Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Food, Law, and Culture : The Second Season

I am organizing another series of panels devoted to Food, Law, and Culture at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and Humanities to be held in Berkeley, CA next March. We have another wonderful batch of panelists. See their abstracts below:

Food, Law, and Culture Panels
Law, Culture, and Humanities Conference 2008


Christopher Buccafusco
University of Chicago


Peter Huang
Temple University Beasley School of Law

Legal Responses to Mindless Eating

Brian Wansink in his books: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More
Than We Think & Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods,
Biotechnology, and Obesity describes his own & related
psychological & marketing research about mindless eating &
possible responses. This paper analyzes legal & policy
implications of this research. It also connects this
research to recent research about mindfulness, meditation, &

Charlene Elliott
School of Journalism and Communication
Carleton University

The governance of taste: Food marketing, food law and childhood obesity in Canada

Food marketing comprises a core part of the current food environment and is routinely identified as a main contributor to childhood obesity. Excess body weight affects over 26% of children in Canada—prompting a range of interventions to address the problem.
Studies dealing with the socio-cultural aspects contributing to childhood obesity, for example, tend to focus on the same line up of ‘suspects’ when it comes to food—the sale and consumption of sugary sodas, ‘junk’ foods and fast foods, and the food-related media messages (particularly on television) which encourage the consumption of high-sugar, low-nutrient foods. Such studies pertain to what Brownell and Horgen (2004) christened the “toxic environment” or what Swinburn et. al. (1999) call the “obesogenic environment”. Whether toxic or obesogenic, this environment is one which promotes an excess of calorie consumption over calorie expenditure, generally through the over-consumption of poorly nutritious foods.

Food policy and regulation form a key strategy in current attempts to combat the toxic environment, and this paper outlines the various modes of regulation that work to govern children’s “taste” in Canada. In particular, it details some of the promising, and problematic, aspects of seeking legal solutions to public health problems, especially when it comes to children and children’s food marketing.

Doris Long
The John Marshall Law School

Patenting Mother Earth: Food, Famine and Intellectual Property

Food security may be one of the most significant issues the global community faces today. Despite advances in genetic modification of foods to combat diverse diseases, as well as soil and climate conditions, the threat of the 21st Century equivalent of the Irish Potato Famine remains a powerful reminder of how insignificant man’s technological achievements may be when faced with the practical problem of how to feed the world’s growing population on increasing smaller percentages of arable land. At a time when biodiversity is critical to assure sufficient food security, the recognition by the United States that modified plants themselves may now be the subject of utility patents (as opposed to plant varieties) threatens not only access to critical food reserves, but the diversity which traditional knowledge protection may assure. By granting utility patent protection, US law has removed food security safeguards contained in plant variety protocols, including the benefits of “fair use” for farmers and other critical experimenters in the area of food innovation. Utility patents have already largely replaced plant varieties as the approved method of protection for modified plants in the United States and threatens to do so globally. Worse, the exclusivity concepts of utility patenting threatens to derail diversity efforts based on university research of traditional indigenous agricultural techniques. Unless steps are taken soon to remedy the situation on a global scale, propertized “food” may replace indigenous staples, leading to increased incidents of localized famine in the future.

Jennifer Schulz
Faculty of Law
University of Manitoba

Food Films: Successfully Subversive Mediation in the Movies

Law & Film scholars have noted the many things lawyers can learn about themselves and the legal system through an analysis of the trial genre of films. My paper analyses what we can learn about mediators and mediation from the food genre of films. Food films suggest the nourishing metaphor of the mediator as cook, to be contrasted with trial films which generally use battle metaphors and depict the lawyer as warrior. I will explore the vitality of the metaphor of cooking and how it relates to the work of dispute resolution. I will trace the metaphor of the mediator as cook through several films, explore what it reveals to us about mediation methods, and describe at least five mediation styles depicted in the food genre of films. Importantly, I will highlight how film depicts a subversive mediation style, that while contrary to classic dispute resolution teachings, is successful.

Donna Byrne
William Mitchell College of Law

Organic junk food and cloned meat: mandatory and permissive food

Summary: Food labeling laws require certain bits of information and
prohibit others. A product is "misbranded" when required information is
missing, when label information is false, or when label information is
true, but misleading. For example, to label applesauce as "Fat Free"
would be misleading because applesauce is generally fat free anyway.
This paper explores the implications of voluntary, mandatory,
and "misleading" label information in several contexts, most notably
milk from cows not treated with rBST, meat or milk from clones and their
progeny, and organic fish and vegetables. When voluntary information is
allowed and consumers care about the information, labeling is
essentially provided by default for non-labeled products (de facto
labeling). This paper argues that de facto mandatory labeling exists
when consumers care about the information provided, and that consumers
are better served by explicit label information than by implicit
information. In other words, "they" should tell "us" what we want to

Ernesto Hernández-López
Assistant Professor of Law
Chapman University School of Law

A free-trade "Tortilla Discourse" ? : NAFTA corn tariffs and Mexican food identity

This presentation analyzes NAFTA's corn tariff regime from a food studies perspective. Mexican food offers a rich history, ripe for analysis. In 2008, NAFTA requires Mexico to completely eliminate corn tariffs, which protected the important cultural item of corn. What will be the national identity impact in Mexican food posed by these changes?

Historical negotiation between indigenous, european, traditional, and modernization influences produced Mexico's current cuisine. The choices people make on what to eat and the socio-economic forces providing these items are mutually influential. Dishes such as tortillas, tamales, mole poblano, and chiles en nogada are served after history prepared them as central to national identity. This is exemplified in a "tortilla discourse" (labeled by Jeffrey Pilcher) when "modern" justifications attempt to eliminate corn. Popular forces have resisted these impositions. Currently, US exports provide cheaper corn for Mexico. Reacting to global demand for ethanol, corn and tortilla prices have increased. Popular forces now seek political relief. NAFTA cements these changes to the national menu.

Doris Witt
University of Iowa
Department of English

Food Rules for the World?
The Codex Alimentarius and the Project of Culinary Harmonization in Public International Law

The Codex Alimentarius was established in 1963 as a joint venture of the
Food and Agriculture and World Health Organizations. This formerly
obscure regulatory food code has become since the mid-1990s a site of
increasing contestation because nations whose food regulations conform
to Codex standards are largely insulated in the WTO from charges of
economic protectionism. As a result, the pro-industry bias of the Codex
Commission membership and the lack of democratic accountability in its
procedural mechanisms have given rise to arguments by legal scholars for
reform, such as subjecting Commission decisions to review by an
independent dispute resolution body. Without denying the political
utility of these reformist efforts, I argue in this paper for the value
of cultural theory in helping us understand not only the aesthetic
strategies through which the Commission has attempted to legitimate its
existence but also the divergent interpretive modalities-ranging from
consumer rights and conspiracy theory to post-colonialism and
neo-agrarianism-through which Codex critics have framed their discontent
with the project of culinary harmonization in public international law.

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