Did Chick-fil-A back down–or not?

Reports are circulating that Chick-fil-A has abandoned its practice of supporting groups that oppose gay-marriage.  But the company is denying any change of policy.

The first story:

Chick-fil-A stopped funding traditional-marriage groups in an effort to open a new Chicago restaurant, but the company initially kept quiet about the decision, prompting gay rights groups to speculate that the company feared a backlash from conservative customers.

The Christian-rooted fast food restaurant agreed to stop funding groups such as Focus on the Family that oppose same-sex marriage in a meeting with the Chicago politician who had been blocking the company’s move there. Chick-fil-A wrote a letter to Alderman Joe Moreno affirming this, according to his spokesman, Matt Bailey, but the company initially wouldn’t allow his office to release the letter to the public. Three weeks later they relented.

“There was concern from them,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director for the Civil Rights Agenda, the Illinois lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender group that negotiated with both Chick-fil-A and the alderman to stop funding for so-called anti-gay groups. “They really didn’t want to announce it, really, but, of course, the alderman needed to clarify why he was changing his stance on them opening a restaurant within his ward.”

Chick-fil-A did not returns requests for comment, and has previously said it will not discuss the issue with the media.

Mr. Martinez said Chick-fil-A told the alderman they will no longer fund groups that support traditional marriage through their charity arm, the WinShape Foundation, and will instead use that money toward educational programs and food donations.

“The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas,” Chick-fil-A wrote in the letter.

The second story:

Following reports that Chick-fil-A had agreed to stop funding certain traditional family groups in order to get approval for a new Chicago restaurant, company President Dan Cathy said Friday the restaurant made no concessions and “we remain true to who we are.”

Cathy’s statement, posted on Mike Huckabee’s website, came one day after the company released its own statement saying that its corporate giving has “been mischaracterized” for many months and that it will continue to fund programs that “strengthen and enrich marriages.”

Said Cathy, “There continues to be erroneous implications in the media that Chick-fil-A changed our practices and priorities in order to obtain permission for a new restaurant in Chicago. That is incorrect. Chick-fil-A made no such concessions, and we remain true to who we are and who we have been.”

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly — whose organization supposedly had been de-funded by Chick-fil-A — also has spoken up for the company. And gay activist groups — who initially applauded Chick-fil-A’s supposed move — now are criticizing the restaurant once again.

HT:  Grace

UPDATE:  Tiffany Owens at  World Magazine does a good job of sorting this out (registration required).

The great soda grants

George Will describes how a stimulus program that became part of Obamacare shelled out millions of dollars worth of grants to lobby lawmakers against soft drinks:

Because nothing is as immortal as a temporary government program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a creature of the stimulus, was folded into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working through the CPPW, disbursed money to 25 states to fight, among other things, the scourge of soda pop.

In Cook County, Ill., according to an official report, recipients using some of a $16 million CDC grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” According to a Philadelphia city Web site, a $15 million CDC grant funded efforts to “campaign” for a “two-cent per ounce excise tax” on SSBs. In California, an official report says that a $2.2 million CDC grant for obesity prevention funded “training for grantees on media advocacy” against SSBs. A New York report says that a $3 million grant was used to “educate leaders and decision-makers about, and promote the effective implementation of . . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.” The Rhode Island Department of Health used a $3 million grant for “educating key decision-makers to serve as champions of specific . . . pricing and procurement strategies to reduce consumption of” SSBs. In government-speak, “educating” is synonymous with “lobbying.”

Clearly some of the $230 million in CDC/CPPW anti-obesity grants was spent in violation of the law, which prohibits the use of federal funds “to influence in any manner . . . an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.” But leaving legality aside, is such “nutrition activism” effective? . . .

Research indicates that overweight individuals have “reasonably close” to accurate estimates of the increased health risks and decreased life expectancy associated with obesity. Hence the weakness of mandated information as a modifier of behavior. A study conducted after New York City mandated posting calorie counts in restaurant chains concluded that, while 28 percent of patrons said the information influenced their choices, researchers could not detect a change in calories purchased after the law.

Other research findings include: A study of nearly 20,000 students from kindergarten through eighth grade found that among those with easy access to high-calorie snacks in schools, 35.5 percent were overweight — compared with 34.8 percent of children in schools without such snacks. Nutrition policy is replicating a familiar pattern: Increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco mostly decrease consumption by light users, not the heavy users who are the social problem and whose demand is relatively inelastic.

The robust market in diet books, weight-loss centers, exercise equipment, athletic clubs, health foods — between 1987 and 2004, 35,272 new food products were labeled “no fat” or “low fat” — refutes the theory that there is some “market failure” government must correct. But as long as there are bureaucrats who consider themselves completely rational and informed, there will be policies to substitute government supervision of individuals for individuals’ personal responsibility.

As the soft paternalism of incentives fails, there will be increasing resort to the hard paternalism of mandates and proscriptions. Hence the increasing need to supervise our supervisors, the government.

via George Will: Why government needs a diet – The Washington Post.

Another thing, besides it being illegal for the government to fund efforts to lobby the government.  Who is getting these grants, and how are they spending that $15 million?  Educating  policymakers should require some handouts, a PowerPoint set up, and maybe some coffee and doughnuts.  How could that cost $15 million?

We waste 40% of our food

Our food supply is so cheap and abundant that we can afford to throw 40% of it away.   Then again, it’s not so cheap and abundant everywhere and for everyone.

Each year, about 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten. It’s just tossed out or left to rot. And that’s a fairly large waste of resources. All that freshwater and land, all that fertilizer and energy — for nothing. By one recent estimate, Americans are squandering the equivalent of $165 billion each year by rubbishing so much food. . . .

1) Farming: Roughly 7 percent of the produce that’s grown in the United States simply gets stranded on fields each year. Some growers plant more crops than there’s demand for, to hedge against disease and weather. Some produce goes unpicked because it doesn’t meet standards for shape and color. At times, perfectly fine crops go unharvested after food-safety scares, such as the FDA’s salmonella warning in 2008. Fluctuating immigration laws in states like Georgia can also create shortages of farmworkers, which can leave food unpicked.

2) Post-harvest and packing: After crops have been gathered from the fields, farmers tend to cull produce to make sure it meets minimum standards for size, color, and weight. “One large cucumber farmer,” the NRDC report notes, “estimated that fewer than half the vegetables he grows actually leave his farm and that 75 percent of the cucumbers culled before sale are edible.” If there’s a culprit here, it’s our high aesthetic standards for food.

3) Processing and distribution: Plenty of food gets trimmed in the manufacturing stage, though much of it is inedible anyway. Still, there’s also a fair bit of avoidable waste. Technical malfunctions in processing and refrigeration are one big factor. Food can sometimes sit too long at improper temperatures and spoil. Another issue is that stores often reject shipments — and it’s often difficult for distributors to find a new taker. After all, it’s not as if food banks can always find a home for a truckload of rejected beets.

4) Retail and grocery stores: Grocery stores are another huge source of rubbished food — with the USDA estimating that supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone each year. But waste is also seen as the cost of doing business. Stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the remainder than look empty. Supermarkets will also winnow out produce that’s in subpar condition, since few shoppers want to buy an apple that’s all bruised up.

There’s also the issue of “sell by” expiration dates. The report cites one industry estimate that each store throws out, on average, $2,300 worth of food each day because the products have neared their expiration date. Yet most of this food is still edible. In many states, it’s still perfectly legal to sell food past its expiration date. Many stores would just prefer not to — it looks bad. “Most stores, in fact, pull items 2 to 3 days before the sell-by date,” the NRDC report observes.

5) Food service and restaurants: About of all wasted food comes from households and food-service establishments. In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen. And, on average, diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. The report notes that portion sizes are a big reason for this, as portions have ballooned in the past 30 years. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. What’s more, chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require perfectly good food to be tossed. McDonald’s, for instance, requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. About one-tenth of fast food gets junked this way.

6) Households: This appears to be the big one. According to various estimates, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually. A big factor here, the NRDC report notes, is that food has become so cheap and readily available. So, most people reason, what’s the big deal if some of it gets tossed? The report also notes there’s a great deal of confusion around expiration labels, which tend to be confusing and often prompt people to throw out food prematurely. (The British government has recently moved to revise these standards to make them less perplexing.)

7) Disposal: Not all discarded food is equal. The report estimates that only 3 percent of thrown-out food in the United States is composted. Most end up in landfills, where they decompose and release methane, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. In fact, about 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from landfill food. Composting or even technologies to capture methane could reduce that.

via How the U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year.

Is our practice of wasting so much food a sign of prosperity or decadence?  abundance or irresponsibility?  Wasting things has always been seen as a vice.  What if that 40% were put to use?  If vegetables aren’t pretty enough for the grocery shelves, maybe we could at least make ethanol or something out of them!

The new prohibition movement

The old prohibition movement sought to ban alcoholic beverages.  The new prohibition movement seeks to ban soft drinks.

New York City is considering banning large portions; Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considering banning soft drinks altogether.  See City Of Cambridge – CITY CLERK OFFICE, CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS.

What about diet soda?  Is it necessary to ban those, even though they do not contribute to obesity and diabetics?  If so, then I’m thinking the health reasons are just a pretext for some other agenda, I guess the impulse to ban things.  But it seems odd that the wave of the moment is to ban soft drinks.

A 12 oz. can of Coke has 140 calories.  A 12 oz. can of Budweiser has 145.  The good stuff has more than that, with Big Sky I.P.A. having 195.

A 5 oz. serving of red wine has 106 calories, which makes it much more fattening, ounce for ounce, than soda.  Distilled liquor has 105 calories per 1.5 oz., far, far more than soda.  So why doesn’t Mayor Bloomberg challenge the consumption of alcohol?  Why doesn’t the city of Cambridge, that ultimate college town, ban beer, wine, and booze if it is so worried about obesity and diabetes?

To be sure, the prohibition of alcohol didn’t work very well.  So why do governments think it will work so much better with soda pop?  (Can’t you just imagine the speakeasies and home-made seltzer operations that would open up, serving primarily 10 year olds?

There are other examples of people straining at gnats while swallowing camels when it comes to health issues.  There are those who would like to hound the tobacco industry out of business who also favor legalizing marijuana.  There are those who demand that their food be free of chemicals while they themselves use recreational drugs.

And now, plant rights

Philosopher Michael Marder, with a platform in the New York Times, takes the next step, after summarizing some research as to how peas “communicate” their condition to other peas:

The research findings of the team at the Blaustein Institute form yet another building block in the growing fields of plant intelligence studies and neurobotany that, at the very least, ought to prompt us to rethink our relation to plants. Is it morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should their swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?

Evidently, empathy might not be the most appropriate ground for an ethics of vegetal life. But the novel indications concerning the responsiveness of plants, their interactions with the environment and with one another, are sufficient to undermine all simple, axiomatic solutions to eating in good conscience. When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.

Recent findings in cellular and molecular botany mean that eating preferences, too, must practically differentiate between vegetal what-ness and who-ness, while striving to keep the latter intact. The work of such differentiation is incredibly difficult because the subjectivity of plants is not centered in a single organ or function but is dispersed throughout their bodies, from the roots to the leaves and shoots. Nevertheless, this dispersion of vitality holds out a promise of its own: the plasticity of plants and their wondrous capacity for regeneration, their growth by increments, quantitative additions or reiterations of already existing parts does little to change the form of living beings that are neither parts nor wholes because they are not hierarchically structured organisms. The “renewable” aspects of perennial plants may be accepted by humans as a gift of vegetal being and integrated into their diets.

But it would be harder to justify the cultivation of peas and other annual plants, the entire being of which humans devote to externally imposed ends. In other words, ethically inspired decisions cannot postulate the abstract conceptual unity of all plants; they must, rather, take into account the singularity of each species.

via If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? – NYTimes.com.

With no God, there is no Image of God.  And so nothing qualitatively to differentiate human beings from animals.  And once we have arrived at that point, there is really little to distinguish animal life from plant life.

Also at work is a squeamishness at the necessity of sacrifice, that all life depends on the sacrifice of other life to sustain it.  This is a physical fact as well as a spiritual fact.

And yet, I see some hope in this earnestly scrupulous moralizing.  Not a single member of the cat family or the dog family feels the slightest qualm about killing and eating meat.  And it would never occur to cattle and other plant-eaters to feel guilty about grazing on vegetation.  Professor Marder is demonstrating that, for better and for worse, human beings are different after all.


HT:  Wesley J. Smith

Life Full Voice

Some of you may remember Lori Lewis who occasionally has frequented this blog.  At one point she was all involved in radio and contemporary Christian music, but then she became a confessional Lutheran and an outspoken critic of that musical scene.  More recently she has gotten involved with opera, both as a singer and as a popularizer of that artform via radio and writing.  Her latest project, though, is a webzine entitled  Eveyday Opera.  It’s not  about opera; rather, it uses opera as a metaphor for what she describes in the site’s slogan as “Life Full Voice.”  Here is how she described it to me:

A little over 2 years ago I started Everyday Opera out of the need to find a platform for my own art.
I had gone through a down time but out of it grew this idea…Making Classic Art an Everyday Event.
Personality driven, non intimidating, but with the theory that Art lifts us in our everyday experience.  In a culture full of junk food, and I eat plenty of my share, I’m a mini-evangelist for expanding one’s horizon’s.
Opera is the metaphor here for living Live Full Voice. That is how an Opera Singer sings…Full Voice
We encourage the thinking that all of life can be lived Full Voice, whether you are a great singer,
a great chef, wine maker, farmer, mother, teacher, and on and on. (Isn’t it really modeled after
The Spirituality of the Cross? The book that help me be free as a christian to be free as a person.)

Kind words about my book.  She makes an interesting connection between Christian freedom through the Gospel, personal freedom, and vocation.  Anyway,   Eveyday Opera has articles about travel, food, art, literature, wine, music, and other pleasures of life.  It doesn’t get into theology, as such, though I’d say it has a Christian view of the world, though many Christians have arguably hung back from living life “full voice.”  (Why is that, do you think?  Do you agree that Christians are freed to appreciate things like these?)

Anyway, Lori has enlisted me to write for the site occasionally, so I wrote a piece on literary style that I’ll link to in a separate post.