‘If it says ‘enzyme, enzyme, enzyme’ on the label, label, label,
You should dump it down the crapper while you’re able, able, able…’
– ‘70’s wine commercial from The Health and Red Tape Network, pre-cable, cable, cable
Eric Asimov is back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friendly winery offering full disclosure. Whoopi-ty-aye-oh to that, my brother!
Asimov, the iconic New York Times wine critic, is either inordinately passionate about government intervention in the wine industry or running out of column ideas. Whatever the reason, he recently wrote yet another gripping piece on why wineries should be forced by Uncle Big Brother to list ingredients on their wine labels, much as manufacturers of bottled water and ground cinnamon are forced to do.
On the surface, of course, Asimov’s cause célèbre is a noble one, without blemishes. And, as my condescending and patronizing detractors—and they are legion—love to tell me, ‘You should care what you put in your body, whether it is solid or liquid…’
Dude, you are talking to someone who spent decades making sure I ingested items from each of the five essential drug groups every single day, so don’t give me grief about my personal physical self-interest. My inner mechanisms are so pickled I get a yearly honorarium from Vlasic.
‘Consumers Deserve to Know!’
Do they? Unfortunately, that is not necessarily how free enterprise works. I refer to Laidlaw v. Organ, 15 U.S. 178 (1817), in a case decided by the United States Supreme Court that established caveat emptor as a rule of law in the United States.
‘Let the buyer beware’
I know, I know—and as Asimov groupie and Feiring Squad-described ‘Wine Yenta’ Alyson Careaga sagely points out (in the event that I am too thick to pick this up on my own and did not, in fact, ‘read the entire article to the end’):
‘Eric puts forth an idea to raise awareness and initiate a dialogue. That is his role and that is what he cares about most. A read through this entire article (to the end) for example sends to me the simple message: advocating for awareness.’
But, I did read it to the end, Alyson. And more than once. And this is the intended, initiated dialogue:
Ultimately, requiring winemakers to list ingredients on wine labels is not a particularly good way to ensure that consumers will make ‘correct’ decision on what they ingest. Why? Because for the most part, ingredient labels are bullshit, and are treated like bullshit by loophole-seeking, unscrupulous food and drink manufacturers.
In fact, any FDA-required ingredient list winds up little more than a ‘feel good’ band-aid that reminds me a lot of those goddamn blue yuppie-guilt-boxes that guilty yuppies fill with plastic bottles and place curbside on garbage day, then pat themselves on the back as being ‘green’ when, in fact, the vast majority of plastics (93% according to the EPA) contain too many chemical additives to actually be recycled and wind up in the landfill anyway, and from there, become an ingredient not listed on local drinking water labels. Not only that, but we are forced to inhale toxic exhaust from the gigantic, pollution-pumping diesel garbage trucks required to pick up the plastic recyclable bins filled with non-recyclable plastics to begin with.
Asimov’s ’idea’ also reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s ‘idea’—an idiotic and counter-productive ‘War on The Five Essential Daily Drugs’ campaign, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars and the FBI millions of man-hours and accomplished nothing other than sending a plethora of non-violent addicts to prison—who, incidentally, taxpayers also support.
As for wine labels, to those of you in Asimov’s camp: Take a momentary pause in your self-righteous ‘power to the people’ diatribe and gauge how successful requisite food ingredient labeling has actually been—and how ‘helpful’ they’ve proven to consumers claiming consummate concern about ‘what they are putting into their bodies.’
Let’s start with the trendy buzzwords and highlights slapped all over your typical food label.
‘All Natural’: Meaningless, since it is not a term regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
‘Contains Real Fruit Juice’: FDA requires one drop of fresh juice to be added to the high-fructose, artificial garbage drink to qualify for this horn-blowing gasconade.
‘Fat Free’: Pure marketing spin: Nearly all products so labeled come from sources that are naturally fat free anyway.
‘No Trans Fat’: Big whoop—such ballyhooed foods may be sopped in saturated fats that will leave you just as dead.
‘Helps Support Immunity’: Juicy Juice, for example, wears this tag with pride since it contains docosahexaenoic acid, which has been proven to reduce symptoms of congestion, phlegm, vomiting and rashes in infants. Unfortunately, a serving of Juicy Juice contains less DHA than you’ll find in a quarter teaspoon of fresh salmon. Likewise, Kashi ‘Heart to Heart’ oatmeal hypes the presence of green tea—an ingredient which has no known link to preventing heart disease or promoting healthy arteries.
‘Enriched’: Impoverished, more like. Translated, it means ‘processed’.
‘Made With Whole Grains’: As with the fruit juice scam, a pinch of whole grain allows the product to thus label itself.
‘Smoked’: Describes a flavor, not a preparation method—most foods so named are artificially imparted with smokiness via liquid products containing cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
I can go on. And on. But, judge for yourself the inherent trouble with labels in the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report.
So, down to ‘ingredients’—the peculiar patch that Asimov wants to see affixed to each of the 3.5 billion bottles of wine produced in the United States every year, and is evidently willing to shell out the megabucks to ensure that said labels will be reviewed for accuracy and regulated scrupulously by the FDA and/or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Like that’s gonna happen. And anyway, when the feds actually investigate a claim of mislabeling, it is rarely the result of their own pavement pounding, but nearly always arises from a complaint lodged by an outsider—more times than not, from a competitor of the ‘offending’ product whose motivation, you can be sure, has little to do with consumer protection.
Now, setting aside the fact that the sixty or so allowable government-sanctioned winemaking additives (intended to promote fermentation, correct acid imbalance, tweak color or guard against spoilage, etc.) are nearly all entirely natural and certified as safe, here is a direct quote from the Asimov article:
‘Forget about the often poisonous chemicals used in the vineyards, which can leave residue on the grapes…’
But, why in the world would I care about powdered tannin and forget about poisonous chemical residue, Eric? I really couldn’t care less if my wine contains sulphur dioxide—a naturally occurring preservative that virtually all winemakers, including myself, add to their must. Reading a label (like Bonny Doon’s) that lists ‘yeast’ as an additive is not singularly helpful since yeast is mandatory for grape juice to ferment. However, if Monsanto is selling vineyard managers carcinogenic pesticides that may cause birth-defects in my offspring and it winds up as a component of my merlot—that I might want to know about.
But, of course, Asimov is right to say ‘fuggidabout it’, because Monsanto moguls have a cozy and unquestioning relationship with the federal government thanks to lobbying expenditures and they will never be forced to capitulate their bottom line just because a bunch of vocal wine geeks want ingredients listed on labels.
Recently, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee urged the FDA to take enforcement actions against false or misleading labels to maintain their integrity and to retain consumer confidence in label accuracy. So far, The FDA has failed to implement a single one of their recommendations.
Why would we assume they will be more diligent in enforcing wine ingredient listings? Especially considering that 100% of Americans eat food, while less than half drink wine?
We wouldn’t. And yet, like the guilty yuppie carefully saving up landfill-bound Fiji bottles, Mr. Eric and Ms. Alyson would apparently ‘feel’ better reading a wine ingredient list of dubious accuracy.
Again, the idea of a massively informed, supernally aware consumer population is as fond a dream as a country without junkies, without unfunctional alcoholics, without bigots, without serial killers, without Nickelback.
And about as feasible.
Sure, Asimovo is boffo, and I’m a jerk-offo, but one thing I know for real: You trust your lawyer, you trust your doctor, you trust your car mechanic, but by God, you must have faith in your winemaker. Should you suspect that something is amiss at a certain winery—that they are adding crap to their product that you don’t want to stick in your system, don’t buy their wine. You want labels on your wine bottles, cool: Stick to Bonny Doon, Shinn Estate, Ridge Vineyards and similar producers who voluntarily list ingredients.
I guarantee you that when other wineries see their market share eroding, they will judge it in their pecuniary interest to start stamping ingredients on their labels—without an untrustworthy, faithless and totally beholden Food and Drug Administration having to lift an interfering, regulatory finger.
That, my grasshopper, is how free enterprise really works.