains and sacrificing land that could be used for growing fruits and vegetables. Further, government farm subsidies go to meat, corn and soy.  If we’re going to subsidize, let’s subsidize things that are good for people.  Fruits and vegetables are really expensive.  When I became vegan, someone commented that I would save a lot of money by not purchasing meat.  HA!  My grocery bill has definitely gone up since I made the switch.  Get the big agri-business lobbies out of policy-making and campaign coffers.

Fact:  Dialogue is better than dogmatism and animosity

In the end, while passion is a wonderful thing, it’s important to realize that we have stop being militant and start patiently educating.  I think that one of the reasons people get defensive when they find that I’m vegan is because vegans and vegetarians have a reputation for intolerance and condescension.  This does nothing for the willingness of our carnivorous friends to look at us without suspicion.

It has taken us a long time to be the consumers that we are.  The move toward more sustainable agriculture and healthier lifestyles will take some time.  I hope that civil dialogue can thrive.  Community forums on food are a great way to share information.  With friends and family, I think actions are much more powerful than words.  I’ve learned to talk about my choices only when asked.  I don’t ever make a big deal about there not being many options for me at gatherings.  I do, though, always bring vegan options that surprise and delight.  People never cease to be amazed that I can eat things besides salads.  When it comes to restaurants, I make sure that the server knows that I’m vegan.  The more the food service industry knows we’re here, the more they’ll think about accommodating us.

In the end, we have enough dividing us in this country.  Let’s learn to talk about food in ways that help us learn from one another. Tolerance is a wonderful thing for all of us.