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eat drink and be merry

PeakGuardian

“The cup­cake has al­ways been a gentri­fying force … you could get a huge mass of people to par­ti­cipate in a re­ac­tionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cup­cakey im­agery, and per­suaded everyone that the bru­tality of your ideo­logy was in fact a form of nice­ness.” — Tom Whyman for Critical Legal Thinking, Guardian “Comment Is Free”, my Tweet h/t @Ben_McGinnis.

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The internet has lit up with the story of the 20-year-old, 92-lb. history major who says she’s been battling the Yale administration over its pressure on her to eat more. [New Haven Register]. Although much of the press coverage seems unaware of the issue, it would not be surprising if changing legal pressures on universities played a role here. Efforts both regulatory and liability-driven have been under way to hold universities accountable for not preventing student suicides, and as a result, many campuses have seen a shift toward more interventionist, rules-driven policies designed to show that the institution was not standing idly by when it knew or had reason to know of early signs of self-harm. (Our file on the topic goes back a decade.) If the list of self-harm behaviors includes eating disorders, you might have a formula for interventions in which very skinny students are placed under pressure to prove they are not anorexic. Evaluating cases like the current one, of course, is difficult for outsiders because of HIPAA and other privacy laws which broadly prohibit the sharing of health-related information, even on topics of public concern.

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Oops: after years of imperious public-health hectoring, government intervention, and even visions of mass tort suits, it seems the science isn’t so settled after all. [Telegraph, NPR, CBC, earlier]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 17, 2014

  • Warnings dismissed at time: FDA rules implementing FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) of 2011 imperil practices common to organic, small growers, “such as using house-made fertilizers and irrigating from creeks” [Los Angeles Times] Oh, how D.C.’s “public-interest” establishment and its co-thinkers in the press jeered when we and others tried to raise such concerns before the bill passed!
  • Related: pursuit of locally grown/artisanal meat options collides with USDA regs that put squeeze on small slaughterhouses, overbroad recalls also a problem [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, here, and here]
  • “America’s Obesity Problem: Legal Mechanisms for Prevention,” Duke Law School conference I spoke at (but did not write a paper for) last year, now online [Duke Forum for Law and Social Change].
  • Related: “Wellness programs addressing obesity could lead to litigation, lawyers say” [ABA Journal]
  • Looser regulation of microbrewing has already proved boon to Maryland, lawmakers now consider extending it further [Beth Rodgers, Frederick News-Post]
  • “Bill introduced to undo California’s ‘glove law’ for food preparers” [KPCC; earlier]
  • Sorry, I’ll stay home and thumb through old cookbooks instead: recent American Studies Association Food Studies Caucus program included “Food, Debt, and the Anti-Capitalist Imagination,” “Archives of Domesticity and Dissent: Cookbooks, Cooking Culture, and the Limits of Culinary Exchange,” and “Pedagogies of Food and Eating: Teaching Debt, Dissent, and Identity through Food” [Mary Grabar, Pope Center on "food studies" fad]

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“As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.” Having achieved some success in negotiations with Canada and Central American nations, Europe may seek to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses such as Asiago, fontina, Muenster, and Neufchatel.

And it may not be just cheese. Other products could include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.

No word on renaming French fries. [AP]

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Farm and food roundup

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2014

November 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2013

  • KlearGear and the consumer non-disparagement clause that ate (or tried to eat) Chicago [Popehat and followup]
  • “House Passes Bill That Would Open Asbestos Trusts To Scrutiny” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
  • Randy Maniloff interviews Judge Richard Posner on his new book Reflections on Judging [Coverage Opinions]
  • In a custody fight, anything can happen: “Dad Accused of ‘Unfit Parenting’ for Refusing to Take His Son to McDonalds” [TIME]
  • “Released after serving 10 years on false rape accusation –then wrongly arrested for not registering as sex offender” [Chicago Tribune via @radleybalko]
  • Institute for Justice launches campaign to challenge local restrictions on food with suits over sale of cottage baked goods, front-yard vegetable gardens, advertising of raw milk [AP/Yahoo, "National Food Freedom Initiative"]
  • Alabama regulators add hassle factor when business tries to move into the state [Coyote]

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  • More details on my panel discussions on food issues next week at the Heritage Foundation [Monday, Sept. 23] and at Vermont Law School [Friday, Sept. 27];
  • “A Ban on Some Italian Cured Meat Is Ending” [Glenn Collins, N.Y. Times] “Market Forces Lead to Better Treatment for Farm Animals” [Steve Chapman]
  • “Tempering temperance: Puritan attitudes on alcohol still linger decades after Prohibition” [National Post]
  • Dozens of class-action suits: “Bay Area courts center of legal battle against food industry” [Mercury-News]
  • “Plain and/or Terrifying Packaging Considered for Junk Food in New Zealand (and Australia)” [Katherine Mangu-Ward]
  • If the dangers of rice aren’t enough to alarm even today’s Margaret Hamburg-headed FDA, they’re probably not very serious [ACSH]
  • North Carolina: home visits to make sure Medicaid recipient kids are eating their veggies? [Rick Henderson video]

I’m back from a speaking swing through Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, I spoke about food and drink paternalism as exemplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiatives in New York, with Prof. Steven Willborn providing a counterpoint from a more liberal perspective. At Creighton University Law School in Omaha, I spoke (as I often do) on the ideological state of the law schools, drawing on my 2011 book Schools for Misrule, with commentary from Profs. Ralph Whitten and Sara Stadler.

Both events were well attended but I was especially pleased at the strong turnout for the talk in Lincoln on food and the nanny state, a new speech I hadn’t tried out before on a general audience. Here’s a description:

The public is increasingly in revolt against “nanny state” interventions, from Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in New York, to efforts to ban Happy Meals in San Francisco. Some thinkers dismiss concern about paternalism as merely trivial and personal, not on a par with issues acknowledged as “serious” such as police abuse, free speech, surveillance, and the proper functioning of the legal system. Left unchecked, however, the project of paternalism quickly generates very serious problems in each of those other areas: it gives police and enforcers great arbitrary power, hands a special government megaphone to some speakers while stifling others, funnels uncomfortably personal information into government hands, and fuels abusive litigation. No matter what you think of potato chips, if your interests are in liberty and good government, you should be paying attention.

I’m next scheduled to speak on the food police Sept. 23 at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion with Baylen Linnekin, Nita Ghei, and J. Justin Wilson, hosted by Daren Bakst. Details here. More on my fall speaking schedule here.

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According to a math teacher’s calculations, a sample yielded only 1.86 times as much filling between the chocolatey wafers, not “double.” Here’s the report, by Rachel Tepper in Huffington Post. Using comments, who would like to predict whether some law firm will file an intended class action over this problem within the next twelve months, on a scale where zero indicates “completely confident that there will not be such a lawsuit” and 10 indicates “completely confident that there will be”?

Bonus, from the article: “And Mega Stuf Oreos have only 2.86 times the creme in a regular Oreo. The prefix ‘mega’ literally means a factor of one million, which, granted, is impossible to translate to an Oreo. Still, perhaps another name could have sufficed.”

P.S. As a reminder, class action lawyers sued the Subway restaurant chain after it was reported that its “Footlong” sub was actually more like 11 inches long. And a federal judge is reconsidering a recent ruling allowing class action claims to go forward over the appearance on an ingredient list of “evaporated cane juice,” i.e., sugar.

P.P.S. Welcome Digg and Fark readers.

Update: “While I’m not familiar with what was done in the classroom setting, I can confirm for you that our recipe for the Oreo Double Stuf Cookie has double the Stuf, or creme filling, when compared with our base, or original Oreo cookie,” a spokeswoman for Nabisco told ABC News.

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 29, 2013

  • “Farm Free Or Die! Maine Towns Rebel Against Food Rules” [NPR on "food sovereignty" ordinances]
  • “How much sense does it make for Detroit to be worrying people will open restaurants without enough parking?” [@mattyglesias]
  • Report: undercover cop co-wrote anti-McDonald’s leaflet that resulted in famous UK libel suit [Guardian]
  • Quizzed on food policy, post-Bloomberg NYC mayoral hopefuls offer many bad ideas; Republican John Catsimatidis, grocer, proposes regs “that would require new buildings to rent to grocery stores.” [Edible Geography]
  • Spontaneous consumer discontent over labeling? No, lawyer-driven: consortium of law firms has sued more than 30 food cos. in single federal court [WLF]
  • Private GMO labeling a wave of the future? [Baylen Linnekin]
  • “Eight toxic foods: a little chemical education” [Derek Lowe, Corante "Pipeline", schooling BuzzFeed]
  • Obamacare calorie-count display mandate likely to curb menu variety [Liz Thatcher, RCP, earlier]

No food gathering is allowed in the Chicago-area Cook County Forest Preserve, and that extends to dandelions. A spokeswoman does not exactly argue that America is at risk of running out of the notoriously prolific wind-borne weed, but says foraging might take food away from animal or insect species that might otherwise eat the yellow-topped invaders, besides which “some native plants resemble dandelions and could be mistaken for them.” [ABA Journal]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2013

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Did you know that the Affordable Care Act creates an enormous, multi-billion-dollar slush fund — in the out years, it will raise $2 billion a year in perpetuity — for the federal government to spend on more or less anything that might “improve health and help restrain the rate of growth” of health-care costs? That the spending can bypass the Congressional appropriations process, and is rife with expenditures for the purposes of lobbying government itself, which is supposed to be an unlawful use of federal funds?

Somehow it didn’t sink in until I read this excellent investigation in Forbes by Stuart Taylor, Jr., the distinguished commentator and journalist now associated with the Brookings Institution. Because almost any cause arguably advances health, the administrators end up with close to unlimited discretion as to how to spend the money, which results in the usual array of goofy-sounding grant activities ranging “from ‘pickleball’ (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.”

It’s tailor-made for log-rolling and rewarding local friends, but the dangers go beyond that. In particular, as outraged Republicans from Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in the House to Susan Collins (R-Me.) in the Senate have been documenting, large sums from the program have been devoted to the purpose of lobbying for the passage of legislation at the local and state level — notwithstanding specific statutory language making that an unlawful way of spending money raised from federal taxpayers.

To quote Taylor:

* In Washington state, the Prevention Alliance, a coalition of health-focused groups, reported in notes of a June 22, 2012 meeting that the funding for its initial work came from a $3.3 million Obamacare grant to the state Department of Health. It listed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), “tobacco taxes,” and increasing “types of outdoor venues where tobacco use is prohibited” as among “the areas of greatest interest and potential for progress.”

* The Sierra Health Foundation, in Sacramento, which received a $500,000 grant. in March 2013, described its plans to “seek local zoning changes to disallow fast food establishments within 1,000 feet of a school and to limit the number of fast food outlets,” along with restrictions on fast food advertising. A $3 million grant to New York City was used to “educate leaders and decision makers about, and promote the effective implementation of. . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.”

* A Cook County, Ill. report says that part of a $16 million grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” More than $12 million in similar grants went to groups in King County, Wash. to push for changes in “zoning policies to locate fast-food retailers farther from . . . schools.” And Jefferson County, Ala., spent part of a $7 million federal grant promoting the passage of a tobacco excise tax by the state legislature.

These aren’t isolated flukes: they look very much like the normal and planned operation of the program. A $7 million grant to activists in the St. Louis area went in part toward lobbying for the repeal of a state law barring municipal tobacco taxes. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported on how it used a $1.5 million federal grant: “210 policy makers were contacted . . . 31 ordinances were passed . . . there were 26 community presentations made to local governments .. . and 16 additional ordinances were passed this quarter, for a cumulative total of 47.”

This is outrageous. Congress has enacted and reiterated the ban on lobbying with federal funds because of the obvious unfairness of requiring taxpaying citizens to support political efforts of which they disapprove. Now a combination of the most politicized sector of public health activism (which likes to dictate how people live) and a cross-section of the local political class (which likes to find new ways of raising taxes) is getting massive federal subsidies to pursue such lobbying, often on a scale that can bulldoze disorganized local opposition. If you were wondering why some bad new ideas for local legislation (e.g., zoning to keep fast-food restaurants out of big-city neighborhoods) seem to be everywhere despite a tepid level of voter enthusiasm, now you know. You’re paying for them to be everywhere.

I joined host Ray Dunaway on Hartford’s WTIC this morning to talk about the issue.

P.S. Thanks to commenter gitarcarver for pointing out this April report on the problem by the investigative group Cause of Action. (& David Catron, American Spectator)

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 19, 2013

  • If you thought “finger in chili” was bad, meet the Utah couple arrested on charges of planting razor blade shards in doughnuts and swallowing some [KSL, Daily Mail]
  • My talk a few weeks ago as part of Cato Institute panel on nanny state [YouTube, Bruce Majors]
  • New Reason-RUPE public opinion survey finds public broadly opposed to food and drink bans [Sullum]
  • Feds’ bad advice on polyunsaturated fat: more damaging than any mass tort in sight? [David Oliver] More: Hans Bader.
  • Coroner blames woman’s death on Coca-Cola addiction [TV NZ] Monster Beverage: natural causes, not caffeine toxicity, killed Maryland teen [Reuters, NYT, earlier] More: Jacob Sullum.
  • Oh, CSPI, thou contradictest thyself [Baylen Linnekin; more from him on parents' and kids' food choices quoting me, NYC soda ban]
  • “Bloomberg limits seder portions” [Purim spoof, New York Jewish Week]
  • Kelly Brownell, guru of obesity-reduction-through-coercion formerly based at Yale, named dean of public policy school at Duke;
  • “A Knife, a Walmart Birthday Cake and a Frenzy of Overreaction” [Free-Range Kids] Mardi Gras perennial: can you buy king cake with baby figurine already in it? [same, earlier]
  • Now they tell us: NYT book review not conspicuously enthusiastic about Michael Moss anti-food-biz book hyped to the rafters in NYT magazine three weeks earlier [Ira Stoll, SmarterTimes, our take]

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On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.’”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.

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Class action lawyers have filed suit saying that contrary to its marketing, the popular beverage doesn’t actually “give you wings.” [Reuters, ABA Journal] Meanwhile, the same scientific observation that underlies the lawyers’ action — that pharmacologically, the drinks don’t seem to deliver effects readily distinguishable from those of a strong coffee — is hard to square with the oft-expressed fear that Red Bull et al pose unusual risks to consumers, although the New York Times does seem to manage to keep both ideas in its head at once. [Jacob Sullum]

More: Ron Miller, in comments (“this completely mischaracterizes the lawsuit”).

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