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Is the Chicago Tribune the New Corporate Mouthpiece?

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 14:15:18 PM PST

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Earlier I posted about a few Center for Consumer Freedom op eds. They were both published in a paper I hadn't heard of, and I figured maybe they were friendly with that paper. Maybe it was a paper of approximately the same journalistic stature as the Talon News, the right wing site where Jeff Gannon (former male hooker turned White House correspondent) worked. But then I discovered something new. The Chicago Tribune printed an identical op ed by the Center for Consumer Freedom: Gourmet Activists: Food For Thought.

There are two important things a reader of this op end should know. One is the background of the Center for Consumer Freedom. Once you know that, the "facts" cited in the op ed are almost secondary, but just for the sake of setting the record straight, the second are the real facts and how they stack up against the fake ones that CCF likes to use.

Jill Richardson :: Is the Chicago Tribune the New Corporate Mouthpiece?
There are two best sites for info about the Center for Consumer Freedom - Sourcewatch and Berman Exposed. The first is by the Center for Media and Democracy, the second is by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

From the Sourcwatch site, you find out who funds CCF:
Outback Steakhouse
Pilgrim's Pride
HMS Host
White Castle
P.F. Chang's
Marie Callendar
Dean Foods
Max & Erma's
Good Humor/Breyer's Ice Cream
Eli's Cheesecake
Ruth's Chris Steak House
Ruby Tuesday

Steakhouses, meatpackers, chain restaurants, hospitality companies, and generally anyone else who makes money off of keeping the food system exactly as it is and feeding Americans junk. They like you fat, sick, and licking your fingers as you gorge on their foods. Please - whatever you do, don't go on a diet. And while you don't see Philip Morris on the list here, that's who gave the money to found the "non-profit."

The second site you should check out, Berman Exposed, goes into the murky details of the man behind CCF - Rick Berman. This is a guy who loves that he's known as Dr. Evil, a man so evil that even his son disowned him because of the harm he does to our society. He runs a number of non-profits, which are each basically set up to funnel money to his own for-profit lobbying and consulting firm. He hates PETA, MADD, the UN, organics, and anyone else who might tell you to eat healthier, eat greener, or eat less.

So, now, what about the words in the actual op ed? Let's go fact by fact:

#1 Food Activists Want to Influence the Obama Administration: TRUE
Yes we do. Famed chef Alice Waters made headlines by writing a letter to Obama to pick a chef who uses local, sustainable ingredients. And - Obama did just that! He picked two chefs like that, in fact. Bestselling author Michael Pollan wrote an open letter to the president as well, asking him for a new approach to food policy.

#2 Alice Waters Wants Obama to Grow a Garden at the White House: TRUE
I heard her say it myself, at Slow Food Nation last Labor Day. Yes, this is a symbolic gesture. It won't bring healthy food to the masses. But as a symbolic gesture it certainly says that the man with the biggest bully pulpit in America cares about the quality of our food.

#3 9000 Activists Asked Obama To Pick Michael Pollan as Secretary of Agriculture: TRUE
This is true, and I've actually spoken to Pollan about it myself. He stated to me - and publicly - that he was not interested in the job. Pollan supported another petition - one that got ten times as many signatures as the one to appoint Pollan himself. The more popular petition named six specific people as candidates for Secretary of Agriculture, and now names the "sustainable dozen" as candidates for lower positions within the USDA. Here's what Pollan actually said:

About the movement to draft Pollan himself as secretary of agriculture, he said "I have no interest in that job but maybe the campaign will do some good... the two petitions are making the same point, basically, one a little more whimsically than the other."

#4 Michael Pollan Favors Ideology Over Science: FALSE
One of the aspects I like most about his book The Omnivore's Dilemma are that he really lets the readers decide for themselves. You cannot help but be disgusted by his trip to a beef feedlot, or be delighted by his adventures on a small, sustainable farm. That's precisely WHY I recommend this book to just about anybody I meet - it's so much more gentle than telling them that their diet is disgusting and killing the planet. It allows them to draw their own conclusions.

Apart from Pollan himself, this is an accusation that gets thrown around at the sustainable food movement quite often. Yet, it's entirely false. Science supports organics over GMOs. Science supports organics over pesticides and ammonia fertilizer. And for goodness sakes, science says we are killing ourselves with our unhealthy diets and we're killing our planet too.

#5 Michael Pollan wants "to make an organically grown, completely plant-based diet the basis for a "reform of the entire food system." FALSE
This is something that REALLY made me laugh. Pollan tries out - and rejects - a vegetarian diet in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. In fact, the vegan magazine VegNews took on The Omnivore's Dilemma in its May/June 2006 issue, dissing it for promoting meat eating. Pollan advocates the same sort of diet that nutritionists advocate - one rich in a wide variety of plant-based foods - but he also eats meat himself and he does not tell his readers to go veg.

#6 "This "yuck factor" approach has already proven to be a regulatory disaster:" FALSE
In other words, stopping companies from selling us foods that kill us is a bad idea. I quite disagree. As an example, they cite mercury in tuna. Well, the only part of that that's a disaster is the part where the tuna industry got in bed with the government and the government watered down its advisory to consumers.

At first the mercury advisory did not mention tuna. Now it mentions tuna but advises women to eat an amount that is unsafe if they were to get pregnant in the next year or if they are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. Disaster? Yeah. But not because the government shouldn't warn consumers when there are toxins in our food, or ban corporations from selling us toxic food to begin with.

#7 Michael Pollan lied that 18% of greenhouse gasses come from meat: FALSE
According to Scientific American, in its article "How Meat Contributes to Global Warming," the FAO estimates that meat accounts for 14 to 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Pollan's estimate is right in the middle of that range.

#8 Most people cannot afford organics: TRUE
Absolutely. That is one of the problems with the food system. That's why we're calling for change. We want the same good, clean, fair food that we eat to be available to everybody. That's not elitist, is it?

#9 Science says organics aren't better for you than conventional: FALSE
Check the research yourself. I'll also add some anecdotal information I've heard in which the USDA threatened to cut funding from people doing research finding that organics are healthier. Gee, who would have ever suspected the Bush administration might have suppressed science?

#10 "Organic is a wishful agricultural philosophy:" FALSE
I will point you to the Farm Systems Trials by the Rodale Institute (PDF). It's a 20+ year experiment, trying out conventional vs. organic side by side. For conventional they use the recommendations of Penn State. Lately, they even used GMO seeds. For organic, they use 2 different methds - one with compost only, and one with manure. In most years, organics produces more than conventional. Furthermore, Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell calculates that their methods use 2/3 less oil than conventional methods of farming. What part of that is a wishful philosophy?

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Great post! (4.00 / 1)
Thanks, Jill...


study i couldn't find earlier (4.00 / 1)

There. That is about children who had measurable levels of pesticides in their pee on a conventional diet. They switched to an organic diet for 5 days and there were no longer pesticides in their pee.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

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