Food labelling is a very. big. issue. Some labels matter a lot. Some matter less. Some labels are required by law. Some are not. Some labels have clear, precise, even regulated meanings. Others are purely a matter of convention, and others mean very little at all.
One of the most important kinds of labels, naturally, are ones mandated by regulations. But what those regulations require, and what the labels mean, is not always clear. So some of you will be interested to see this FDA Food Labeling Requirements Ebook, published by label company supplier Foodpackaginglabels.net. I haven’t read the book yet, and can’t attest to its accuracy, etc., but it looks useful.
This piece focuses on the way in which an obsession with food is in some sense replacing (or parodying?) religion, for some people.
The new religion: How the emphasis on ‘clean eating’ has created a moral hierarchy for food
Professor Gillian McCann “argues that the rise in food movements has coincided with a decline of religion in society, with many people seeking familiar values such as purity, ethics, goodness. But these movements also tend to encourage behaviours that have steered a generation away from religion: Judgment, self-righteousness, an us-versus-them mentality.”
As my pal Andrew Potter would likely point out, here, most of what we observe in this moral hierarchy of food is consistent with another hypothesis, namely that the holier-than-thou aspect is yet another instance of the basic human drive toward status-seeking. In other words, part of the way one person makes herself feel special, feel superior, both in her own eyes and in the eyes of others, is by finding new and exotic ways to differentiate herself in terms of diet.
This was parodied nicely in the episode of the Simpsons in which Lisa tries use her veganism to impress her new boyfriend, who replies, “I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.”
This piece is terrific. It’s about the testing that genetically modified foods go through in Canada, and the misconceptions people continue to have in that regard. It should be considered required reading.
The Right Chemistry: Marketing genetically modified foods requires substantial testing
Marketing a novel genetically modified food requires evidence that its chemical composition is substantially equivalent to the non-GMO version of the product, which can be demonstrated by subjecting a sample to chromatographic and spectroscopic analysis. These instrumental techniques produce a series of signals representing individual compounds that can then be compared with those from a conventional version of the food. Any significant difference would require labelling.
Such testing is not required when novel, conventionally produced foods are introduced into the marketplace…
Note also the great anecdote about the guy who shuns tomatoes because he’s not sure “which ones” have fish DNA that might trigger his allergy to fish. The correct answer, of course, is “none of them,” since there are no GM tomatoes on the market, let alone ones with fish genes.
Ethically, educating yourself is a prerequisite for participating in public debate.
This excellent article by Rachel Laudan is an argument in favour of culinary modernism, and against Luddism. It is, in effect, a defence of processed foods. Laudan is an historian, by the way, as well as a foodie. The article is a terrific read.
“A Plea for Culinary Modernism”
The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast: artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.
Check out: Cost of lab-grown burger patty drops from $325,000 to $11.36. As this blog entry from Science Alert reminds us, the notion of synthetic meat made the news in a big way back in 2013. (See my: Ethics of the World’s First Synthetic Burger.) Today, advances in the technology mean that the price (or rather, the cost of producing, which is not quite the same thing) a pound of synthetic beef has dropped dramatically.
Check out this piece by Stephen Lurie, writing for Vox: You care about where your food comes from. Shouldn’t you care about who grew and picked it?
Lurie is arguing that the food you consume embodies a certain set of values, in particular values related to how the workers who harvested and processed that food are treated. You implicitly endorse those values when you purchase and consume. The values, you might say, are baked right in. So you get to choose what values to endorse by the choices you make. So far, Lurie’s is a familiar theme: conscious consumerism.
But, Lurie notes, the ability to engage in conscious consumerism is limited. For example, “While fair-trade products attempt to eradicate poverty abroad, consumers don’t have much of a choice to support a living wage in this country.” Labour, and in particular wages, amounts to the most under-attended-to ethical issue related to food today.
You won’t like it, but you should read Abusing Chickens We Eat, by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times. It’s the story of the conditions under which chickens are raised (at one farm in North Carolina) for the massive chicken processing company Perdue. The picture it paints is not pretty. Nor is the video accompanying it. “Most shocking is that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh. The entire underside of almost every chicken is a huge, continuous bedsore.”
These chickens are emblematic of the the internally-inconsistent views most of us have with regard to animal welfare. As Kristof puts it: “Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”