Oinking Tomatoes

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

Oinking Tomatoes

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

Oinking Tomatoes
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 26 1998 6:19 PM

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

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Today's Wall Street Journal carries a story saying that the government may soon approve little proclamations on wine bottles boasting of the health giving properties of the grape. One such proposed message says, "The proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption." So bottoms up and mud in your eye! At last the government is about to recognize that old home truth that the more you drink, the better you feel. I suppose if enough money moves from the wallets of company executives into the accounts of campaign finance chairmen the government will make any claim licit, no matter how remote or fanciful.

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For myself I am less concerned with what they put on the label than with what they don't. They don't, indeed the government won't even allow them to put a statement on milk cartons advising would be drinkers of this non-alcoholic beverage, so much favored by the young, that it contains growth hormones administered to cows to stimulate production. This omission may go part of the way to explain why there are so many six footers in seventh grade these days.

The current issue of the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener (P.O. Box 2176, Augusta Maine 04338) reports on a suit filed against the Food and Drug Administration for failing, among other things, to require labels on various comestibles to state that the foods have been genetically changed. The complaint alleges that some fruits and vegetables have been modified with DNA from insects and animals. This conjures up the prospect that when eating a cucumber you may also be consuming pork, which some Jews and Moslems may find contravenes the dietary laws of their religion.

If these jokers put cow genes into melons, for instance, Hindus are in for some head scratching. Would such miscegenation result in sacred and therefore inedible fruit? It's possible this switching around may result in mass starvation, at least among the devotees of many religions around the world.

I suppose if they monkey around with this stuff long enough they may change all the vegetables into animals and all the animals into vegetables. Twenty-first century vegetarians may have to restrict their diet to chicken and filet mignon. At the least this state of affairs gives new meaning to an item like beef-steak tomatoes.

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Assuming these games go on long enough we may not need to press the government for labeling rules. Fruits and vegetables may label themselves by accident. If black and white eggplants start showing up in the supermarket, you'll know either it's a new computer or an aubergine that's had a run in with a cow in a genetics lab. The best labels would be talking labels. You won't need to inquire further when, upon picking up a tomato and squeezing it to determine its ripeness, it emitted an oink.

Barbara Ehrenreich is contributing editor at theProgressiveand author of several books, including Blood Rites. Nicholas von Hoffman is a columnist at theNew York Observer. His books include We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against.