Thursday, January 14, 2010

Purity bagels

Whenever I see an article about Jews being special, I count to three. What what? A Tel Aviv tech boom? What's this, kosher's joined the ranks of veganism and locavorism as a food restriction for yuppies to dabble in without thoroughly investigating? I count to three and wait for the 'Oh, you Jews think you're so damn special, well let me tell you' to begin. And it's like, look, Gentile Majority, we know we're not all geniuses, and some of us buy the kosher hot dogs as our yearly hot dogs only because the thought of a snout having gotten into the mix makes us queasier than the thought of what goes into a hot dog, kosher or not.

It's amusing, though, that kosher's being lumped in with other unrelated forms of self-denial. It's as though a certain type of consumer will buy anything so long as it's been presented as 'something- (anything-) free'. It makes sense - many products (soap, water bottles, milk, cereal) bear earnest-sounding labels of what they don't contain, and it's usually a list of things that do sound chemical, but that nine times out of ten I'm not sure why we're supposed to now want to avoid, and this from someone who reads the Well blog far too often.


PG said...

My soap is antibiotics-free. I do think there's overuse of antibiotics and that I should do my bit to decrease that, but it's more along the lines of making a tiny contribution to a larger problem than because it does anything good for me individually.

Indeed, antibiotics overuse is one of those problems where the self-interest of the individual conflicts with that of the group; we increase the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by our collective overuse, but any individual will probably be better off for using antibiotic. It's being aware of how biology works -- see also vaccines and group immunity -- that makes me get extra frustrated with Randian types who assume that in any circumstance, following your individual self-interest will also end up being good for society as a whole.

Phoebe said...


I agree with you on antibiotics, but was not claiming that all X-free products are so gratuitously. Rather, my point is that it is my sense that a subset of consumers considers X-free a good thing, regardless of what X is or whether they could articulate why they're supposed to be avoiding X. As in, all things equal, X-free is better than either a product with X, or one without X but also without a big label attesting to the fact. I'm sure studies have been done on this, but this is not a research project I'd find interesting enough to go through with.

PG said...

You're almost certainly right about X-free among many consumers, or else the agriculture/food industry wouldn't have fought so hard to prevent labeling of foods as "not genetically modified." (That is, they were trying to keep certain companies from being allowed to label food as GM-free -- this wasn't even a fight over mandating labeling of food that did contain GM.)

They presumably figured that even if consumers don't know why GM might be bad (if it actually is... that's another one where any negative effect is probably macro), seeing "GM-free" labels would introduce the thought into minds that GM is bad and therefore one should only eat GM-free foods.