Well over a century ago --- the late 1870s and early 1880s, to be a tad more precise --- supporters of "temperance" and alcohol prohibition launched a campaign to eliminate "adulterated" beer from the marketplace. The anti-alcohol forces began by denouncing the use of corn and rice in beer. Those two ingredients, the reformers claimed, caused a host of health woes, from headaches to insanity.
Not content with challenging the use of rice and beer, a group of New York City businessmen devoted to "moderation" in alcohol use demanded that the nation's brewers reveal the use of all their ingredients and sent brewers a questionnaire aimed at rooting out the truth. On the list of alleged ingredients were corn, rice, glucose, "grape sugar," molasses, and potato and corn starch. Other groups claimed brewers used acids in their beer.
Attacks like these continued for the next two decades, as prohibitionists used fear-mongering to rally support for their cause. At both the state and federal levels, lawmakers pondered passage of "pure beer" laws that would ban the use of anything in beer except water, barley malt, hops, and yeast.
Eventually, of course, the prohibitionists, who never met a fear they weren't willing to exploit, managed to make prohibition the law of the land --- with, shall we say, disastrous results. Indeed, getting on toward a century after the end of prohibition, we Americans still live in its long shadow.
Not much has changed. Neo-prohibitionists still prey on public fears in their project to end drinking in the United States. (The best place to follow their many projects is via the blog of Jay Brooks.) And these days, they often gain support from so-called food reformers like Vani Hari, who calls herself the Food Babe. (No, I won't link to her site.) (But I will link to what the aforementioned Jay Brooks has to say about the Babe's latest.) (Heh. In fact, you could probably stop reading me right now and just go read his take and be done with it.)
Hari doesn't know much about anything (as near as I can tell) except how to make money (at which, I gotta admit, she's pretty good). I commented on her last year; 'nuf said. (Here I will only repeat what I noted in that entry: I've spent most of the past seven years studying the politics and culture of the American food system. I've learned a whole lot about food politics. A whole lot.)
Her most recent escapade, however, surely leaves zero doubt about her motives. Last year, she posted a detailed entry at her website in which she claimed that beer contained a host of nasty, icky, who-would-drink-that ingredients (beaver anal glands, corn syrup, etc.) Again, I wrote about that last year, with help from some beermaking pals.
Then two days ago, she issued a press release and an online petition demanding that Anheuser-Busch InBev and Miller Coors "reveal" the ingredients of their beers.
ABIB did so: its beers contain water, malted barley, hops, yeast, and rice.
The Babe promptly claimed "victory."
To which I say: "Huh?"
Wait a sec. Last year, the Babe was all about corn syrup and beaver anal glands and GMO this and GMO that in the beer. Now ABIB says its beers contain four ingredients and she says "I win!"?
What's "in your beer" is, well, four or five ingredients. What goes into the MAKING of that beer is another matter altogether. But the Babe managed to gloss the difference between process and product and her victory has about as much substance as her grasp on the basics of science. So now she claims victory and few people notice that she's pulled a classic bait-and-switch (from targeting ingredients in process to claiming victory over listed ingredients in product).
What about all those other ingredients, Babe? Don't you care about those?
No. Of course you don't. All you cared about was getting your millions of scared-to-death followers to sign on to your profit-driven projects. (I have to admit: Her scheme smacks of sheer genius. Her many followers do all the heavy lifting. All she has to do is post a bunch of nonsense, ask them to support her and it, and bingo. The Babe scores again....)
Which brings me to my point (because buried beneath the rambling there's usually a point, if only I would shut up and get to it . . . .)
The point is: Enough already, people.
I can't be the only person who sees that most of what passes for nutritional/dietary/health information and advice in our society is doled out by people who are only in it for the money. They know how to push the fear buttons and they do it with zeal and zest and always toward enriching their bank accounts. Think Dr. Oz. Think Jeffrey Smith.
Think Vani Hari.
Some folks have said to me in the past day or so "But I want 'transparency' in my food. I want to know what's in it. What's wrong with that?"
Nothing's wrong with it --- but if you want to know what's in your food and drink, do you really want to be taught by charlatans like Hari and Oz and Smith? And just because something's not listed, it doesn't follow that the maker is "hiding" something. If, say, soup manufacturers are required to list every ingredient not just in the soup but in the PROCESS of making the soup --- well, that list will be long and consumers may be unhappy. But they will have gotten what they wanted --- and will be even more afraid and thus more susceptible to the actions of Oz, Smith, et al.
Because that's how we Americans roll these days. We freak out because there are "genes" in our tomatoes and "chemicals" in our beer.
Well -- doh. Yeah. There are "genes" in every living thing and "chemicals" in everything, living or not. But we've become such a scientifically stupid, easily duped society that I'd bet most people don't know that. And people like Hari are not only leading the campaign for scientific stupidity. They're also profiting from it. At your expense. (Because if you think labeling requirements for foods are cheap and easy, you're wrong. The costs associated with them rise quickly. And I'll give you three guesses as to who pays the final bill for those labeling requirements.)
Here's where you're probably thinking "Hold on! Are you saying labeling and information are bad?"
Nope. I'm saying use some common sense. If someone with a profit motive comes along and says "BEAVER ANAL GLANDS," it's a 100% safe bet that a) the substance is being misrepresented; and b) if it's there at all, it's likely to be perfectly safe because if it weren't, I assure you that someone other than a scientifically ignorant, profit-driven snake oil saleswoman found it first.
Which is another way of saying that Hari (and Oz and Smith and others like them) have no credentials, no expertise for making the claims that they make.
Rather, they are masters at duping the public and preying on its fears.
Frankly, I'm glad ABIB responded so quickly. But I wish the company had gone further and pointed out the disconnect between the Babe's claims and her claim of victory. But the company didn't and so now the Babe has gained even more legitimacy.
Moreover, it's a shame that the Brewers Association has not spoken out (at least not up to the moment that I'm tying this). Someone noted that the Babe isn't attacking craft brewers, only the two big guys. The implication is that the small brewers have nothing to fear (because, ya know, they're pure, noble, and upright).
But the BA should be wary. Historically, food reformers and neo-prohibitionists don't stop with one "victory." That one victory opens the doors to new campaigns. And eventually it's possible that all beermakers will be smeared with the same bag of pure, GMO-free, 100% bullshit.