The Struggle is Real: Scenes from a Food Prison

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A short story from Julie Kelly and Amy Levy:

Gary Hirshberg is the founder and chairman of Stonyfield Yogurt, as well as the head of a group called Just Label It that promotes GMO labeling. If there was an award for the most arrogant self-promoter in the food movement, he would win hands down and that’s saying a lot because the competition is fierce.

Several years ago, Hirshberg sold most of his company to Dannon, which was great for him but bad for everyone else because it afforded him the time and money to lecture all of us about food.  A man who has made a fortune off the American food system refers to it as an unjust system that is “food apartheid, food slavery and food prison.”

He is as smart and shrewd of a food company executive you will find. A few years ago, Hirshberg realized he could promote his organic yogurt – and himself – as the face of the GMO labeling crusade. He’s used this issue to achieve rock star status among foodies. He’s given a TED talk, appeared on Dr. Oz and even testified on Capitol Hill.

He also appears to be a frustrated actor because he loves to be in front of a camera, listening to himself talk or play a funny character. His latest video is filmed in your typical American grocery store, er food prison, when none other than Gwyneth Paltrow emerges from her jail cell in the dairy aisle to interact with an actual human being.

We can only imagine the discussion that led to the production of this video

Very Important Meeting at Just Label It Headquarters

Yogurt Executive:  I am not famous enough. Let’s make a commercial

Yogurt Lackey: I thought you wanted to label GMOs.

Yogurt Executive:  That’s what I meant.

Yogurt Lackey: What is our commercial about?

Yogurt Executive:  It is about how women are too stupid and frazzled to understand how a QR code works.

Yogurt Lackey:  That is brilliant. Women like being stupid and frazzled. Who should be in our commercial?

Yogurt Executive:  Me.

Yogurt Lackey: Of course. Who else?

Yogurt Executive:  A really white woman.

Yogurt Lackey: Naturally. You must mean Gwyneth Paltrow.

Yogurt Executive:  Yes. She is the whitest. Also, she will make me famous.

Yogurt Lackey:  Who else?

Yogurt Executive:  Another white woman, except tired and with spoiled, well-fed children.

Yogurt Lackey:  Yes, all women who are afraid of GMOS and are too stupid and frazzled to use a QR code love Gwyneth.

Yogurt Executive:  We should film the commercial in a scary American Food Prison.

Yogurt Lackey:  Walmart?

Yogurt Executive:  Gross, no.  Stupid, frazzled women and Gwyneth Paltrow do not shop at Walmart. It has to be an upscale American Food Prison.

Yogurt Lackey: What should the stupid, frazzled white woman with nasty children be doing?

Yogurt Executive:  She will walk through the American Food Prison aisles with her ungrateful children and be overwhelmed by the literally thousands of food choices all around her.

Yogurt Lackey: Having so many food choices in American Food Prisons can be very stressful. Is this where she should show how she is too stupid and frazzled to understand a QR code?

Yogurt Executive: Exactly. She will pull out her $600 smart phone to demonstrate how stupid and frazzled she is and then her psychotic children will deliberately smash food in the aisles of the food prison.

Yogurt Lackey:  This is so relatable. All women understand the struggle of being stupid, frazzled, and having awful children who throw watermelons when they are bored.

Yogurt Executive:  That’s when Gwyneth Paltrow will appear from the giant dairy section and pretend to know what a can of food is so that she can borrow the $600 phone since she left hers in her Range Rover.

Yogurt Lackey:  All women will love this commercial because they are stupid and frazzled and want Gwyneth to borrow their $600 smart phone in the aisles of an upscale American Food Prison.

Yogurt Executive: I just am doing my part to change an unjust food system for stupid, frazzled women with too many choices at upscale grocery stores, I mean, food prisons. Oh, and getting famous.

The End

 

 

 

Hey, Environmentalists – Stop Being Such Dicks

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This is how the whole subject of climate change looks to someone new to the fight:

Every Discussion Ever about Climate Change

Most Scientists Everywhere: The planet is warming because we burn fossil fuels. It would be good to stop burning fossil fuels, like, really soon.

Activist:  Climate change is caused by capitalism. Capitalism must die.

Scientist:  *whispers* Well, it’s actually caused by burning fossil fuels.

Activist:  *screams* DENIER!

Scientist:  *scurries back to lab*

Republican:  How much is this going to cost me?

Activist:  It will cost you everything, Evil Capitalist Pig.

Republican:  Eh, it’s snowing. Climate’s fine. I’m outta here.

Activist:  *head spins in circles* DENIER!

New Activist:  Nuclear energy is low carbon and…

Activist:  *foams at mouth* CAPITALIST!

New Activist:  *cries* But…I feel the Bern!

Activist:  *thrashes wildly* DENIER!

Planet: *cooks*

The End

Bad news for environmentalists. According to a newly released Gallup poll, the number of Americans “worried a great deal” about climate change has only ticked up 4 percentage points in the last 25 years from 33% to 37%, in spite of environmentalists promising us that the apocalypse is right around the corner. Not only are the majority of Americans not losing much sleep over humanity’s impending doom, most of them don’t even want to call themselves environmentalists anymore. That number is down from 78% to 42% since 1991 and no one will be shocked to learn that most Republicans don’t like to call themselves the “E” word these days. That number is down from 78% to a mere 27%.

What’s happening here? There are surely a million different reasons but one of them may be that you environmentalists are scary as hell. Seriously, you’re such dicks sometimes – to each other and to anyone, really, who doesn’t bow down to your dogma.

You love to wag your fingers and call people “deniers” when they don’t agree with the ordained economic system, agricultural method, and energy policy. God help anyone who makes the case that perhaps not all weather events are due to climate change because that person isn’t just a Denier, they are a denier and a Koch-Brothers Puppet. How’s that strategy working out for you? We keep burning fossil fuels, climate change marches on and no one wants to be in your club anymore.

I cringe at how naïve I was when I first got into this, all wide-eyed and excited to save the planet (I cringe at that phrase now too.) Then, I got called a climate change denier because I suggested nuclear power should be in the clean energy mix since it’s, you know, CLEAN ENERGY. I felt like a big dumbass, holding out my hand with all the nice little stats about nuclear safety and radiation and my hooray-for-baseload-power excitement. I thought, “Oh, if people weren’t so scared of nuclear power, then we could stop burning coal and everyone could have air-conditioning as good as mine and not die from spoiled food. This is awesome!” Not so fast. Not only was I a denier but I was a…right-winger?

So, I cried and cried and couldn’t figure it out. At first, I thought people assumed I was a shill for the big, powerful Nuclear Industry Lobby until I realized that the nuclear industry is a sad, fat dinosaur with one leg dragging behind it, crying for everyone to wait up. (I think their lobby is just a few old guys in golf sweaters, handing out pamphlets.) It started to make sense though when I saw an interview with an activist I really like and admire, Naomi Klein (she’s actually not a dick). When asked about nuclear power, she rejects it and says:

“I understand why people looking at the current power configurations as they are, believe that we need these centralized solutions that are less threatening to our elites.”

Klein goes on to say that nuclear power is keeping the status quo and is an extractive industry that is tied to an unequal economic system and that she’s throwing her lot in with a social movement. Huh? I guess she agrees that nuclear is low carbon but we can’t be equal until…nobody has refrigeration? (I was thinking it would be more egalitarian for us all to not die from food poisoning.)  I see what she’s getting at but it sounds like her social movement is more important to her than not burning fossil fuels. That’s when a dim bulb went off over my head: Maybe the social movement is more important to a lot of these people than the HOT CLIMATE part. (Republicans: Duh.)

Not even a bona fide advocate of global socialism is safe from abuse if he deviates from the mandated Green script. Leigh Phillips, author of one of my favorite books last year, Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff (as hilarious and thought-provoking as its title), received a death threat for arguing that the green left had abandoned its progressive, pro-human values in its rejection of modernity. Mean names are better than death at least.

“Oh gosh, what haven’t I been called? A shill for Monsanto, a shill for Silicon Valley, a ‘Jetsonian’, techno-utopian, a nuke-head (I don’t actually mind that too much)…” -Phillips

There is something wrong with a movement where someone can share so many of the same values and then get threatened with murder for proposing different solutions. Imagine what it’s like for those whose values don’t align very well.

 Maybe if you weren’t such assholes, trying to shove a narrow ideology down everyone’s throats, more people would trust you and we’d be making more progress on climate change.

Environmentalists can keep blaming those old coots, the Koch Bros, or they can look at the Gallup poll numbers and ask what they could do differently to make people want to do more than worry a little about climate change on rare occasions. It’s time to accept that not everyone buys the same  dogma or cares about the same social movements but everyone should want to call themselves an environmentalist.

 

Happy Birthday to An Ecomodernist Manifesto

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It’s been almost a year since I read An Ecomodernist Manifesto. I’m not sure where I read it but it intrigued me so I did what any sane person would do, I shared it on Facebook and waited for someone to respond. Crickets. No one even threw me a gratuitous “like.” I cried.

So then I tried to work it into some dinner party conversations. I was already becoming known for preaching about the benefits of genetic engineering at this point so most people took this as further confirmation that I was becoming an eccentric character. [Note to EM authors: The word “manifesto” is not easy to work into happy hour chit chat.]

Example:

Amy: Did I ever tell you about Golden Rice?

Entire Party: YES

Amy: May I have more sauvignon blanc?

Host:  *pours*

Amy:  And tell you about a manifesto I read?

Entire Party: NO

Amy: But…decoupling!

Entire Party: *leaves kitchen*

Amy: *drinks alone* *checks Twitter*

For several months, I would randomly post a Mark Lynas piece on Facebook but I was mostly just reading and observing. Lynas is a former eco-warrior/destroyer of gmo crops turned nerdy science advocate for those who don’t follow environmentalist drama. If environmentalism has a rock star, it’s Lynas. Environmentalist wars are fascinating, by the way. It’s like the Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana fan wars of the 90s but with apocalypse-porn and better the exact same clothes.

It wasn’t until August that I decided to start a blog about all of it. [Can I admit now how much I hate the title of my blog? The mom thing makes me sound like I have bad jeans and a mushroom haircut.] It was like – Hey now! I have this shiny new hobby and nobody will listen to me so I shall start a blog where no one will listen to me but at least I could DO SOMETHING (if writing is considered doing something). Because that’s what the whole ecomodernist thing inspired in me about climate change. It made me feel like we could actually do something about it rather than continue to shrug it off and think, “Whew! Sure am I glad I’ll be dead soon! Sucks for you, grandkid I’ll never meet.”

That’s what drew me to it, I guess. It’s not a plan so much as it is an idea on how to make a plan. Plus, it’s optimistic and pragmatic, which are two things I value. Actually, that’s a total lie. Shiny, happy optimists bug me and I loved The Road (roasted baby!) but I appreciate dark, serious, secretly hopeful people and their ideas because those are the ones made of common sense. And that’s what ecomodernism is – common sense and pragmatism. So much of the modern environmental movement and its ideas to address climate change are wonderful and beautiful but they will never work.

Example:

Beautiful Environmentalist:  Capitalism is the enemy. Buy my book!

Regular Person: *watches football*

Beautiful Environmentalist:  We shall all live on small farms and churn our own butter!

Regular Person: *visits farm* Ew! Chicken poop. (That’s a true story. Chickens are gross.)

Beautiful Environmentalist:  We shall wear hemp bonnets and read by candlelight.

Regular Person: WHY IS THE GODDAMNED WIFI OUT AGAIN?

So, yeah. While I think the idea of all of us pulling together as one big happy Earth family is beautiful and I think the idea of a small, bucolic farm with happy children and windmills and a goat is magical, it’s well, just a magical idea. We’re not going to Social Movement ourselves into cleaner air or Small Donkey Farm our way into enough food to feed everyone. It’s lovely but it’s not going to happen. Most people don’t even want to sacrifice closet space so it may take a teensy bit too long to convince them to do more than recycle. Speaking of which:

Son’s Field Trip to Recycling Plant Yesterday

Me: How was your field trip?

Son:  Fun. Elle farted on the bus.

Me:  I meant, how was the recycling center? What did you learn?

Son:  Someone tried to recycle a dead dog once.

Me:  Awesome. What else?

Son:  They get a ton of milk cartons filled with heroin needles.

Me:  *explains heroin to 8-year-old*

Anyway, while I love the concept of a slow pace and no sounds except chirpy birds and a water wheel, we will never convince the world’s population to go backwards. Going backwards is really just the luxury of people who have everything. I think the writers of the manifesto recognize this and honor humanity’s tendency to look forward, to innovate, and to strive for something better for themselves and their children.

So, happy birthday to An Ecomodernist Manifesto and thank you to all of you brilliant people who have let a Regular Person be a part of ecomodernism this year and have been patient and welcoming while I learn.

With love and admiration – Amy

Edited to add:  The world lost an incredible mind today. Professor David MacKay was a big part of why I started looking at renewable energy differently. Please check out his Ted Talk. He’s wonderful and witty and might make you look at energy in a new way. He will be missed terribly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Prom Queen: Please Love My Canned Green Beans

I’m reposting this after learning that the “Food Babe” is once again abusing important open records laws to punish people who disagree with her. She is going after a scientist at the University of Florida and his private email account (not just his university email) and has asked for all of the emails containing the names of people who have been critics of her weak grasp of science and the way she uses fear to drive people to buy the products on her website. Evidently, her behavior is legal but it’s abuse of an important tool to promote public transparency. Using these laws for personal vendettas is unethical, childish, and potentially damaging to future transparency.

So, I have to cast her in a play about green beans and the dumb corporation who still thinks she’s relevant.

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Another day, another big corporation groveling to fit in with the cool kids of the Bleached-Teeth, Spray-Tanned, Clean-Eating Crowd whose supreme leader has created a brilliant business model of finding hard-for-her-to-pronounce food ingredients and harassing the companies who use them. All this so she can sell books, get website hits, and kickbacks from affiliate partners. It’s so smart!

This brilliant fear-marketeer, Vani Hari, goes by the name of The Food Babe –  and the supply of icky ingredients and of corporations willing to prostrate themselves in front of her is endless. It’s like being in high school again and watching the sad kid who is willing to shoplift just to impress the prom queen. (By the way, kids, the prom queen will laugh and play along but the prom queen will never date the person who shoplifts lipstick for her.)

The latest company to humiliate themselves is one of several companies with the name, Del Monte. Apparently, there are several Del Montes and they’re all unrelated, even if they sell the same stuff and use the same label. It’s too boring to explain and with the way Big Food works, there’s a good chance one of the divisions will be sold or bought by ConAgra or Nabisco and this will all be old news anyway.

This particular Del Monte, Del Monte Foods, sells canned fruits and vegetables like peas, green beans, tomatoes, peaches, etc. Most of those fruits and vegetables don’t have a GMO version available but that hasn’t stopped Del Monte (no, not that Del Monte, this Del Monte) from slapping a pretty “non-GMO” label on the can that implies they’re doing us a big, fucking favor. Thank you for putting sucrose from Mexico in my canned peas! It’s so much healthier than sucrose from Minnesota in my canned peas!

It appears that this is how it all came about:

The Food Babe Hosts A Very Important Meeting of All Companies Named Del Monte

The Food Babe: *glances up from mirror* Welcome, Del Monte! Thank you for coming all the way to Charlotte just to see me!

Del Monte Asia:  I am not Del Monte. I am Del Monte Asia.

Del Monte Canada:  I am not Del Monte. I am Del Monte Canada.

Fresh Del Monte:  Who are you calling Del Monte, lady? I am Fresh Del Monte.

Del Monte Foods:  I am Del Monte Foods. But you can call me Del Monte. Or Del. Or Monty. Whatever you want! May I please sit by you?

The Food Babe:  *glares at secretary* I don’t understand. I need to meet with Del Monte. Which of you is the Real Del Monte?

Entire Room: We are!

Secretary: *shakes* I’m sorry! I thought they were all the same company.

The Food Babe:  Shut up, Secretary. Bring me a smoothie and a hairbrush. I need to think!

Del Monte Asia: Who are you? Why have I come all the way from Asia?

The Food Babe: *thunders* I am The Food Babe!

Del Monte Canada:  Oh my god! You’re that person who blackmails big companies! *runs*

Fresh Del Monte:  I am Fresh Del Monte. Nobody blackmails Fresh Del Monte.

Del Monte Foods: *raises hand* Pick me! You can blackmail me! You’re so pretty.

The Food Babe: *sips smoothie* I will blackmail all of you but you can go first, Foods. What do you sell?

Del Monte Foods:  *hangs head* Canned stuff, ma’am. I like your outfit.

The Food Babe:  *smirks* Cans? Bless your heart.

Del Monte Foods:  *seal claps*  I cannot wait for you to blackmail me!

The Food Babe: *brushes hair slowly* Hmmm…let’s see. Remove the GMOs, of course.

Del Monte Foods: *gazes wistfully* You have such shiny teeth. Yes! GMOs. Most of what we sell doesn’t have a GMO version so we can, um, print new labels?

The Food Babe: Whatever. Just give me credit.

Del Monte Foods:  Naturally! You are The Food Babe! Do you want a foot massage?

The Food Babe: You’re disgusting.

Del Monte Foods:  I know.

The Food Babe:  *glances back at mirror* I need more.

Del Monte Foods:  I will join your army! I will harass scientists and blackmail big companies with you! It will be fun! Can I smell the top of your head?

The Food Babe: Get away from me.

Del Monte Foods:  *sniffs stolen hairbrush* Will you be my friend now? Will you buy my green beans?

Entire Room: *hysterical laughter*

The Food Babe:  Yuck. Cans are tacky and you are gross.

Del Monte Foods:  Okay. Thank you for letting me be in your army. I love you.

The Food Babe:  Whatever. Get out.

The End

So, the poor little 1.8 billion dollar canned fruit and veggie company (no, not that one – this one) is doing what many other giant food companies are doing – scrambling to keep market share and appeal to finicky consumers who think GMOs are the reason they’re fat/depressed/divorced/in debt, which is completely fine. Do what you’ve got to do there, Big Food Company, but please don’t embarrass yourself with this bullshit:

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Joining The Food Babe Army is a slap in the face to scientists, farmers, and the people who find it distasteful to use trumped-up fear just to sell juicers and coconut oil. You’re better than that, Del Monte. Or at least some of the Del Montes are. Besides, have some pride. The Food Babe isn’t going to eat your canned maraschino cherries just because you join her dumb army any more than the prom queen will date you for stealing mascara for her.

Vermont’s GMO Labels: A Boon to Big Business

Co-authored with Julie Kelly and originally published on Huffington Post.

Big Food companies are folding like a Wal-Mart suit on GMO labeling. After spending gazillions of dollars to stop GMO labeling laws, major brands like General Mills and Kellogg’s have made splashy announcements that they will now print “made with genetic engineering” on products that contain GMOs.

These big, bad companies are capitulating to the demands of one tiny state – Vermont – that will require GMO labels on most foods as of July 1. This lily-white state with a mere 600,000 residents has CEOs all over the country shaking in their Guccis as the deadline looms. A Senate bill to rescue these companies and save Vermonters from living with the consequences of a really stupid fucking law failed to get enough votes, so game on.

But instead of telling Vermonters to buy Pringles and Fruit Loops in New Hampshire and making the grocery stores in Vermont look like Venezuela for a few months, the companies gave in to anti-GMO bullies that pushed the shitty law. Anytime you have a whackjob like flying yoga teacher Jeffery Smith helping write state legislation, you know it’s gonna be a dumpster fire.

Well-known anti-GMO activists who earn fame and fortune by ripping the food industry cheered the news. Vani Hari, the self-described Food Babe who claims Rice Krispies might cause cancer, heaped praise on Kellogg’s and General Mills over social media:

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(When you’re the Food Babe, it’s all about you.)

Pleasing self-righteous activists might be just part of the game plan here. Most small food companies simply can’t afford to comply with the law (labeling GMOs isn’t as easy or cheap as you think) and the penalties for mislabeling – up to a $1,000 per day – are way out of their budget. So there’s a good chance they’ll exit Vermont and the Big Food companies will have the state all to themselves (Bernie Sanders would shudder.)

We can only imagine the high-level company meeting where this decision was made *cue dreamy music*

A Very Important Meeting at Kellogg’s Corporate Headquarters

Head of Security: *locks door* I am very scared. A man who flies yoga mats made Vermont pass a law which says we have to label all of the things with GMOs.

Head of Frosted Flakes: *eyes dart* That is very scary. We will never sell another box of Frosted Flakes in Vermont. We must label all of the things.

Tony the Tiger: *chews on cigar*

Head of Froot Loops: *slouches* But, we have spent 1 gazillion dollars because it is stupid to label all things.

Head of Security: *shaky voice* I have not told you the scary part

Head of Cheez Its: What is scarier than a man who flies yoga mats?

Head of Security: *crying in terror* The Food Babe

Entire Room: *ducks under table*

Tony the Tiger: *leans back in chair*

Head of Security: The Food Babe is blackmailing us. We must label all of the things or her army will tweet us and call us…on the phone.

Entire Room: *gasps*

Head of Pop-Tarts: That’s it! I am scared of mean tweets plus we will never sell another Pop Tart in Vermont. We must label all the of the things.

Tony the Tiger: *quiet voice* What is the punishment for the companies who don’t label all of the things?

Head of Security: $1000 per day, per product plus mean Facebook messages and *gulps* class-action lawsuits.

Head of Cocoa Krispies: *sobs* And we will never sell another box of Cocoa Krispies in Vermont!

Entire Room: *screams*

Tony the Tiger: Silence! *lights cigar* We will label all of the things.

Head of Froot Loops: But we have spent 1 gazillion dollars because it is stupid to label all of the things.

Tony the Tiger: *smirks* Of course it is stupid but we can afford to label all of the things and little companies cannot. *rubs paws together*

Head of Kellogg’s: I love Vermont. Vermont is for Big Business. Let’s move to Vermont.

Entire Room: Hooray for Vermont and Flying Yoga Mats!

Tony the Tiger: *licks butt* Yeah, they’re Grrrreat. *rolls eyes*

The End

Excellent work, Vermont. It’s no sweat for the Big Food guys to make the labeling switch, consult with lawyers, and pay enormous fees but not so easy for the little local guys you love so much.

Maybe Vermont should change its nickname from The Green Mountain State to Friend of Big Business. Feel the Bern.