Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Anyone remember that Simpsons episode where Homer runs for Mayor? And in his efforts to right a past wrong, the streets of Springfield become checkered with dozens of new stop signs, traffic lights and warning signs?

I was reminded of that episode when I came across this article. A nonprofit vegan outreach group, the Cancer Project, is pushing for warning labels on hot dog packaging and duly filed a lawsuit against Oscar Meyer and similar processed meat propagators. Their suggested label: "Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer."

All joking aside, the lawsuit has some merit. Skyrocketing health care caseloads, including obesity, heart and stroke and diabetes – much of which could arguably be credited to problematic diet – indicate that our culture needs some serious lifestyle rehab. Is this sort of litigious rigmarole the answer, or even a well-placed hit-'em-on-all-sides scheme? I wonder. 

A few years back I was entertaining the prospect of becoming a lawyer. I remember reading somewhere that a specific case in and of itself is rarely fought and won on its own individual merit, especially when it comes to precedence-building, soapbox-a-ready issues behind this specific litigation. Very likely, if the Cancer Project can win this one, every soft drink, candy bar, bag of chips and McDonald’s food purchase could have its packaging emblazoned with a warning label. And can you imagine the commercials? 

Again, I’m not against these measures per se, but I wonder if that’s a worthwhile strategy to employ. I would much rather see buckets full of cash (frankly, if some firm is taking this on pro bono, I’ll eat my hat) go into the hands of community kitchens (check out a list here), and similarly located grassroots initiatives. You know, the kind that actually involve engaging live human beings and foster a sense of agency and community? 

On the other hand, judicial recognition that these companies are knowingly manufacturing dangerously unhealthful product could open the door to better regulation of them. But if warning labels couldn’t or wouldn’t dress down Big Tobacco, I wonder if Frito Lay and Coca-Cola will play nice. A cursory Google search of some of their less-than-squeaky-clean corporate practices would indicate otherwise. 

What do you think, folks? Would a warning label keep you away from your episodic street meat lust?