Sometimes we want things from society and the law that we cannot get. For instance, you may believe that abortion is murder or that the death penalty is wrong. However, in most places (well, all places in the former and most places in the latter), you are unable to actually do anything about it. It’s a frustrating situation to be in. Most of the time when this happens, though, we view some wrongs as being more wrong than others. I’m opposed to the death penalty, for instance, but if we’re going to have a death penalty then we ought to try to make sure that (for instance) those that are executed are not tortured in the process and that innocent people are not executed.

Despite my fundamental opposition to the death penalty, I tend to get annoyed with death penalty opponents who play a sort of cat-and-mouse with partial measures. It’s one thing not to want someone to be executed in a way that is tantamount to torture. It’s another to say that method-X is torture. But to suggest that method-X is torture is primarily to suggest, in the short term, that some non-tortuous method is used. The trouble is that when you turn around and suggest that any alternative is still killing people, you’ve undermined your case against method-X. You have revealed that your opposition was to the act and not the method involved. You’ve alienated anybody who generally supports the death penalty but was concerned about method-X. If method-X is genuinely torture, you’ve possibly consigned people to death row to a more tortuous death than would otherwise possible. If method-X is not really torture, you’ve been remarkably dishonest and people (who already disagree with you in bulk) are not unlikely to notice. On the other hand, if and when method-X is replaced by method-Y, you’ve lost a good portion of your argument if your argument was never really against method-X to begin with.

This is why the whole argument about the lethal injection formula at work in our death chambers left me somewhat cold. The fact that the point was never to switch to a more humane method left me skeptical that the fomula (method-X) was really as bad as they were saying. Supporters of the death penalty didn’t even have to say a word. I could be right about that or I could be wrong about that, but that was the impression that I got.

This sort of frustration is how I always feel about nutrition-boosters. I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve gotten into where I’ve been tut-tutted for liking some food, been told how awful it is for me in terms of fat and lack of nutrients, then listed the nutritional information off the top of my head. Yes, for foods I eat frequently, I remember these things. Turkey pepperoni, for instance, is not appreciably worse for me fat-wise or calorie-wise than sliced turkey on a sandwich. No, it’s not completely stripped of its protein (any more than a turkey sandwich). Yes, a salad would be healthier, but the most likely alternative to a turkey pepperoni snack is not a salad but is cheese. Yes, the cheese has more calcium, but it also has a lot more fat… and wasn’t that your original complaint about the turkey pepperoni?

The real problem, I have come to determine, is not so much that I am eating turkey pepperoni or inulin. It’s that I’m not eating what they eat. Now, if I’m asking for advice on how to lose weight, suggesting replacing turkey pepperoni with celery is some darn good advice. And maybe the turkey pepperoni really is bad for me in some way that I can’t measure. But it becomes rather obvious to me that they really don’t care if it is or not. It’s consumer food. Consumer food is evil.

That’s how I feel about a lot of the complaints about unhealthy beef. It’s not that I don’t think that there’s a problem with tainted beef. There is! I want it fixed! In fact, I think that I want it fixed a lot more than the people screaming most loudly about it. For them, it’s like method-X insofar as it is a tool to their ultimate goal of getting me to stop eating beef. As a beef eater, though, I have more of a stake in how healthy or unhealthy the beef I eat is.

I am reminded of this by a post by Marion Nestle, last seen accusing a 20oz Coca-cola drink of having 800 calories, who argues that irradiation isn’t a particularly good idea. Why is it not a good idea? Because killing bacteria lets the industry get away with selling beef without bacteria in it {cue nefarious music}. So she has now demonstrated that E. Coli is really secondary to the evilness of meat producers.

I’m not arguing that meat producers are benevolent entities nor am I denying that they are guilty of all manner of things including gross mistreatment of cattle. Maybe a law should be passed about that. But every other recommendation (mostly involving testing and handling of meat) I’ve read has come across as far less likely to actually reduce bacteria and more likely to make meat more expensive and the industry less profitable. And it becomes ever more apparent to me that the issue has little to do with bacteria at all and more to do with punishing thy enemy and forcing people to eat less beef.

On a relatively unrelated note, I find it fascinating how bacon became at some point the classy, hip meat. Would the above article have been written if the E. Coli had instead been found in bacon? Oh, probably. But there’d probably be fewer people solemnly nodding their head at the notion that Middle Class America Knows Not What It Consumes.

Category: Hospital, Kitchen

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6 Responses to They Just Want Our Half

  1. web says:

    Dishonest argumentation is nothing new, sadly. The old “frog in water, slowly turn up the heat” theory often seems very apt in regard to government trying to push changes on people.

    By the same token, however, there are legitimate questions about some of the foodstuffs that are out there with questionable additives. Ironically, half the time this isn’t supermarket foods, but instead the “all-natural, herbal, therefore it’s safe and healthy for you” stuff peddled by those same nutrition-boosters.

    Arsenic is all natural. Hemlock is herbal. ‘Nuff said.

  2. trumwill says:

    Questions about additives, or what the livestock are being fed are legitimate. So long as the focus is on replacing or eliminating the additives and not a prelude to “And so you should become a vegetarian like me!”

  3. web says:


    I quite agree. The “blah blah blah you don’t know what’s in that… so you should become a vegetarian/vegan/etc” is something I hear relatively often. It seems to always be a primary argument of the vocal vegetarian/vegan advocacy crowd that their lifestyle is somehow “healthier” (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t… dietary allergies make it pretty hard for me to pull off since they seem to put the veggies I’m allergic to in freaking EVERYTHING).

    It’s also a more generalized observation that in order to really assess a position, you need to get down to root motivations. For example, most advocates for various government-handout programs boil down to either “but it’s not fair that the poor have less” (which makes me itch to respond “but life isn’t fair, is it?) or else into a rant about those “greedy, evil capitalists/corporatists/etc” that the person hates so much. In the first case, while it’s nice to want to help the less fortunate, you can only do so much and there are plenty of people who are poor through their own devices; in the second, their “concern” for the poor is just a smokescreen for their own deeper hatreds and wish to attack people more successful (whether through their own merit, dumb luck, or familial inheritance) than they are.

    I’ve seen this happen a lot with people who are decidedly middle-class as well. I heard someone ranting on about the “profits” of “evil car dealerships” one day, and even showing them the raw numbers of what your average dealership owner and employee makes (really, it’s not that much, most are decidedly middle class, including the family I grew up right down the street from who owned a small car dealership) only fazed them a second before they went right back into rant mode.

    Ulterior Motives are a wonderful thing, aren’t they?

  4. john says:

    Get a rowing machine. Get a rowing machine. Get a rowing machine. For God’s sake, get a rowing machine. Eat whatever you want, just get a rowing machine. You will wake up one day and find yourself slim and fit, if only you get a rowing machine.

  5. Linus says:

    I think what this all comes down to is fact and belief. All of us have some difficulty confronting facts that refute our beliefs. I could easily be one of those people to scold Will for eating certain things, but I’d like to think that I would admit to being wrong if he backed up his argument with information from the nutritional label. Where facts are clear, this is relatively easy (except, of course, the impact to our egos).

    It’s when the facts aren’t clear that things get complicated and belief plays a bigger part. For example, I believe that many preservatives and other “non-food” additives to foods are unhealthy in some way or another. Over the next several decades, I suspect that we will find that many of them are carcinogenic. I’m therefore relatively “traditionalist” when it comes to what I eat – I try to buy things composed of ingredients I recognize as food. If I did exhaustive research (which I admittedly haven’t), I suspect I could find facts that back up these beliefs for some ingredients. I would also undoubtedly find that some ingredients have been thoroughly studied and proven safe multiple times over. But frankly, I’m not interested in becoming an expert in these things, and prefer to choose my foods somewhat conservatively in a way that I believe will minimize risks to my health.

    Note that I am in no way trying to tell anyone that they need to approach what they eat in the same way. Just because I believe something to be healthy doesn’t neccessarily mean you should too, especially given the imperfect information available.

  6. trumwill says:

    Though I’m more skeptical of the notion of carcinogens in preservatives, I do think it’s something that should be investigated. If we’re eating poison, I want to know about it. Clancy and I are switching to more organic foods and while I’m not sure of the good it will do, there is a good argument to be made for conservatism. It could do good but is unlikely to do bad.

    Even if we don’t find that the preservatives are carcinogens or whatever that we’ll find that they’re messing with our systems and playing a much heavier role in the obesity problem than simply making the food cheaper and more available. Who knows?

    Where I will but heads with the anti-preservative people, though, is if their response to finding the poison isn’t “We need to find a better preservative” or “We need to eat more organic meat if we’re going to eat meat” but rather “This is yet more proof of how we need to stop eating meat altogether!” which has kind of been the response to the whole e Coli thing.

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