Here’s a brain teaser for ya: when is a law that President Bush has signed into law still not a law?

Answer: when lobbyists object to the enforcement of the law on the grounds that it will be too costly for their corporate clients to implement.

The Decider’s decided to take a backseat to K street lobbyists and allow our food safety policies to be driven by beefy bullies like The American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now,” as Maureen Dowd noted Wednesday. But he can’t rope ‘n’ ride, much less catch Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

The awful truth is that the Leader of the Free World’s been lassoed by lobbyists and roped into doing their bidding at every turn. He’s a docile little dogie, but this gittin’ along is gittin’ kinda old.

As CNN anchor Kitty Pilgrim reported last Monday on Lou Dobbs Tonight:

Kitty Pilgim: The USDA said even though the law has been passed, it's not a final rule. It's still only a proposed rule…

Lou Dobbs: All right, help us all out here. Is this thing the law or isn't it?

Kitty Pilgrim: You know, I went through this about six times with the USDA. They said, it is a law, but it's still a proposed rule. And, so, until the USDA acts on it, it will not be a final rule.

Lou Dobbs: So, these incompetent, cowardly people--I am going to be generous; I am going to call them people -- at the USDA are not implementing a law signed by the president, passed by the Congress, and it's been five years?

Kitty Pilgrim: And they say they're still soliciting comments…

Lou Dobbs: OK. I have got a comment.

USDA, listen to me. Start protecting the American consumer. Do your jobs.
And, if it's the Bush administration, Mr. President, why don't you just get one thing right in your administration and start protecting consumers? Is that a fair comment?

But Lou was just getting warmed up about COOL on Monday. By Wednesday, his head nearly popped off:

Lou Dobbs: A Consumers Union poll in fact shows 92 percent of Americans want to know where their food comes from. Now, there's a law on the books that calls for country-of-origin labeling of meats and other foods. But implementation has been delayed because of pressure from special interest groups, food industry lobbyists, and others…and, as Kitty Pilgrim now reports, the lobbyists, well, they are still trumping the public interest…

Jay Truitt, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: We have asked for delays in this law from the very beginning. And the law that was passed as a part of the 2002 farm bill has some significant flaws with it.

Kitty Pilgrim: Now, with the House Agriculture Committee working on a new farm bill, some in the beef industry lobby are trying to change country-of-origin requirements by changing the definition of livestock eligible for a "Made in the USA" label. This would allow an animal born and raised in another country and brought to the United States to be slaughtered and be labeled as a product of the United States. And the lobbyists are also pushing Congress to rewrite rules for ground beef, which is sometimes mixed with meat from Canada, Mexico, or Australia, with just fat trimmings from U.S. cattle. Then there would no telling if the package contained meat from Mexico or Canada in so-called U.S. beef.

Some are calling attempts to water down country-of-origin regulations an insult to consumers.

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch: What we are afraid of is, instead of delaying it, the beef industry will try to weaken it and get themselves off the hook and not be totally covered.

Kitty Pilgrim: The beef industry says they are fighting country-of- origin rules because they cost too much. Now, the House Agriculture Committee is currently working on the new bill. And the worry is, amendments are being proposed that will basically weaken the country-of-origin labeling rules -- Lou.

Lou Dobbs: Will weaken the country-of-origin rules?

Kitty Pilgrim: They have been delayed twice, basically through appropriations, and now they think they will be diluted -- they will be put in place, but they won't be effective.

Lou Dobbs: So, once again, Congress is filled with gutless wonders rolling over for lobbyists on K Street, in this case, the beef industry fighting these country-of-origin labels.
Has anybody in this Congress got the guts to enforce this law?

Kitty Pilgrim: Well, let me tell you, this is in markup right now in the House, and the consumer groups are watching this like a hawk. When those amendments go in, there is going to be a public outcry...

Lou Dobbs: Well, let's get here tomorrow night, let's get those groups that are watching, Food & Water Watch, for example…the Consumers Union, all of them, and give them some credit, and show our audience where they can write, and try to get some -- and the idiot congressmen who would be blocking the enactment of this law. But let's also get the USDA. And who is the fellow from the Cattlemen's Association?

Kitty Pilgrim: Yes, Jay Truitt? He…

Lou Dobbs: Jay Truitt?...Well, Jay Truitt -- Jay Truitt, I want to talk to you, pardner. You're all bull and no beef. And we're going to call you on this. And we're going to go through every one of your objections. And if you don't start thinking just a little about the national interests, you are going to hear from us daily, nightly, hourly. I don't care what it takes, because I have had a bellyful of this. This is outrageous, a gutless administration on this issue, a gutless Congress, and lobbyists rolling over the will of the people.

Kitty Pilgrim: The public will is very clear on this. They want country-of-origin labels.

Lou Dobbs: It's a law, for crying out loud...millions of Americans that have just had it with this nonsense. This is no longer funny. And they are putting the public health at risk…let's see if we can get the existing law enforced and roll back the influence of lobbyists in Washington.

Yeah, let’s see! Food safety advocates and consumers have been huffing and puffing about this issue for years without getting anywhere, but with a prime time populist like Dobbs hyperventilating, maybe we’ll start to feel the winds of change. Tune in to CNN tonight at 6 for more fireworks. And if you think it’s unfashionable to be a Lou Dobbs Democrat, just call yourself a Kitty Pilgrim Progressive.


Eating Liberally’s delighted to announce that we’ve acquired a DC correspondent, and just in time to get the inside scoop on the farm bill hearings! Blogger Natasha Chart, a charter member of the netroots who ruminates about all things agricultural (and just cultural) on Daily Kos, myDD, OpenLeft and PacificViews , snagged a ringside seat yesterday and sent us her account of the dueling for dollars between sustainable ag advocates and the agribizness-as-usual crew.

Washington, D.C. - “A sound compromise that no one is satisfied with, but nevertheless represents real reform.” - From Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-MN) opening statement today on the 2007 Farm Bill.


The first House Agriculture Committee markup session on the 2007 Farm Bill began with Rep. Collin Peterson's opening statement, followed by everyone else's. Peterson said that Americans were fortunate to enjoy low, stable food prices, and food that meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

No markup, or voting on specific amendments, actually took place during today's session. The last changes to the legislation weren't made until late last night, and today was the first chance most members got to see the final versions, though Rep. Peterson said that the changes were minor in comparison to the version released a little over a week ago.

Peterson said that listening sessions all over the country indicated that the 2002 Farm Bill was popular and regarded as successful. Building from that as a platform, changes Peterson described as departing from 2002 policies included increased spending on research, investment in nutrition, and help for new farmers. He said it was also the first time there was dedicated baseline funding support for fruits and vegetables, as well as a hard cap on payments under the commodity and conservation programs, such that no one with an adjusted gross income of a million dollars or more is eligible.

Peterson further said that there would be a main version of the bill that strictly adhered to paygo, pay-as-you-go, budget guidelines. Other items not covered by this baseline funding would be included in a separate bill that would need to have budget offsets found for it.

Ranking member Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that he had called for a “modern, forward-looking Farm Bill,” as opposed to an extension of the previous bill, but that there wasn't enough money. He said that the majority party's Budget Committee wasn't willing to pay enough for nutrition, for a modern bill, not with a $60 billion budget shortfall.

Goodlatte said that he wasn't pleased to see the bill going to the floor with funding for some wishes, but only promises and good intentions for the rest. He also said that, though all the Republicans on the committee supported paygo rules, that demands had been made on the committee that they didn't have the resources to meet.

Goodlatte predicted an onslaught of amendments on the floor that would cripple the safety net for agriculture. He said that it was very important to know what outside funding would be made available, and that it be committed to publicly.

Peterson responded that other committees were reluctant to legislate on nutrition and energy issues that were in the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee. However, these pieces of legislation would be sent to the Rules Committee to find offsets from other committee budgets.

Rep. Terry Everett (R-AL) said that an industry facing as much uncertainty as agriculture needed a safety net. He singled out peanut farming as a sector that had to deal with the same rising costs as other farm enterprises, but without the benefit of countercyclical payments to redress price shortfalls.

Everett made a point of saying that his district grows a lot, and that he's not opposed to getting a Farm Bill passed just to keep Democrats from passing legislation. He said that preserving agriculture was more important than playing politics.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) agreed that it was important to support the $800 million peanut industry, worth $67 million in his own state alone. As the chair of the Subcommittee on Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture, McIntyre devoted most of his statement to rural development issues. He highlighted what he considered the critical importance of providing rural communities with libraries, fire trucks, and access to microenterprise development assistance. He said that companies with fewer than 10 employees were a fast growing source of jobs, and that programs like supporting rural broadband would help rural small business, as well as schools and hospitals.

Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) focused on farm finance, talking again about the listening tours that had been held around the country, saying that farmers especially liked three things: direct payments, marketing loans and counter cyclical payments. Counter cyclical payments are intended to compensate farmers for prices that fall below their operating costs. This year, the bill will include the option to sign up for a just released revenue based counter cyclical payment plan (pdf), a proposal forwarded by the president, that would establish target revenue and yield prices on a national formula.

Representatives Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) both expressed reservations about inclusion of Davis-Bacon Wage Determinations in the bill. This standard “determines prevailing wage rates to be paid on federally funded or assisted construction projects,” and is included as a requirement for biorefineries built with federal loan guarantees. The idea is alarming enough to Representatives Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA) and Michael Conaway (R-TX), that they've offered an amendment, number 51, to strike that language from the bill.

King later described himself as a lifetime opponent of Davis-Bacon, saying, “I don't get to die until that's repealed.” He also referred to the 46 percent increase in nutrition spending as “freedom from fear of want,” needlessly addressing the worries of households who weren't worried about the next meal, but a couple meals down the line. He said that this kind of worry was why he thought people got up to go to work.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) started off by identifying himself as a former food stamp recipient. He said that he still thanks God every day that they were there when his family needed that help. Rep. David Scott (D-GA), later reiterated the importance of the food stamp program, and warned the committee that it was important to protect it from moves toward privatization.

Baca also pointed out that while one in ten Americans suffer from hunger, this rate was double in the Black and Latino communities, so it was important to pay attention to nutrition for those receiving assistance. Scott further highlighted racial diversity issues, noting that Black farmers faced “dire and unique” pressures; having been around a long time, but usually running small farms.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) said that it was important that the bill support agricultural entrepreneurship, agriculture-based renewable energy, and rewards for creative conservation. He also noted that concentration in agriculture was a problem, and that having 70 percent of payments go to 10 percent of farms didn't help matters. Rep. Cardoza (D-CA) echoed this concern for payment diversity in pointing out that no previous Farm Bills have given specialty crops, fruits and vegetables, their fair share.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), himself a farmer, repeated the concern many Republicans expressed for providing a safety net for farmers. He said they were unique among industries in having to buy at retail and sell at wholesale, accepting prices at both ends. He said that he wanted a bill that would get farmers through the lean times, when, as Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) noted, they face enormous capital exposure and risks beyond their control.

Graves proposed safeguarding the current system by offering an amendment that would allow the USDA to permanently disbar anyone committing fraud against it from further participation in their programs

Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) returned the topic again to rural development. He praised the reauthorization of the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, a research service that provides technical advice for organic and sustainable farming, and expressed concern at the rate the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was closing rural offices. He also reiterated the interest expressed by Rep. Scott in having a strong country of origin labeling standard.

The committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 am. There were 300 people in line today. I'm going to have to hope I can get into the overflow room for the markup session, not sure I'll be as lucky again as I was today to get a seat in the main hearing room.

Republican Restrooms - Costaki

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey by Costaki Economopoulos. Republican Restrooms.


Poor Al Gore. He just wants to save the world. And yet, his well-intentioned efforts to curb greenhouse gases have had the terrible unintended consequence of driving up the cost of rBST-free milk.

This is a disaster not just for dairy lovers, but for the whole nation—no, wait! the whole world--according to the latest op-ed from Henry I. Miller, “How Al Gore Harms the Environment.” It’s an Onion-worthy slice of satire, only Miller’s not kidding. He picks up right where his last shameless defense of rBST on the NY Times op-ed page left off.

Miller’s a fellow at the Hoover Institute, the same “Bush brain trust” that brought us the neo-con cast behind that perennial Off Beltway bomb known as the War in Iraq. How is it, Miller muses, that no one else has spotted the connection between the Live Earth extravaganza and the rising cost of milk from cows that haven’t been injected with Monsanto’s rBST hormone?:

Several stories in the news the past week are fascinatingly linked, but no one seems to have noticed. One item was the series of Live Earth rock concerts intended to draw attention to global climate change; another was the American Farm Bureau Federation's announcement of huge and seemingly inexplicable disparities in "niche" milk prices.

The connection? Al Gore. His influence on both issues – via intractable, decades-long opposition to biotechnology – has been indubitably negative.

Indubitably. Now, there’s the kind of ten dollar word that only a corporation can afford to buy. And make no mistake, Miller is Monsanto’s man, brazenly promoting rBST--which he refers to as a “protein” rather than the hormone that it is--as a cure-all for climate change, because it enables dairy farmers to squeeze more milk out of fewer cows.

According to Miller’s math, this adds up to significant savings in water usage, lower feed costs, and reduced methane emissions.

But Miller ‘s Soylent Green scenario of synthetic sustainability ignores the inconvenient truth that there’s a worldwide ban on rBST due to its undisputed propensity to cause serious disease in dairy cows and suspicions that it may pose a health hazard to humans as well. As for the “seemingly inexplicable disparities” in milk prices that Miller cites, it’s a classic case of supply and demand, with demand for milk untainted by synthetic hormones far outstripping supply. Is it such a shock that consumers would be willing to pay a premium to avoid pus-filled, potentially disease-inducing milk?

More egregious than Miller’s sins of omissions, though, is the way he frames Gore’s opposition to biotech commodity crops as an Olympian-sized obstacle to tackling global warming. The problem with genetically modified crops is that they are a veritable Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences, and scientists have yet to find a way to test them that doesn’t make guinea pigs out of ourselves and our planet.

Case in point: Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which have created a monster strain of uber-herbicide resistant weeds, requiring ever-greater applications of Roundup. Way to go, Monsanto! The USDA’s own report on 2006 field crop pesticide use shows “a state by state, huge, dramatic, unbelievable over-reliance on glyphosate,” aka Roundup, as Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for the Organic Center, noted in an e-mail forwarded to me by a farmer friend, Anne Patterson of Living Earth Farm in Illinois.

Maybe that’s why the USDA’s looking into tightening its oversight of genetically modified crops, as Reuters reported last Thursday, citing a series of court cases that have faulted the USDA for failing to fully examine the environmental impact of a number of GM crops before approving them.

But the more we try to steer clear of the pesticides and chemicals that poison us and the planet, the more the biotech industry resists regulation—like an unstoppable Roundup ready super weed. We’ve got to douse these perennial lies with strong applications of fact whenever they pop up in the mainstream media, before they can take root and choke out the truth.

Miller’s been sowing this noxious nonsense for years, as the NY Times noted earlier this month in an article citing new doubts about the alleged benefits of biotech breakthroughs. At a 2004 roundtable on the safety of biotech food, the Times quotes Miller as saying that “both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products.”

Well, no, actually, they don’t. In fact, evidence is mounting to the contrary. But as long as GM-touting corporations fund jolly bad fellows like Miller, we’re going to see a lot more of this disingenuous drivel. Miller’s attacked Gore before, and he’ll no doubt do it again. If only L.C., Eating Liberally’s fictitious mad cow, could gore Miller first. Unfortunately, he seems determined to shill, and shill again.

hat tip to Severine Von Tscharner Fleming of


“Plastics” was the big buzzword in 1967’s The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you -just one word.

Ben: Yes sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Ben: Yes I am.

Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.'

Ben: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ben: Yes I will.

Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.

Forty years later, Mr. McGuire’s buzzword is a big ol’ buzzkill, and plastic’s a deal killer. Plastic shopping bags—which Americans reportedly go through at the rate of 100 billion a year--are getting banned left and right--and rightly so. Card-carrying environmentalists carry a reusable canvas tote.

But bottled water’s set to unseat the plastic shopping bag as Public Eco-Enemy Number One. “We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone,” according to FastCompany reporter Charles Fishman, who notes that we indulge our thirst for convenience while “one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water.”

What a colossal waste of fossil fuels, from the petroleum-based bottles to all that gas it takes to truck the stuff hither and yon from its source—which, in the case of Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina, is just regular ol’ tap water, anyway. Taking a page from the Department of Redundancy Department, they re-purify previously purified municipal water. This is even more absurd than it sounds when you consider that federal quality standards for bottled water are less stringent than they are for tap water.

So, please, bypass the bottled water and take it from the tap when you can, whether it’s in a restaurant or on the road. Bring a reusable bottle and refill it whenever possible. And yeah, we know some tap water may need to be filtered first, and we’re aware that polycarbonate-based plastic bottles can leach contaminants. But you’ve got to pick your battles, and we’re awash in bottles. Don’t let bottled water be our Waterloo.

(hat tip to Elizabeth Royte for the FastCompany link)


Oh no! Farmer Kitty came back from the Greenmarket this morning with sweet Hudson Valley cherries so perfect, the cherry-picking committee doesn’t know what to do!



Oy. What was John Mackey thinking? The Wall Street Journal’s revelation that the Whole Foods CEO posted comments on a Yahoo! stock-market forum under the name “Rahodeb” in order to denigrate competitor Wild Oats and defend his own hairdo is just hair-raising.

How could the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, that empire of emporiums geared towards ethical eaters, do something so seemingly unseemly? It may not be illegal, but Mackey’s attempts to manipulate public perception of a company he’s had his eye on buying raise serious questions about his judgment.

But the hair thing really makes you wonder whether the Whole Foods CEO is playing with a whole deck. When a photo of the perpetually rumpled Mackey in Whole Foods’ annual report inspired another Yahoo! user to mock Mackey’s messy mane, “Rahodeb” responded, “I like Mackey’s haircut…I think he looks cute!”

Mackey claims the FTC, which revealed the “Rahodeb” comments in its antitrust lawsuit seeking to block Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats, is simply out to embarrass him and his company, although Mackey doesn’t seem to need any help in this department.

On Whole Foods’ own website, Mackey defends his “Rahodeb” ruse with a dizzying array of justifications:

1. I posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.

2. I never intended any of those postings to be identified with me.

3. The views articulated by rahodeb sometimes represent what I actually believed and sometimes they didn't. Sometimes I simply played "devil's advocate" for the sheer fun of arguing. Anyone who knows me realizes that I frequently do this in person, too.

4. Rahodeb's postings therefore do not represent any official beliefs, policies, or intentions by either Whole Foods Market or by me.

5. At no time did I reveal any proprietary information about Whole Foods on Yahoo!

6. All of rahodeb's postings should be read in the full context of the discussions that were taking place on the bulletin board at the time the postings were made. Reading them out of context may lead to serious misunderstandings.

7. All of rahodeb's postings also need to be understood in the context of the time that they were written. Because the competitive market has evolved so much in the last 5 years, older postings mean far less today than they did when they were written.

Yeah, well, they still mean that Mackey has thoroughly shredded his cred. Whole Foods has always tried to portray itself as the epitome of a conscientious corporation: “…high standards permeate all aspects of our company,” Whole Foods’ website declares. “Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.”

Mackey’s freaky foray into a Yahoo! forum under a faux name calls into question his own state of mind. According to SeekingAlpha, a website devoted to stock market analysis, "Rahodeb" once commented, “While I’m not a ‘Mackey groupie,’ I do admire what the man has accomplished.” Not to mention the “cute” haircut.

Sadly, it looks like Mackey’s sacrificed his integrity in his attempt to sew up Wild Oats. But integrity, like virginity, is one of those priceless commodities you can’t buy back.


Did Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration, literally lose his head on Tuesday? Chinese officials declined to say what method of death was deemed fitting for Xiaoyu’s execution, but in any case, he’s dead now. His crime? Taking some $823,000 in bribes to approve drugs that proved unsafe and killed at least 10 people.

“Corruption in the food and drug authority has brought shame to the nation,” Yan Jiangying, deputy policy director of the State Food and Drug Administration, told the NY Times. “What we will have to learn from the experience is to improve our work and emphasize public safety.”

All these horror stories about China’s lethally lax standards and toxic products (antifreeze-flavored toothpaste is just the latest) have given our Asian rival a big black eye, but in some departments, China’s actually more progressive than we are.

While Lou Dobbs has compulsory conniptions over the impending arrival of cheap Chinese cars to our shores, we can’t sell American cars to the Chinese because the Ailing American Automakers Formerly Known As The Big Three can’t meet China’s fuel efficiency standards.

And Home Depot sells made-in-China sheets of plywood that are so full of formaldehyde they’re too toxic even for the Chinese, who are nonetheless willing to produce this product just for the U.S. market.

Our stores are so dominated by made-in-China goods that trying to live for a whole year without buying anything made in China is the latest literary stunt. But China’s paying a terrible price for its unregulated manufacturing, with air and waterways so degraded that “about 460,000 people die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water,” according to a preliminary report from the World Bank. The Financial Times claims that Chinese authorities are asking the World Bank to sit on these shocking figures out of fear their revelation would spark a riot.

But Chinese officials needed to manufacture some good pr, get a “message: we care” kinda vibe going, if you will, and what better way to do that than to demonstrate zero tolerance for government officials who accept money from corporations to look the other way and approve unsafe products?

May I make an immodest proposal and suggest that we try this tactic in the U.S.? After all, we’ve had a spate of deaths linked to drugs the FDA approved as a favor to Big Pharma despite evidence that the drugs in question had serious and even fatal side effects. And lobbyists routinely bribe our politicians to ignore legislation such as the Country of Origin Labeling Laws, which would tell us where our food comes from, because the corporations that manufacture our food are afraid that informed consumers might pass up their products if they’re forced to bear those three little loaded words, “Made in China.”
Since so many Americans supposedly support the death penalty, I hardly think it’s un-American to suggest that we execute government officials who accept money in return for doing the bidding of Big Pharma or Big Food. The only problem with this scenario is that it might turn Capitol Hill into a ghost town.


At long last, we’ve got a cartoon character praising the virtues of veggies! Does it matter that it’s a rat? And he’s not even that cute. I refer, bien sûr, to Remy, the long-tailed lead in Pixar’s culinary tale Ratatouille.

Never in the history of cinema has this simple, classic French dish of summer vegetables been so lovingly celebrated. There’s a climactic scene, a nod to Proust and his much-loved madeleines, where fusty food critic Anton Ego (who looks to be on the lam from a Tim Burton film) is transported by a rather refined interpretation of this humble blend of onions, bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and garlic. The sequence is so stunning it reduced Slate’s Dana Stevens to tears.

Thanks to scenes like that, Ratatouille-the-movie is ratcheting up demand for ratatouille-the-dish in restaurants and inspiring newspapers all over the country to print ratatouille recipes perfectly timed for all that ripe produce that’s filling our farmers’ markets.

NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni hails the success of Ratatouille at the box office as a triumph of enlightened eating over mindless munching, and notes that a fable with a foodie hero would have been unthinkable until recently:

I’m not sure that two decades ago, or even a decade ago, it would have been possible to make and successfully market a Cinderella story set in the fussy world of haute cuisine, a furry fairy tale that presents a snooty dismissal of inferior victuals as a badge of honor and path to glory.

Bruni points out that Ratatouille’s alleged premise is that “anyone can cook,” but the movie is really more of a mélange of egalitarianism and elitism. Yes, even a lowly rodent can learn to cook, but just like the rest of us, his culinary endeavors will succeed or fail depending on the quality and freshness of his ingredients.

Am I the only one who finds this message pretty radical for an animated film supposedly aimed at kids? And it seems all the more astonishing when you contrast it to Pixar parent Disney’s Shrek the Third, with its endless tie-ins to processed foods that target toddlers’ taste buds.

Now, I happened to love the original Shrek—having been an ugly duckling myself, I was delighted to see a cartoon challenge our notions of beauty. But whatever good Shrek may have done on behalf of the humble and homely is being utterly undermined by the way the big ugly lug is shilling for Big Food. And he’s doing it on a global scale. NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who went to Australia last week to speak at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, checked out a local supermarket and posted the following dismayed dispatch from Down Under:

Shrek was everywhere. I counted at least ten special displays of Shrek-illustrated foods positioned at the ends of 5 aisles, along one entire wall (with a blow up Shrek doll), and in stand-alone areas. Shrek III has arrived in Australia but does Australia really need a store full of Shrek-green Froot Loops (devoid of fruit, of course), Shrek cheese-flavoured snacks, Shrek-illustrated chocolate flavoured biscuits, and Shrek candies? And a local McDonald’s also has a Shrek tie-in. This is about one thing and one thing only: marketing junk food to kids.

“Not a good idea,” adds Dr. Nestle in her eternally understated way.

It’s no accident that the bad guy in Ratatouille hawks a line of microwavable convenience foods, because the real villain in Ratatouille is fake food. But can Remy’s real food revival make a dent in sales of Shrek-sanctioned snack foods? At the very least, Ratatouille’s giving Americans a taste of what cooking could be if we stopped abdicating the role of feeding ourselves to a handful of corporations.

I guess it’s fitting that Big Food’s hired a monster to market its overprocessed crap. Whether Ratatouille’s Remy will prove to be an effective spokesvermin for the Slow Food movement remains to be seen, but I’m betting he’s already got a pretty big freegan fan base to build on.


Eating Liberally’s pleased as punch to announce the launch of our second chapter in Charlotte, North Carolina! Our mentors, the folks at Drinking Liberally, have blazed an amazing trail with their coast to coast netroots network; there are now 200 Drinking Liberally chapters across the nation. What a great recipe for socializing and social change—set a regular time and place, and just show up! It’s the ultimate antidote to alienation and isolation.

When you add food to the mix, though, the model is not quite so easy to duplicate. Sure, you can meet for coffee and donuts, but if the coffee’s from Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re underwriting the overlords at the Carlyle Group, the military-industrial behemoth that owns Dunkin’. And if the donuts are loaded with trans-fats, well, that kinda undermines our “good food” campaign.

But what’s the solution? We would have to be total control freaks to decree that any group that gathers under the auspices of Eating Liberally must consume only fair trade coffee lightened with rBST-free milk from pastured cows, and whole grain-only pastries made with grass-fed butter and omega-3 enhanced eggs.

We wouldn’t do that (would we?) But the menus for our NYC Eating Liberally events are so full of fresh-from-the-Greenmarket, factory farm-free, pasture-raised pureness with no nasty agribiz aftertaste that they border on self-parody. Easy to pull off when your neighborhood is, like, the East Coast epicenter of ethicureanism, but maybe not the friendliest format for our fellow foodie liberals off the wheatened path to follow.

So we were thrilled when Laura Paynter, who founded the Charlotte, North Carolina chapter of Drinking Liberally, came up with the brilliant notion of creating an Eating Liberally chapter that will meet on the second Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. at the Matthews Community Farmers Market, where like-minded liberals can grab a locally made muffin and a non-corporate cup o’ joe, pull up a chair and chew the grass-fed fat.

Wow! Why didn’t we think of that? Um, maybe because you can’t get coffee at our Greenmarket, unless you count the Starbucks across the street. We New Yorkers like to think we’re so cutting edge, but the Matthews Farmers Market seems to offer some amenities we haven’t got; beyond simply having coffee, they’ve got a website that tells you what produce the farmers expect to have each week, and recipes for all that exotic stuff you have no idea what to do with.

Thanks to Laura and Heather Taylor, who’s co-founding the Charlotte chapter, Eating Liberally’s taken its first baby steps toward spreading our sustainable social movement. We’re starting a third chapter later this month in DC, and we’re hoping to nurture progressive foodie communities in other regions soon, too. All we are saying is give peas a chance!

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