Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Food, Law, and Culture Panels

A while back I published a Call for Papers for a panel devoted to food and the law at the upcoming Law, Culture, and Humanities conference at Georgetown University. I got an excellent response and am forming two panels on the subject. Here are the abstracts for the papers:

J. Amy Dillard
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Baltimore
School of Law

“Sloppy Joe, Slop, Sloppy Joe”: How USDA Commodities Dumping Destroyed the National School Lunch Program

Alice Waters, the godmother of the organic, whole food movement, has set the considerable resources of her Chez Panisse Foundation to the task of reforming school lunch in Berkeley, California, while working within the confines of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). First funded by Congress in 1946, the NSLP combined two post-Depression Era objectives: 1) assist with the health of the nation’s children, and 2) ensure a market for farmers. The Department of Agriculture has used the NSLP to turn the nation’s school lunchrooms into a commodities dumping ground that has produced a glut of obese children and an expanding agribusiness that processes whole foods into nutritional nightmares.
This paper will explore the history of the NSLP and its complex relationship with USDA commodities, will examine the agribusiness of converting commodities into unhealthy lunchroom food, and will conclude by discussing the cultural challenges faced by the organic, whole food movement for bringing healthy food to a land where “latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving” freaks are excoriated by social conservatives.


James Smith
John Byrd Martin Chair of Law
University of Georgia School of Law

Genetically modified pollen drifting onto the field of a neighboring farm may cause substantial harm. If the bystanding farmer is growing non-genetically modified crops, she may suffer a pecuniary loss due to genetic ‘pollution.’ If the pollen is patented, the patentee may also claim harm stemming from the unauthorized distribution of its proprietary genetic material. Disputes arising from pollen drift present classic legal questions arising under the law of neighbors and classic economic questions broached most famously by Ronald Coase in his essay on The Problem of Social Cost. The application of the Coase Theorem and its most applicable corollary strongly suggest that: 1) balancing rules under nuisance law should be applied on a case-by-case basis to determine whether any particular genetic polluter should be liable for damages caused by pollen drift; and 2) most bystanding farmers should have viable defenses to patent infringement. Venerable legal principles applied to this new problem suggest the same two conclusions. Proving both propositions provides a textbook demonstration for the usefulness of economic analysis and solves a world-wide multi-billion dollar legal problem.


Morgan L. Holcomb
Visiting Assistant Professor
University of Minnesota Law School

The local food movement has taken root (or perhaps taken root again). Witness books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan) and Eat Here (Halweil), activists taking on school lunches (Alice Waters revamping the Berkeley public school cafeteria), and the proliferation of farmers markets in almost all regions of the country.

This local food movement evidences a new or renewed interest in where our food comes from. Some farmers hope that it also means a renewed interest in keeping farms as “family farms” and a renewed economic commitment to do so. But what is meant by the term “family farm”? Shall we include large-scale commodity farms, or is “family farm” a proxy for something else? Perhaps by “family farm” we intend something other than simply any farm owned by a family.

This paper will begin by exploring what we mean by “family farm.” It will then go on to address what role will the tax code plays in our complicated agricultural system. Finally, the paper will address whether the tax code in fact save the family farm, and if saving the family farm a goal worth achieving.


Charlene Elliott
Assistant Professor
School of Journalism and Communication
Carleton University

In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Quebec’s long-standing law that prohibits the sale of yellow margarine. While the precise colour of margarine may seem trivial, the dispute carries on a century-old tradition in Canada of placing margarine in the legal (and lobbyist’s) limelight.

Margarine presents a long and bizarre legal history which opens the door for probing both the notion of legislative intent and the belief in a product’s communicative potential. The buttery impostor has been banned, outlawed, bootlegged, taxed and colour-coded—and even implicated in the Canadian Constitution

Inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s (1988) claim that ‘objects have social lives’, this analysis provides a legal ‘biography’ of margarine in Canada from 1886 to present. It details how the product has become the site of contestation, negotiation and special interest claims, and how the evolving regulation of margarine reflects some surprisingly consistent social realities.


Jonathan M. Gutoff
Associate Professor of Law
Roger Williams University School of Law

Under the Common Law, certain animals were classified as “royal” and were preserved for the sovereign as part of his or her prerogative. However, while salmon were recognized to be “great fish” they were not considered to be royal fish. I propose to use the case of sturgeon and salmon to explore the relationship between law and culture. Specifically, my plan is to investigate how the culinary and social distinction between sturgeon and salmon in the medieval period was reflected in the development of the legal distinction. Then, and this is why this case study may prove quite interesting, I hope to show how, in turn, the legal distinction in early-modern and modern times was reflected in the social and culinary position of sturgeon and salmon.


Patrick Baude
Ralph F. Fuchs Professor of Law and Public Service
Indiana University – Bloomington

Memory and the Twenty-First Amendment.

The Twenty-First Amendment (1) repeals Prohibition and (2) allows states to prohibit the transportation or importation of intoxicating liquors. Justice Stevens, dissenting from a recent Supreme Court opinion somewhat limiting state bans on importation, observed that the Court’s decision would “seem strange indeed to the millions of Americans who condemned the use of ‘demon rum.”’ This is a sensible thing to say about Prohibition but quite an odd thing to say about an amendment repealing Prohibition. His comment was especially powerful, however odd, in light of the implication that he had personal memory of this particular bit of legislative history. In fact, one can remember that history as a condemnation of strong drink or as a condemnation of the corruption created by the ban itself. Which memory one privileges will determine whether the penumbra of the Amendment is “wet” or “dry.” This paper traces the link between that history and a number of current questions, such as: (1) Can parents allow their twenty-year old children a glass of wine? (2) Can women be forbidden to drink because they might be pregnant? (3) Can sleeping pills be banned because they sometimes cause automobile accidents?


Christopher J. Buccafusco
University of Chicago

A Culture of Hospitality: Social Norms and Intellectual Property Among Chefs

American law offers little in the way of intellectual property protection to chefs’ creative recipes. Nonetheless, an informal system of social norms exists among chefs that serves to promote recipe innovation, assign credit to creative chefs, and inhibit rampant copying. This paper will examine the history of these quasi-IP norms and the culinary profession’s overarching “culture of hospitality.” It will attempt to determine whether the existence of such norms made the low-IP situation possible or whether they developed in response to a lack of legal protection. Finally, it will consider whether such a system is uniquely possible in the culinary profession or whether it can shed light on other areas of cultural property.

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