Food Activism, Inc.
Jun 15, 2009
By Steve Cornett
There was a time when the bromide “there oughta be a law” was a joke. It applied to some trivial something that kind of bugged you and so, ha, ha, it should be outlawed. Get it?
It’s not such a joke anymore. Congress has given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to “regulate” tobacco products. They won’t outlaw tobacco, mind you. Just “regulate” a product that we’ve all known was dangerous since at least 1947, when Tex Williams sang:
Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another cigarette
I’m not here to defend tobacco. I’m glad to see the stuff gone from my part of the world. But I would like you to think of how fast that change in American culture took place. Just a few years ago, we assumed that if you wanted to smoke, you might be dumb, but—this is a quote people used to say—“it’s a free country.” Really. They did say that.
Or sometimes they would say, “That’s pretty stupid, but it’s his business.”
Nowadays when somebody says there ought to be a law, Congress is listening.
That is important because the onslaught against beef production continues. I’d not argue this localvore, vegetarian thing has had a lot of impact on beef producers yet. But there are a lot of folks who think there “oughta be a law” against the way beef is produced. And they are some pretty important folks in the government and the media.
Food, Inc., a documentary promising to change the way viewers “look at dinner,” is now showing in a theater near you. Assuming you live in a metro area, anyhow. Eric Schlosser, the “food activist” who wrote Fast Food Nation, is coproducer of the film. It is, apparently—I haven’t seen it and probably won’t get the chance in my part of rural America—an entertaining indictment of all the stuff Schlosser finds offensive about American agriculture, and that list—follow this link to see it —is long.
It’s a list you should look at, but knowing how busy you are, let me sum up for you: Food in the U.S. is too cheap because it is “factory farmed” by “profit-oriented corporations” who don’t care how they treat workers or animals. It uses too much energy to transport, not to mention pesticides and genetically engineered products. Because food is cheap, Americans are fatter than people who walk and work for a living, and that is why health care is so expensive.
Plus, if you eat something made in America you’ll probably die, because the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 0.002% of the deaths reported in the U.S. in 2006 may have been related to food poisoning.
Ipso facto, we have a dysfunctional food system and it’s the corporations’ fault because government has let them run roughshod over “the people.”
I suspect, having read as much as I can about the film, that it is a pretty picture-book version of what you’d see if you read all the stuff written by Michael Pollan, who is sort of the Billy Sunday of the “don’t let them eat cake” food reform movement.
And as we speak, Congress is moving quickly to give the same FDA that is taking over tobacco total control over food safety with what the Senate calls the Food Safety Enhancement Act. So now FDA will be in charge of tobacco and food, I guess. Because they are both so dangerous.
It’s hard for those of us who’ve spent our lives in agriculture to believe that the Pollan principles even oughta, much less will, become law. Ten years ago, who would have guessed the cigarette lobby would go down in smoke so soon? Or, 25 years ago, who would have thought mandatory seat belts would be so thoroughly accepted?
Cultural attitudes change more quickly than we realize. There are strong forces pushing change on agriculture, and beef producers, especially. Are you fighting back?
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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