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Truth Through Combat

A Father’s Right to Teach Polygamy

I’m not sure that “teaching polygamy” is the right term here. The issue is as follows: do parents have a right to express their religious views to children?

Now, when expressed in that way the question does not perhaps seem very controversial. Most of us would easily answer it “Yes.” However, in this case the father’s teaching concerns polygamy (AKA “plural marriage”). The reason the case ever went to a court of law was that the minor’s mother objected to the father teaching the kid about polygamous marriages. She sued and took him to court. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father in a 5-1 decision, basing its ruling on the combination of the father’s parental rights as well as his right to the free exercise of religion.

While the right to a free exercise of religion is not comprehensive, it goes fairly far. States and Congress may limit this right in certain ways (polygamy is in fact illegal in all 50 states, as are animal sacrifices and the ingesting of peyote in some states). However, since the father was only expressing his beliefs to his daughter, she was not placed in any danger by his actions or speech.

The court’s decision can be found here:

Here’s a clip from the decision:

  • “…we conclude that a court may prohibit a parent from advocating religious beliefs, which, if acted upon, would constitute a crime. However, pursuant to Yoder, it may do so only where it is established that advocating the prohibited conduct would jeopardize the physical or mental health or safety of the child, or have a potential for significant social burdens.”
  • Note: “Yoder” refers to a U.S. Supreme Court case, Wisconsin v Yoder (406 U.S. 205). Yoder is another religious freedom case. In that case, the Supreme Court held that states may not restrict Amish parents from removing their children from school after the 8th grade on the basis of the parents’ religious beliefs. The court did so because it found that the state’s interest in promoting universal education was not strong enough to override the parental rights when conjoined with the 1st Amendment right to religious freedom.

Here’s a news clip about the case:

Perhaps the issue is not “Do parents have a right to express their religious views to their children.” Perhaps it should be stated as follows: “Do parents have a right to express religious views to their children even if those views — if acted upon — would lead to criminal behavior?”

Either of these two issues would make for a decent argument.

Filed under: Uncategorized

NYC Considers Banning Trans Fats from its Restaurants

Consider this case in light of Mill’s harm principle: is the ban justified?

NYC Mulls Ban on Trans Fats in Eateries
By DAVID B. CARUSO Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Three years after the city banned smoking in restaurants, health officials are talking about prohibiting something they say is almost as bad: artificial trans fatty acids.

The city health department unveiled a proposal Tuesday that would bar cooks at any of the city’s 24,600 food service establishments from using ingredients that contain the artery-clogging substance, commonly listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated oil.

Artificial trans fats are found in some shortenings, margarine and frying oils and turn up in foods from pie crusts to french fries to doughnuts.

Doctors agree that trans fats are unhealthy in nearly any amount, but a spokesman for the restaurant industry said he was stunned the city would seek to ban a legal ingredient found in millions of American kitchens.

“Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes well beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable,” said Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the city’s chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.

He said the proposal could create havoc: Cooks would be forced to discard old recipes and scrutinize every ingredient in their pantry. A restaurant could face a fine if an inspector finds the wrong type of vegetable shortening on its shelves.

The proposal also would create a huge problem for national chains. Among the fast foods that would need to get an overhaul or face a ban: McDonald’s french fries, Kentucky Fried Chicken and several varieties of Dunkin’ Donuts.

Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden acknowledged that the ban would be a challenge for restaurants, but he said trans fats can easily be replaced with substitute oils that taste the same or better and are far less unhealthy.

“It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient,” Frieden said. “No one will miss it when it’s gone.”

A similar ban on trans fats in restaurant food has been proposed in Chicago and is still under consideration, although it has been ridiculed by some as unnecessary government meddling.
The latest version of the Chicago plan would only apply to companies with annual revenues of more than $20 million, a provision aimed exclusively at fast-food giants.

A few companies have moved to eliminate trans fats on their own.

Wendy’s announced in August that it had switched to a new cooking oil that contains no trans fatty acids. Crisco now sells a shortening that contains zero trans fats. Frito-Lay removed trans fats from its Doritos and Cheetos. Kraft’s took trans fats out of Oreos.

McDonald’s began using a trans fat-free cooking oil in Denmark after that country banned artificial trans fats in processed food, but it has yet to do so in the United States.
Walt Riker, vice president of corporate communications at McDonald’s, said in a statement Tuesday that the company would review New York’s proposal.

“McDonald’s knows this is an important issue, which is why we continue to test in earnest to find ways to further reduce (trans fatty acid) levels,” he said.

New York’s health department had asked restaurants to impose a voluntary ban last year but found use of trans fats unchanged in recent surveys.

Under the New York proposal, restaurants would need to get artificial trans fats out of cooking oils, margarine and shortening by July 1, 2007, and all other foodstuffs by July 1, 2008. It would not affect grocery stores. It also would not apply to naturally occurring trans fats, which are found in some meats and dairy.

The Board of Health has yet to approve the proposal and will not do so until at least December, Frieden said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food labels to list trans fats in January.
Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard University School of Public Health, praised New York health officials for considering a ban, which he said could save lives.

“Artificial trans fats are very toxic, and they almost surely causes tens of thousands of premature deaths each year,” he said. “The federal government should have done this long ago.”

Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized

University Students Call for "Sustainable" Food

There was a piece in Wednesday’s USA Today about this. The article summarizes the demands for organic and sustainable foods being made by new college students. The article raises the following question (at least in my mind): how far should colleges (and other educational institutions) go in promoting a healthy diet?

Another question is just as salient: Just what is a healthy diet? Can this be defined, or is it a bit of a myth to think that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to eat?

Here’s the article:

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More university students call for organic, ‘sustainable’ food

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The agonizing decision to pick Yale over Harvard didn’t come down only to academics for Philip Gant.

It also came down to his tummy. And his eco-savvy.

When he chose Yale last year, Gant wasn’t swayed by its running tab of presidential alumni: President Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and William Howard Taft. He was more impressed by Yale’s leading-edge dedication to serving “sustainable” food.

Sustainable might sound like New Age jargon, but college students such as Gant are embracing the idea: food grown locally with ecologically sound and seasonally sensitive methods. The concept also includes humane treatment for workers and animals and fair wages.
In addition to wanting sustainable food, students such as Gant want it to be organic: grown without pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics or hormones.

As a health-conscious member of Yale’s wrestling team, Gant says, “Part of why I was so excited about coming to Yale is the way it eats.”

Nutritionally wired students — many raised on Whole Foods diets at home — are pushing campus dining standards to be measured more by the food’s origin, not its volume. This is part of a larger student movement on many campuses calling not just for sustainable food practices, but also for sustainable energy use. Some colleges are even naming directors of sustainability.

Colleges nationwide are buying more food from “local” farms (typically within the state, often within 50 miles). That lets students and school staff visit farms, get to know growers and have confidence that the food, whether certified organic or not, is grown in an ecologically sound manner.

But changes in food service, much of which is contracted out, aren’t simple for big universities.
“Universities have never spent money on food before. They don’t know how,” says Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, Calif., restaurant famous for its locally grown food. Five years ago when her daughter was at Yale, Waters helped form the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Now, she says, colleges are changing “because students demand it.”

Few understand the business needs to change better than Jodi Smith, marketing manager at the National Association of College & University Food Services trade group of vendors, including food service giants Sodexho and Aramark. If students can’t find the food they want on campus, she says, “They’ll find it elsewhere.”

That business imperative has moved the $4.6 billion college food service industry to respond with new ways of operating that include relying more on nearby farmers for staples and produce, and serving more organic foods. Yale gets its salsa from an organic farm in South Glastonbury, Conn., instead of California. Its apples come from an organic farm in Meriden, Conn., instead of being trucked from Washington state.

Coming a long way

The 20% annual growth of the $15 billion organic food industry also is touching the nation’s 4,216 college and university campuses. About half of the nation’s 15 million college students have access to some organic food on campus, according to food service industry estimates.

More than half of the 375 schools served by Aramark (including Yale) serve some organic products, says Naala Royale, vice president of marketing at Aramark Higher Education. Sodexho sells organic at 50% of the 900 colleges it serves. “Two years ago, if you walked into any college and asked about organic, they’d look at you cross-eyed,” says Vicki Dunn, senior director of campus dining.

With good reason. A year ago, 9% of students said they strongly preferred organic foods to other foods; it was 13% in the latest of the annual student surveys done by Aramark. About 80% of Yale students surveyed last year said they’d eat in the school dining halls more often if sustainable food was served.

A few colleges, including Yale, are even creating organic minifarms on or near campus. Produce from the Yale Farm shows up at special events on campus and is sold weekly at the New Haven Farmer’s Market. “When I can connect my hand in labor to the food I’m eating, it’s a powerful experience,” says Joe Hunt, 21, a Yale senior who volunteers at the farm. On a rainy, September morning, he’s spreading compost while munching organic cherry tomatoes. “I won’t eat just anything anymore. Working here has changed my perspective on food.”

Yale Farm is run by the Yale Sustainable Food Project, a university group made up of students, faculty and staff. “The way we eat every day is a moral act,” says Josh Viertel, co-director of the project. “Serving organic food can be part of a greater educational experience here.”

Even a cupcake.

Until last year, cupcakes served to Yale students were made from premixed ingredients in giant bags. About all cooks did was add water.

No more. Cupcakes, even icing, are made from scratch with organic ingredients. Few are prouder of that than Thomas Peterlik, director of Yale’s Culinary Resource Center, the unit in charge of bringing more sustainable food to campus. Thanks to its efforts, Yale makes pizza from organic ingredients that can be traced to local farmers. The cost of the ingredients is less, Peterlik says, although added labor costs raise the total price.

Getting organic recipes down pat isn’t easy at big institutions because they sometimes require changes in the food prep routine. It took a year for cooks in all the dining halls to get the organic pizza recipe right, says Catherine Jones, executive chef for the Yale Sustainable Food Project.

“The pizzas would be too small. Or the crust too thin. Or the toppings too thick,” she says.

Also, sustainable and organic foods have increased Yale’s annual food costs from about $4.6 million for the 2004-05 school year to slightly less than $5.6 million last year, says Ernst Huff, who oversees student financial and administrative services. So far, the university is mostly swallowing the added costs and reducing other expenses. Yale recently increased the budget for student food to $2.94 per meal vs. $2.10 just two years ago, Peterlik says.

His goal is for Yale to serve 100% sustainable and organic food, and progress has been rapid.

Five years ago, it served almost no organic food. Four years ago, it began to serve some organic food in one dining hall. By last year, organic entrees were offered at least once daily at all dining halls. This year, it’s two meals daily.

Reaching out to farmers

Aramark has contributed by reinventing the way it does business at Yale and reaching out to area farmers. Until the project began, Aramark had about 15 to 20 food suppliers for all the food there. Now, it has up to four times as many, says Don McQuarrie, executive director of dining services. “Ten years ago, it was OK to get any tomato,” he says. “Now, we want to be able to tell the students who grew it and where.”

Nearly 40% of food served on campus is organic, Huff says.

How can students tell? When food being served in any of Yale’s 12 dining halls is organic or locally grown, the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s wheelbarrow logo appears on a placard.

“That’s the food that typically goes first,” says Melina Shannon-DiPietro, project co-director.
One student was so enthused that she sent Shannon-DiPietro a poem celebrating organic granola: Ode to Yale Granola.

“Let me boast brazenly of the bountiful benefits to bodily health of this beautiful breakfast,” wrote senior Lucas Dreier two years ago. “Give me a bowl, and my soul will be satisfied.”

Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized

Virtual Child Pornography

This story was in the news primarily in 2001 and 2002, when U.S. courts were debating over whether to strike down a law that prohibited the realistic depiction of children having sex even if those depictions were made without the involvement of children. The law was eventually struck down, and the U.S. currently lacks a law against this practice.

The ethical and political questions can be stated as follows:

  • Should the practice be banned?
  • Is the practice harmful to children? Obviously it can”t be directly harmful, but perhaps it can be argued to be indirectly harmful.
  • In the late 1970s, an argument was raised by feminists that went something like this: freedom of expression should be protected only when it does not cause direct harm to a population; pornography, however, harmed women by objectifying them and thereby weakening their status as equals; therefore, pornography should not be protected by the 1st Amendment. What do you think of this argument?
  • In general terms, should freedom of expression protect any expression that does not directly cause harm to others? Consider these examples: yelling fire in a crowded theater (when there is no fire); telling people to overthrow the government through violent means; urging violence against a group of people, or even an individual; threatening an individual with violence or harm to property; revealing state secrets, particularly during wartime; creating depictions of violent pornography or beastiality. Where would you draw the line?

Here are some stories and arguments:

Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized