Okay, Bad Example

Just a quick note on another important aspect of the food debate, one that doesn’t relate to the food itself directly. At the same time, it does reflect on the nature of the debate about food. I speak of the issue of “food corporations,” “making money,” “product disparagement,” and “coercive competition.”

It is difficult to go very far in the literature without running into the fact that conventional food is produced, distributed, and sold by mammoth food corporations. It is also pointed out that said companies are making a tidy sum from the sale of their products. And when it comes to promotion of organic food, we are routinely told that the standard alternative to their product is toxic and is killing you — as though Colgate were to claim that Crest made your teeth fall out. And last, the agenda of the all-natural way wants to advance, not by persuasion and other gentle arts, but rather by “banning stuff.”

But surely all this is very odd. Corporations are engaged in selling organic stuff, and when I say corporations I meant to say big corporations.

And if you saunter down to your local Whole Foods emporium, you will discover that they are not exactly giving it away. In fact, their prices are higher, which must

mean that their evil greed motives must be stronger, right? Anybody who sells food for money must be an orc, right?

The third area is also quite striking. In ordinary advertising, if you want to take a shot at the opposition, you must be deft, and have a humorous touch. If GM said that a Toyota might kill you . . . okay, bad example. If Random House said that HarperCollins put chemicals in their paper, you know, chemicals that might cause your fingers to rot away, everybody would just stare at Random House. What are you guys doing? And even the GM example is a good example in a way. Even if the other guy’s product really might kill you, it is still bad form for a competitor to mention it.

But the last point is the big deal in my mind. In a free and open competition, people usually figure out what they want and what they need. So let them do it. If you want a quick and reliable way to predict which company is afraid of losing the argument over time, ask which company is in love with the word “ban.” When you get people whipped up in a froth over global scamming, you can ban incandescent light bulbs. And, if you have stock in the other kind of light bulbs . . . sweet. The trick is to get all the banning into effect before the jig is up, and the facts come out.

In short, arguments that apply equally well against both sides of the debate are arguments for neither (corporations and profitable food). And arguments that are offensive, but which are only applied by one side to the other (product disparagement and calls for coercion) are arguments that should be taken for what they are — a confession of a weak position.

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