Veggie Libel Law

Over the past couple years I’ve heard an awful lot about a documentary called “Food Inc.” Many of my friends source it as a stimulant for changing their diet or becoming more selective about what  brands they support. I finally watched it this weekend and it was amazing. Terrifying, but amazing. If you haven’t seen it you definitely should check it out (I watched it off Documentary Addict). If anything, it’ll help you rethink your purchasing power as a consumer. The documentary covers so many topics I’ll probably reference it in other posts, but today I’m very much concerned with one thing: veggie libel laws.

What’s a veggie libel law?
More formally known as food disparagement laws, veggie libel laws give food producers the power to sue critics of its products for libel. They were passed in 13 states including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.

Why are these laws even a thing?
Food producers realized that sales significantly decreased when their products were mentioned to be unsafe or unhealthy or  [insert other negative descriptors here].

My sassy thought process: Wow! You mean negative feedback can affect your sales? Must be an entirely new concept very specific to the food industry. Hey, how about let’s take away freedom of speech so we can produce food that may or may not be up to health standards and no one can say anything about it. 

What would be considered “libel”?
Technically “libel” is a false statement that damages one’s reputation. There are a lot of gray areas about this, especially because sometimes opinions can come across as factual assertions in a certain context.

One of the most well-known cases of a veggie libel lawsuit is the lawsuit between Oprah and the meat industry. Oprah was sued by the meat industry after talking about her fears of eating hamburgers after learning about the practices of beef product producers and its connection to “Mad Cow Disease”. On the show Oprah said she was “stopped cold from eating another burger.” This episode apparently had a devastating impact on beef sales. Thankfully she won the case, but her legal fees amounted to more than one million dollars.

I’m baffled that these laws can even exist given that they limit the freedom of speech and create a chilling effect, which discourages people from exercising their natural rights out of fear. Further, it seems as though the laws are being invoked more for opinions than false disparagement of food products. If there’s any industry that should be open to criticism from its consumer population its the food industry because preservation of health should be top priority in all of our lives and to our government. It’s evident that these laws were created to squash the voice of the little guys and protect the big corporations. If you’d like to learn more about these laws, this video gives a pretty solid history and overview.

How do you feel about these laws? Do you think it’s right to limit our freedom of speech to stabilize food sales? Will you be more wary of what you say about meat and other food products?

The Milk Myth

The other day my friend and I were talking about how easy it is to be misinformed about the nutritional quality of food if we accept media messaging at face value and don’t do research. For a very long time (i.e. until this year) I thought that milk and other dairy products were generalizable as healthy because they “provide calcium” and all that stuff.

I’ve never liked milk all that much. Growing up I drank milk only with my two golden foods: cereal and chocolate. If I felt ambitious I’d drink the remaining milk in my bowl. My entire family felt the same way about milk and we never understood how people could drink it with their dinner. Blech. Suddenly the summer after freshman year I began to enjoy a cold glass of milk by itself. My parents thought I went to the dark side. I thought I was being healthy. In my head: “look at me, getting all this calcium!” Oh, how wrong I was. The truth is that the commercial dairy industry has ingrained us with the idea that we must drink milk to have strong bones. There are multiple problems with this.

First, the human body wasn’t necessarily meant to digest pasteurized milk, especially milk from non-humans.  No other species consumes milk in adulthood and I highly doubt humans have a specific gene that requires we drink milk from other animals to grow. While primitive societies have thrived on milk for a while, there’s a distinct differences between raw milk from grass-fed cows to pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows. After pasteurization most of the nutritional benefits of milk that do exist are destroyed. We barely absorb the calcium.

Second, numerous  studies have found that there is no relation between high calcium intake and strong bones.

Third, recent research has suggested that drinking pasteurized milk actually increases calcium loss. Ingesting milk increases the acidity of the body’s PH level so the body takes action to neutralize the PH using one of the most effective acid neutralizers— calcium. The process of neutralizing actually takes more calcium than you’re consuming by drinking milk in the first place.

Knowing all of this, it’s amazing that the “Got Milk” campaign is so present in schools. It misinforms kids about the nutrients of food and disables them from making healthy, informed decisions about what they put into their bodies. At least tell them that calcium can be found in high quality among vegetables. The new nutrition slogan should be: “when in doubt, eat vegetables”. High-calcium alternatives to milk include dark green veggies (no surprise there), dry beans, sesame seeds and almonds, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds, and okra. I’m sure there are many more. Shout out to vanilla almond milk! You sneaky nut you.

Did anyone else grow up with this misconception of milk? How did you learn about its true nutritional worth? Has this changed how often you drink it or what kind of milk you drink?

Sources:

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/is-cows-milk-meant-for-human-consumption-part-1/

http://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/

Happy World Vegan Month!

November is designated as World Vegan Month primarily because in 1994, Louise Wallis, then President of the Vegan Society UK, established Nov. 1 as World Vegan Day to commemorate its 50th anniversary. No one really knew the exact date in November when the Vegan Society was founded so she picked the 1st of November because she liked the idea of it coinciding with Samhain (Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest season) and Halloween, which are times of feasting and celebration.

World Vegan Month is a month-long celebration of a health-, environment-, and animal-friendly vegan diet. Many activists are using this time of heightened awareness to promote veganism to the public. Of the events I’ve looked into there seems to be a trend of using humans to symbolize food, the goal being to help onlookers empathize with the animals they eat.

In what seems to be an annual event, the founder of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid E Newkirk, wills her body to be “barbecued” on a charcoal grill accompanied by a sign that reads, “All animals have the same body parts. Go Vegan!”

vegan, ingrid e newkirk, peta

A similar demonstration in Belfast featured an almost naked model slathered in BBQ sauce with a side of fresh greens on a plate with the words “Try to relate to who’s on your plate”.

Vegan model strips down for activism
Okay I have some beef with both of these, more for the second one than the first. The idea overall that an audience member now having seen a person on a plate or being grilled will begin to attach the same feelings of horror to grilling meat or eating chicken nuggets is misleading. People relate to those with the most similar characteristics as them (i.e. another human vs. creature) and can more easily empathize with humans than animals because their life experiences are more comparable. For example, when we hear of someone dying that we don’t know personally we often wonder about their family and friends, what that person was thinking/doing before they died, what they did for a living, etc. — all categorical experiences we share.  So though onlookers of these exhibits may initially question eating meat, the low level of involvement and comparability of the animal’s life to the person make the shock somewhat ineffective long-term. It’s creative enough for an awareness campaign, but as a call to action not so much. Stimulating change is a long-term process that generally requires more education and involvement from the individual.
As for the second exhibit, why must the model be half naked and made-up? I understand it’s an art form so I have no qualms against nudity and art, but if we’re going with a “people as animals” type thing: Why is she wearing significant make-up? Why her and not someone who represents the average person? Couldn’t she have worn a nude suit instead? In my opinion her being presented as seductive detracts rather than helps the matter at hand and makes me question whether I support the campaign. If this was the sole instance then I would maybe let it go, but it reminds me of Animal Equality’s exhibit in march in Spain:
Animal Equality in Spain
WHY IS THE FAKE MEAT WEARING LINGERIE. (Sorry, I’m done now). It’s just frustrating that these animal rights exhibits still perpetuate an strict idealistic depiction of the female body. This just goes to show that not all activist efforts are conscious of one another nor strive to work together to break down barriers for both groups.

The “Please Stop Talking About Your Food” Problem

Eating habits and opinions on food production can be touchy subjects for a lot of people. For one thing we were all raised differently in regards to what is “normal” to eat, even if we grew up in the same culture. Food is essential for all bodily processes that enable us to breathe, move, and think, but also what we put in our bodies plays such a huge role in our social and mental health. There is no part of our lives that is not influenced by what we eat. Along with sleeping, breathing, and pooping, eating is one of the few behaviors that all beings have in common.

Because of food’s ever-present power in our lives people become very passionate about it. Some people tweet haikus about food, others make YouTube series of drunk cooking, and still fewer and far less admirable people change Rogers & Hammerstein lyrics into chocolate-praising hymns (The Sound of Music sanctity > chocolate). Tack on all the diets, research studies, and intersectionality with environmental health, animal rights, etc. and there are millions of clashing views about what’s best to eat.

Passion is a wonderful quality to have; it fuels education, progress, and inspires others. There is a difference, however, between respectful passion and stubborn passion. Misused passion can create damaging social dynamics when it becomes a medium for accosting others. Forcing your opinion down someone’s throat will always lead to a coughing fit.

Often vegans, or really anyone else who chooses a more unique diet preference, get a bad rep for being “preachy”.  This is generally a very small minority. Of my ten vegan friends none of them have ever asked me to change my diet, made snarky remarks about my food choice, or made fun of me when I chose to eat that one slice of bacon (I’m vegetarian) like my non-veg friends have. The people I know who eat vegan are very aware of the preachy vegan stereotype and some of them even go out of their way to avoid judgement at restaurants by saying “I’m vegetarian and also lactose-intolerant, what can I eat?” instead of “what’s vegan?” In many ways I think it hurts them more than anyone else.

A couple weeks ago a group of pamphleteers stationed themselves at our campus plaza, dressed as animals, and tried to convince people to turn vegan by yelling about it and holding signs. One of them tried to hand my friend Katie, who’s vegan, a pamplet. When she informed him she was already vegan he looked at her and said “but you are wearing leather shoes and your bag is leather so maybe you should take this.” Someone please explain to me how being  judgmental and rude will convince others to go vegan.

The difference between being “preachy” and having a mutually educational conversation is how open both parties are to discussion. Many of my friends are interested in social justice, earth preservation, human & animal rights, you name it, so I know I can freely address these subjects with them.  However, there are definitely people in my life who have made it clear they don’t want to hear about it and I respect that distance unless they bring it up themselves. Sadly the fear of being perceived as preachy can silence those who have thoughtful, educational tidbits to offer. To make the best eating decisions for our health and our environment we have to be open to learning, even if it’s not what we want to hear.