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Vegetable Libel

Copyright © 1997, 2007, 2013 by David E. Ross

WARNING: This item contains no sex or violence. Nevertheless, its content might be illegal in several states and might be made illegal in other states considering similar laws.

We generally greet the idea of Food Disparagement laws (vegetable libel) with humorous references to George Bush's dislike of broccoli or similar responses. However, these laws — spreading from state to state — may have serious results. Just consider how the following comments would be treated where the law provides at least for civil penalties for negative expressions about food.

Tomatoes in the market deserve negative comments; they are awful. The skins are as tough as plastic wrap. They have no flavor. Wedges from a store-bought tomato in a salad need to be cut with a sharp knife. This is all because commercially grown tomatoes are hybridized to withstand rough treatment in packing. They are also picked under-ripe so they will last longer in the produce bin at the market. Just compare a store-bought tomato with a home-grown, vine-ripened tomato. You can taste the difference and feel the difference in texture. Similarly, commercial peaches are insipid and mealy when compared with home-grown, tree-ripened fruit.

Grapes have a different problem. Many commercial growers use plant hormones to increase the size of the individual grapes and to force them to ripen all at the same time. But a larger store-bought grape contains no more sugar than a smaller home-grown grape. Further, a grape that is naturally ripened on the vine — with sunshine and fresh air being the only additives — melts in your mouth with great flavor; unlike with commercially-grown grapes, you do not wonder why you are bothering to chew and chew a home-grown grape.

Some of these "Food Disparagement" laws go beyond fresh fruits and vegetables. They might even inhibit questioning desserts and candies. After all, will we risk prosecution and continue to ask why lemon drops, lemon pies, and lemon Jell-O have artificial flavors while dish detergent and furniture polish contain real lemon? Will doctors still be able to warn us (a warning I prefer to ignore) about the dangers of eating too much beef? Will we be allowed to make honest comparisons between real cheese and fat-free, low-salt, flavorless pseudo-cheese?

29 August 1997

In 1997, a bill in the California Legislature to enact a "vegetable libel" law was amended merely to study the concept. It died without ever reaching the Governor's desk.

Then, in 2007, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland introduced AB 698. This bill was the result of a mistaken lab report that claimed an outbreak of E. coli at Taco Bell restaurants in the eastern U.S. was caused by the green onions (scallions) grown by Boskovich Farms in southern California.

While Boskovich Farms suffered a major loss by the time lettuce from northern California was identified as the true source of the disease, Strickland's bill would not have helped. The lab neither knew its report was false when it was first issued nor acted with the intent of harming Boskovich Farms, but both of those situations had to be proven under AB-698 before the lab could be found liable for damages to Boskovich Farms.

Strickland's bill was merely a great show with little substance. If passed, it would not have stopped me from condemning mealy, insipid peaches; hard, tasteless tomatoes; or rubbery asparagus as are found in our major supermarket chains. Fortunately, AB 698 died in the Legislature.

Audra Strickland and her husband Tony kept exchanging elective offices with each other to circumvent term limits. They also transferred campaign funds back and forth, which might have been illegal. Fortunately, neither of them are in office now.

1 August 2013

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