The Return of Food in the News

Big Pork vs. Little Lactavist

I found this on Metafilter yesterday: The National Pork Board, in their infinite compassion and sense of moral clarity, sent a threatening legal letter to a central Ohio mom (and author of The Lactavist Blog) who had produced a clever t-shirt with the slogan, “The Other White Milk” and was using the January proceeds from it to benefit the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio.

For those who don’t know it, the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio, and all other milk banks exist so that lactating mothers can donate excess pumped breast milk (donors are screened for health, just as blood donors are) so that premature infants and other babies born with serious illnesses can have breast milk when their mothers are not able to nurse them for whatever reason.

The founder of the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio was Kat’s physician when she was in hospital for three weeks after she was born; he is very adamant that human milk is necessary for all babies to thrive, but especially premature or ill ones. He was very encouraging of me as I pumped milk for Kat to eat through a tube early in her life and he and his staff were all very helpful and encouraging to me when Kat and I learned to nurse properly together.

So, imagine my disappointment to hear that The National Pork Board felt the need to claim copyright infringement on the basis that consumers might experience “brand confusion” when they read a t-shirt with the slogan “The Other White Milk,” instead of “The Other White Meat.”

While I am not a lawyer, I have taken many classes on media law and The First Amendment, (journalism students get to take fun classes like that) and as I recall (and as the legal counsel for the author of The Lactavist has stated) that parodies fall under the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, even when the material parodied is copyrighted.

I mean, really. What consumer is going to see a t-shirt on a mother carrying her baby around that says, “The Other White Milk” and think, “Wow, that woman’s breasts spew bacon grease!” (Okay, I -know- that is a wet dream for some people, but let’s not think too hard about that, okay?) What person is going to see that t-shirt and think that she is talking about pork chops? It is an obvious cute parody of an advertising slogan that accurately describes the fact that water-injected “enhanced” grocery store pork has lost all of its flavor and character over the past twenty years and now is dry, flavorless and crappy. (As in, “Our pork is so bland, it tastes like chicken!”)

Now, the fact is that after a firestorm of protest from folks on the blogosphere and throughout the wired world of the ‘net, the CEO of the National Pork Board has sent The Lactavist blogger an apology, and the two parties are working the issue out in a more productive fashion than the ham-handed (pun intended) legal fumbling by the corporate legal department, but I don’t really care.

It is still a case of “The National Pork Board: The Other Corporate Jerk-Offs.”

I’m just cranky that I cannot protest by boycotting industrial pig meat, since I don’t eat that crap anyway, nor can I buy one of the shirts, which I find to be hilarious.

I guess I will just spread the word and send a direct donation to The Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio instead.

The Origin of General Tso’s Chicken

Hey, remember when I made reference to the origin story of General Tso’s Chicken in my review of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and I said that I wasn’t going to relate the story in my blog because it wasn’t mine to tell, but Fuchsia’s?

Well, she went and told the story in the New York Times yesterday, so I can give y’all a link to it, and you don’t have to go out and buy her book to clear up the mystery. However, it is still a great book and I think that if you love Hunanese food you should get it anyway and get your wok out and start cooking up a spicy storm.

And, for those readers who are tired of hearing me talk about the book, I promise to mostly shut up about it now. My work here is done.

However, I still have to say this: while I love Chef Peng’s (the inventor of General Tso’s Chicken) Homestyle Beancurd–I still hate every rendition of General Tso’s Chicken I have ever eaten. Gloppy, too sweet and greasy beyond belief. I don’t know why so many Americans like it, but it is one of those dishes that I perennially avoid on restaurant menus, no matter where I am eating.

A “New Breed” Of Food Bloggers Hit the NY Times

I don’t know how “new” food bloggers writing detailed restaurant reviews is (in fact, I am inclined to think it is not a new phenomenon at all), but apparently, what is new is the fact that not only are restaurant owners and promoters, but old media outlets like the New York Times are taking notice of what bloggers have to say.

Why is this?

Because readers take note of what food bloggers have to say. More and more readers, in fact, which has led to a growth of real food journalism among the food bloggers of New York City, who work hard to write compelling, timely reviews of up and coming restaurants and old favorites in a gossipy, knowledgeable style.

“Food blogs have reached a critical mass with readers in the last six months,” said Phillip Baltz, owner of the restaurant public relations firm Baltz & Company.

Mr. Baltz said two restaurants he represents that opened in 2006, Little Owl and Boqueria, benefited greatly from the early attention of blogs. “It has completely changed the way we do things,” he said. “Bloggers are now a very important part of the media landscape because a lot of diners get their information from them.”

Um hm. I saw this coming back when I wrote about Pete Well’s cheese sammich blog comments in Food and Wine last year.

While we food bloggers may not get a lot of money for our writing, and while we may not be gaining a lot more than niche notoriety, there is an audience out there for what we write, and that audience is growing. While traditional media outlets and writers get a bit puzzled by this, it is plain to me that folks like the “democratizing” influence of the Web, and like to hear the words of knowledgeable “just plain folk” on all sorts of subjects, not the least of which is food.

So, a round of applause to the New York City food bloggers who concentrate on restaurant reviews, which is pretty much terra incognita for myself, being that there aren’t too many restaurants here in Athens I can review. Y’all are rocking the world, doing good work and getting recognized for it, and looking good while doing it.

Get on with your bad selves.


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  1. The rather unfortunate bit about the Pork Board’s complaint is they’re sorta required to make an ass of themselves. Trademark is unique in that if it isn’t defended, it becomes invalid (dilution of trademark). The National Pork Board can’t not complain about a potential violation. Even if they have no interest in pursuing it, they still need to make the threat to keep their trademark valid.

    Comment by saeculorum — February 5, 2007 #

  2. I think the new breed referred to the style of the NYC food reviewers, competitive, first to scoop the restaurant news, etc, as opposed to the meeker reviewers who went before.

    I found myself going the opposite direction. I started my blog with only reviews but it led to me questioning myself, whether trashing a restaurnt in its opening week was really fair on the establishment, etc, whether I should give the place a second chance, etc.

    Also, when I am privvy to local restaurant/chef gossip and news I am more likely to keep mum, because I am loyal to the people who spill me the beans. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, so instead I feast on all the tidbits I know about in private.

    Comment by sam — February 5, 2007 #

  3. See, saeculorum, you are looking at it from the perspective of trademark law and I am looking at it from media law–which is why I have my opinion on it. It helps to take a broader perspective though, which is why I am happy you posted your comment.

    It makes more sense that way, but it also still seems nonsensical from a media law and a common-sense point of view.

    I mean, all the Pork Board got out of this was bad press. And no matter what they do from now on, that bad press is not going to go away.

    (Nor is the fact that their meat sucks, but I digress.)

    Sam–yeah, I see what you mean. It is the “new sassy competitive food blogging style” that is new.

    Eh. I don’t know how I stand on that competitiveness issue, or on the issue of going to a restaurant opening night and slamming them. I guess because I have worked both front and back of the house, I tend to think that is pretty unfair to the staff and management of the restaurant….

    But then, as a former journalist, I can see the temptation to sharpen the poison pen of wit as well….

    But, I don’t really have much of an opinion one way or the other on the issue, as I do not live in or dine out in NY myself, I see little reason to read these reviews.

    As always, others’s mileage may well vary….

    Comment by Barbara — February 5, 2007 #

  4. Wow, that is great about the Milk bank. I had no idea places like that existed! I had a lung transplant and I won’t be able to breast feed if I have kids, so this would be a great thing! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

    Comment by Emily — February 5, 2007 #

  5. I think the recent Rolling Stone article on “Pork’s dirty Secret” was probably far more detrimental to the pork industry. I may never eat bacon again (and I love bacon…)

    Comment by donna — February 5, 2007 #

  6. Agree with you Barbara, whatever the law is, the end all is the perception of the Pork organization in the minds of the public. Bad press leaves a long term “sting”, period.

    As someone who reads mostly all those bloggers/blogs mentioned in the NYTimes article, there’s certainly a competition to see who can get the latest “scoop” or dish out the dirt and even a snarky tone to the writing, but that’s also a reflection of the fast paced competitive, snarky media style that is quintessentially New York.

    i am wondering if this Mr. Peng is still around and giving lectures here in taipei. I must ask around.

    Comment by Rose — February 6, 2007 #

  7. Yeah, but is it really a threat to trademark? If it is, trademark law could stand to be, oh, MORE SANE.

    I don’t think the pork industry can trademark “Blank: The Other Adjective Blank,” can they?

    Comment by Mel — February 6, 2007 #

  8. Man, those pork people are in for some kind of wake-up call.

    Lactivists are some tough, well-organized women — just check out all the various nurse-ins they coordinate. I would not want to be on their bad side.

    Comment by Kristen — February 7, 2007 #

  9. The Milk bank is a great idea. I didn’t even know they existed. It’s like the wet nurse of Shakespearean times but with a wider reach.

    New reader; but I’ll be back. Very interesting blog.

    Comment by Cate — February 13, 2007 #

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