National Security and Civil Liberties: Can you have your cake and eat it too?

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  It is safe to say, however, that Franklin lived in a very different America.  He resided in an era where the biggest threat to freedom was the British Redcoats who made themselves visible and identifiable in their bright red uniforms.

But today, over 200 years after Franklin, the United States is fighting Al-Qaeda through ever-expanding technological developments.

With a complete disregard for the rules of war, Al-Qaeda camouflages itself among the very people that it intends to destroy. It is a terrorist group that acts with the force of a state but is not backed by any governmental power, consequently depleting any ability for the US to solve the issue in a diplomatic fashion.  Al-Qaeda targets innocent civilians and has vowed to continue doing so until their goals are met.

In their responsibility to protect American lives, the US has made every attempt to capture Al-Qaeda operatives who live within the confines of the state and disguise themselves as law-abiding citizens.  The government realized very quickly that obtaining intelligence would be an important weapon in finding Al-Qaeda supporters.  However, gaining intelligence has become notoriously synonymous with violating the civil liberties of individuals.

In the pursuit of information, phone wires of innocent people have been tapped, racial profiling has been executed, and US Citizens with Middle Eastern backgrounds have been prohibited the right to move from one country to another.  This has all translated to American’s as a direct threat from the very government that is supposed to protect, as more and more American’s are afraid.

Ten years later, the US has sustained another 9/11-like terrorist attack.  But more and more Americans are becoming aware of their vanishing civil liberties, as this war on terror has reached its tenth anniversary.

An important question has taken to rise in the past ten years; should individuals forego Franklin’s advice and be okay with surrendering civil liberties in exchange for national security? It is no question that a threat like Al-Qaeda has never before existed in its current ability to extrapolate terror.  Or, can the state work to ensure security and maintain civil liberties-can American’s have their cake and eat it too?

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What is a Food Desert? And why should I come to the Symposium?

FYI–a food desert is defined as any area where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain.  people who live in food deserts are either miles away from a grocery store or have no adequate means of transportation to arrive there.  they are often faced with the option of either going hungry or filling up on empty, convenience-store calories.  to learn more about food deserts and other issues of food ethics, come to our symposium.

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Hamburger Series, Part 5: Access

Foraging for Food in the Land of the Free?

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks out about the food desert crisis in America

When one thinks about daily life, food often becomes part of the conversation. From our childhood, parents and teachers remind us to “eat three meals a day”, to “wait until after dinner to enjoy a cookie”, or to “eat those vegetables.” We often even annotate our days by what we had for lunch or what’s being made for dinner. Food is a part of our culture, is necessary for our growth, and is formative to our health.

The fact is, however, is that there is not equal access to food in Dallas, the US or abroad. These places with little or no access to foods necessary in maintaining a healthy diet are often called “food deserts”. According to a 2009 USDA study, 23.5 million people lived in what they defined as a food desert, lacking access to a supermarket within a mile of their home.

Limits placed on access to appropriate foods can be based not only in geography, but also in economics. If one cannot afford the proper foods, having physical access to them is futile. 13% of Americans live under the poverty line. Even if these individuals have markets or grocery stores in their neighborhoods, they are likely to struggle in purchasing healthy foods.

Most fast food restaurants include a hamburger on their dollar menu, yet they often lack the only two vegetables present on our “hamburger” – lettuce and tomato. Moreover, there are at many as 160,000 fast food restaurants in the US. Comparatively, the US had approximately 85,200 grocery stores in 2008, of which 59,300 are not convenient stores.

Despite these figures, the questions of what constitutes a food desert, and how prevalent they are, persist. Data seems to clearly elucidate that food deserts are most common in rural, low-income, and minority areas. These areas have stores that are less likely to stock healthy foods and are more likely to offer lower quality foods and higher prices. Moreover, 20% of rural Americans live in food deserts where a supermarket is more than 10 miles from them.

Studies suggest that access to food correlates with eating habits. In other words, if it is more difficult, or impossible, to access healthy foods, it is more like that one will adopt healthier eating habits.

The essential ethical question deals with how to deal with limited, unequal access to food. Who should have access to food? Should we force stores to build in rural areas? Should urban convenient stores be coerced into stocking healthier, more balanced products? Should there be one supermarket for every hamburger joint?

Access to food also becomes a question of public health. If people don’t have access to healthy foods, their health is affected. Will we feed people a fast-food hamburger off the dollar menu or will we spend the extra time or money necessary to feed them the lettuce and tomato?

Drew Konow, Ethics Design Team

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Hamburger Series, Part 4: Food Regulation

One Complicated Sandwich

Who regulates our food?  Who regulates which foods?  More importantly, perhaps: why?  Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate our food, but the division is shockingly arbitrary.  Pepperoni pizza, for instance, is regulated by the USDA, while cheese pizza is regulated by the FDA.  The FDA regulates a ham sandwich with two slices of bread, but the USDA regulates open-face ham sandwiches.

The very idea of a sandwich “made with bread, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato raises regulatory issues of terrifying complexity,” says Marion Nestle, in her book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism.

The addition of vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes throws the Environmental Protection Agency into the regulation mix, whose job it is to control the production of agriculture–as if a sandwich needed more guidelines.

Cheese, a sandwich staple, further complicates our tasty snack.  That wholesome individually wrapped yellow square of Kraft cheesiness cannot truly be called cheese.  It is, in fact, more accurately, a laboratory creation labeled by the FDA as “process cheese product.”  This term postdates the previous term “cheese food,” which was deemed misleading to the consumer in 2002 by the FDA.  Somehow, a grilled process cheese product leaves much to be desired.  A ham and process cheese product panini simply does not appeal.

What is the reason for all the complexity surrounding our food regulation?  Is it meant to keep us healthy?  Despite the absurd amount of regulation, we still encounter problems when tomato consumption, for instance, leads to salmonella outbreaks.  We are seemingly unaware of the fine print indicating the nuances of processed cheese.  We must question the reasoning for the convoluted FDA and USDA regulatory efforts.

Before taking a bite of a ham and cheese sandwich, take these things into consideration: thanks to all of our nation’s tortuous food regulation, the lettuce and tomato are free from harmful pathogens, as is the meat, and for those who enjoy the details, the cheese packaging will tell you not only if you are eating real cheese, but even from where it came.

Jordan Wondrack, Ethics Design Team

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Hamburger Series, Part 3: Food Ads

Perception and Deception?

As we continue in our Hamburger series, we find it time to examine perception of this most beloved of American fare.  While our idea of the relative merits and evils of hamburgers may come from nostalgia, memory, or experience, it is quite likely that this perception is informed, at least in part, by food advertising.

So what constitutes an ethical ad?  I asked senior SMU advertising student Cassandra Pankonien her thoughts:

“An ethical advertisement is one that considers its impact on the world in every sense of the word. How it effects consumers’ psyche, whether it perpetuates stereotypes, even the sustainability of product should be considered when creating an ad.”

Further, according to the EAS-405 Standards of Ethical Advertising, all advertising should be “legal, decent, honest, and truthful” and that it should in no way mislead the consumer, especially with regards to “characteristics such as: nature, composition, method and date of manufacture, range of use, efficiency and performance, quantity, commercial or geographical origin or environmental impact.” So how do the elements that make up hamburgers measure up to this standard?  To address this question, let us examine three highly marketable brands whose products are all pertinent to the hamburger and their respective ad campaigns: McDonald’s, Heinz Ketchup, and Kraft American Cheese.

We all know McDonald’s, the quintessential American fast-food chain famed for their quick-and-ready burgers, and have seen their recent ‘What we’re made of campaign” as seen below:

The ad begins with a mother carrying a grocery bag laden with fruits and vegetables and a shot of her grocery list of items that contribute to a well-balanced diet for her family.  The tag line is delivered in a savvy female voice—“We’re as picky about our quality ingredients as you are, because that’s what we’re made of,” accompanied by an exciting montage of fresh ingredients engaging in a sort of animated dance.  So how are we told to perceive McDonald’s as a brand—particularly as a producer of hamburgers—by this ad?  We are told we can trust McDonald’s as much as we would trust our own mother in the preparation of our food and in the selection of the ingredients that go into that food.

This “mom-approved” theme continues into the Kraft American Cheese advertisement:

The ad clearly targets American mothers—everything from the again-savvy voice, the playful allusion to the busy, modern mother’s typical lunch of cold coffee, and the reference to the ritual of preparing lunch for one’s children appeal to mothers.  What is more striking, however, is the ad’s emphasis on the idea that Kraft Singles are wholesome, and that serving such a meal to one’s children makes one a better mother than serving something frozen.  There is dignity in the preparation of a sandwich whose albeit “processed cheese product” is made from real milk.  The insistence on wholesomeness and a return simplicity is a bit ironic in a food whose production could not be less simple.

The Heinz Ketchup slogan appeals to this same sensibility—a desire to return to what is simple and good.  “Grown, not made” and “No one Grows Ketchup like Heinz” have become the calling card for Heinz Ketchup this decade, suggesting that the elusive and vaguely pastoral lifestyle where one can cultivate one’s own food can be attained if one only buys Heinz ketchup.

Unlike the cheese, the ingredients in Heinz are relatively simple—tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and other natural flavors.  But does the ketchup really grow right off the vine?  Is the ad attempting to counter a pre-existing perception of ketchup as processed or bad for one’s health?

The questions raised by these ads are ones to which I have no clear answer, only personal opinion.  What has become clear, however, is that food advertising has become quite clever and indeed convincing, and we must beware.  But for now, it’s lunchtime, perhaps I should whip myself up a wholesome grilled cheese sandwich.  Did I mention it was made with real milk?

Rebecca Quinn, Ethics Design Team

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